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Grizzly bear restoration transcends borders

Posted by Alaina Kowitz at May 15, 2017 04:05 PM |

An update on the Coast to Cascades Initiative.

Grizzly bear restoration transcends borders

A grizzly bear and cub. Photo: Steve Ogle

An update on the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative, a collaborative effort led by Conservation Northwest to stem the ongoing loss of grizzly bear range and promote grizzly bear recovery in southwest British Columbia and northwest Washington state.

Joe Scott, International Programs Director

The Canada/U.S. border should not be an ecological iron curtain. Conservation Northwest has taken the approach that we can always find ways to work with our Canadian friends in the service of nature on its own terms – that the habitats, processes and creatures with which we share our lives do not observe political boundaries. 

The Coast to Cascades Initiative (C2C) approaches our shared transboundary ecology through the lens of the grizzly bear. C2C reflects our decades-long effort to restore grizzlies regionally – on both sides of the border. 

Why? Because grizzly bears are the most challenging animal to conserve in a growing region. So if we can make Cascadia safe and well-connected for grizzlies, other wildlife will benefit. And if we’re to recover and maintain grizzly bears in Washington in the long term, a well-connected landscape and continuous regional grizzly bear presence stretching to the B.C. Coast Ranges is vital. 

Learn more about the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative in this short video! Or read more about this project on our webpage.

Community Driven 

The C2C initiative has approached grizzly bear recovery in southwest B.C. (and Washington) as a community project. The capable C2C staff have done incredible work reaching out to local governments and First Nations to enlist support and ideas for keeping grizzlies on the landscape. The cultural connections to grizzly bears are alive and strong in these communities. 

The Sea to Sky communities including the recreation meccas of Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and Lillooet have all passed resolutions in support of grizzly bear recovery and C2C goals. 

Area First Nations have reaffirmed the importance of the grizzly to the formation and persistence of their cultural identities, which stretch back thousands of years in southwest B.C. The St’at’imc First Nation has its own grizzly bear recovery program. The Chiefs’ Councils of the St’at’imc, Squamish, Stó:lō and Okanagan Nations have all passed resolutions in support of grizzly bear recovery and in alignment with the goals of the C2C initiative. 

Among other efforts, C2C staff are working with ranchers on protocols to prevent conflict with grizzly bears over livestock. We anticipate the payoff will be a more permeable landscape where bears can recolonize areas to the south and east, a primary focus of the C2C initiative.   

The grizzly bears of southwest B.C. are threatened by the combined effects of habitat loss and fragmentation. The main source of lethal contact is roads – generally because they carry people in cars with guns, but also because female bears with cubs often avoid road corridors. The primary focus of C2C has been to reverse or mitigate those effects through good science, outreach and creative strategies to protect habitat.  

We focus on the habitat “fractures” or human-dominated landscapes where bears and people could interact with the potential for dead, hungry, lonely or in-bred bears. The idea is to turn those fractures into safe passages using a variety of strategies, such as closing or managing unnecessary roads so that they don’t threaten the security of grizzlies and other wildlife. 

For example, C2C staff initiated a process to manage motorized access in the upper Lillooet River valley, which drains a huge area in the middle of the C2C geography. Extensive research has shown that the upper Lillooet is critical for restoring connectivity and security for threatened grizzly bears. Participants include the B.C. government, local First Nations communities and forestry and energy industry sectors. The process is on track to be completed by the end of 2016.  

Further north in the Chilcotin, where a growing grizzly population will eventually disperse outward, C2C staff are working with ranchers on protocols to prevent conflict with grizzly bears over livestock. We anticipate the payoff will be a more permeable landscape where bears can recolonize areas to the south and east, a primary focus of the C2C initiative.   

And none of this is written on a blank slate. Dedicated government and independent grizzly biologists have done a stellar job of identifying and protecting thousands of hectares of core grizzly habitat throughout the area. 

It’s our job to fill in the blanks. 

In 2016, the Coast to Cascades Initiative: 

  • Hosted a symposium of First Nations leaders, scientists, conservationists and government officials to discuss strategies for grizzly bear conservation in Southwest B.C.
  • Received letters of support from the three First Nations – Squamish Nation, Okanagan Nation Alliance and St’át’imc Chiefs Council – whose territory C2C’s work covers.
  • Hired a N’Quatqua Nation member to coordinate conflict prevention and grizzly ecology outreach to several St’át’imc First Nation communities, including two grizzly bear-focused workshops.
  • Maintained standing contributions to our grizzly anti-poaching reward fund. 
  • Worked with cattle ranchers to better understand grizzly bear movement and lay the foundation for implementing conflict-preventive range strategies and practices.
  • Continued to advocate for local resolutions supportive of grizzly bear recovery.
  • And much more!
Securing the long term recovery of grizzly bears in southern British Columbia is essential for stable grizzly bear populations in wild areas across the transboundary Pacific Northwest. For more information on our work with Coast to Cascades, visit our webpage here.
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