Calling it possibly the last chance to save the grizzly bear species in southwest B.C., nine local and provincial environmental groups are creating the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative (CCGBI).The Sierra Club BC, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, BC Nature, AWARE, Conservation Northwest, Pemberton Wildlife Association, Lillooet Naturalist Society and Whistler Naturalists announced the launch of the outreach and advocacy group on Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Johnny Mikes, who is CCGBI's field coordinator, said grizzlies are not only threatened, they are disappearing from areas like Garibaldi Provincial Park just outside Whistler.
"The government is doing some of the right things," said Mikes. "These populations are not hunted, which is good because they can't sustain that. There has been some good work done by government staff on identifying wildlife management areas for grizzly bears, though they have been small, specific areas... there just needs to be an overall comprehensive plan.
"We have many, many (run-of-river) IPP concepts that have water licences or investigative permits to look at energy, and there are all kinds of recreation demands and forestry activity. These activities are being carried out without there being a comprehensive set of plans for these bears."
The remit of the group is to help recover the populations in five areas covering five per cent of the province: Squamish-Lillooet (with 59 grizzlies), Garibaldi-Pitt (two grizzlies), South Chilcotin Ranges (203 grizzlies), Stein-Nahatlatch (24 grizzlies) and North Cascades (six grizzlies).
"The Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) five years ago said there should be plans for the recovery for the populations of four of these five grizzly bear populations, those four overlap the LRMP area," Mikes said.
"The recovery plans have not been written; they haven't been done, let alone implemented."
Mikes said the mandate to create and implement the plans lies with government, which could work with industry, ranchers and farmers, local communities and First Nations to ensure the successes of a recovery plan. Environment groups alone do not have the same mandate, he added, though CCGBI will be reaching out to these groups.
"What we are hearing from some of the scientists and researchers is that some of the populations, like the Stein-Nahatlatch population (east of Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton), have seen a high degree of mortality," he said.
"We're talking about using provincial grizzly management plans — using the existing tools that the province has."
Humans have killed three breeding-age females from the Stein-Nahatlatch region, out of just 24 grizzlies, since 2006.
The official number of grizzlies for the Squamish-Lillooet region alone is estimated to be 59, but Mikes said numbers may have changed and new research on populations is due to be published in the spring of 2014.
Mikes wanted to emphasize that the species was not at risk in Canada overall, the recovery in the Coast to Cascades Plan is specific to those populations. In some ways, the southwest B.C. grizzlies are cut off from the rest of the province in Canada by a large area running from Williams Lake to the Okanagan, where grizzlies have disappeared almost entirely.
"Many of our grizzly populations are hanging on in the back end of the valleys. The more of their remaining habitat gets affected, either through direct habitat loss or too much human activity, the (more frequently) bears leave because they are alienated from the habitat. Without a plan to deal with those issues, we won't keep them," Mikes said.
"It's a pro-grizzly initiative. We think there is real opportunity for a conservation success story around these bears."
The CCGBI has also launched a website: www.coasttocascades.org.