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bear column

Bear Update: Hunting Bears Increases Bear Values By Michael Allen Black Bear Researcher I want to break away from the bi-monthly columns on seasonal activities of black bears in the Whistler Valley to clarify an upcoming issue: banning black bear hunting in British Columbia. In August, Anthony Marr, an environmentalist who has been campaigning for the last several years against the illegal trade of bear parts, will be arriving in Whistler to campaign for the banning of legal bear hunting in British Columbia. When I first heard of Mr. Marr and his battle against the illegal trade of bear parts, I thought it was great that someone was taking a strong hold on this issue. But when I learned of his new campaign with the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee on legal bear hunting in B.C., I was shocked. His argument against the poaching of bears and the illegal trade of their parts is strong and I am in support, but I seriously question if he has the scientific data to support the argument for the campaign on banning legal bear hunting as a solution to preserving black bears. With respect to Mr. Marr, I do not think he even has the background or data to attempt an assessment of black bear management in British Columbia. As a naturalist I have an obligation to the bears, to the public, and to the scientific community to collect the most unbiased, natural data on black bear ecology. When I first started collecting data on black bears in 1986 I realized how misunderstood black bears were and how information was lacking at the provincial level. In 1986, several regions of the province experienced delayed and failed berry crops. As a result, an increase in bear activity in communities forced conservation officers to destroy and relocate high numbers of bears. The major regulator of black bears then was the berry crop and improper garbage management. Now, 10 years later, food supply and human attitudes remain the only major factors which limit black bear numbers. Food supply and human attitude are the primary parameters which regulate the black bear population in the Whistler ecosystem. Food supply is mainly the success or failure of the valley and mountain berry crops. Huckleberries are the main food source, which successfully fatten bears for a healthy hibernation. Climate, specifically high-solar days and uniform temperatures above 5 degrees Celsius after berry shrubs flower, determines the distribution of abundant ripe berries. Human attitude is basically how people perceive the black bear and respond to its activity in close proximity. The number of bears removed (destroyed and relocated) from Whistler is a function of how people handle their garbage and other things which attract bears. Relocating bears from the Whistler Valley does nothing to enhance the bear population. It socially disrupts the bear population in the valley and in the relocation area. Relocation is usually only successful with single, larger dominant bears who have the size and strength to secure a territory in the new population. Moreover, returning bears are ultimately destroyed due to their presumed conditioning to garbage. Finally, relocation does not preserve the well-being of black bears in the Whistler Valley but rather breaks it down over time and only prolongs the conflict between people, garbage and bears. Funds spent on relocating bears could otherwise be used in establishing a better garbage management program, which includes educating people through workshops on bear ecology. In order to manage and thus preserve a species you must identify the animal’s life requirements. Food and shelter or habitat are the primary requirements for bears. Next is predation — what hunts the animal or what controls the animal’s numbers? Man is the only predator of adult black bears. Grizzlies, cougars, wolves, and coyotes have all preyed on black bear cubs and/or families. Adult male black bears will kill cubs and yearlings, but only over food, space, and mating competition, rather than predation as food. In order to increase the black bear’s value and thus be managed more critically it must continue to be hunted as a big game animal. Black bears must be renewable and have some use in order to be valued, not managed as vermin or a garbage-related program. Non-consumptive use of bears such as bear-viewing at concentrated food resources (salmon-spawning and open spring grazing areas), would be ideal but, currently, hunting is more economical. Wildlife viewing, however, is an increasing trend and will ultimately set the stage for a wildlife-tourism industry in the next decade. Legal hunting is closely regulated and is concluded by B.C. wildlife biologists not to regulate the black bear population. If we banned bear hunting in B.C, the bears would be the first to suffer. Their value would drop and they would be subject to increased poaching because black bears value would rise on the illegal trade market. It would be very difficult to manage (more difficult than now) because the information generated from hunter harvest statistics would not be available to indicate trends in population levels. Conservation officers would undoubtedly revert to full-time bear control measures because human opinion and knowledge of black bears would decrease over time. Revenue generated from hunting in B.C. helps to fund many habitat conservation projects and wildlife research. Hunters also provide input to bear numbers and incidents of poaching. I am confident about my standing on the bear hunting issue because through my research I have observed and measured most of what interacts with the black bear population. However, it is interesting to learn what people think of black bears and I always welcome different views. Michael Allen can be heard on Mountain FM's Mountain Monitor program the fourth Tuesday of each month. Listen Aug. 27 at noon.