Grizzly bears venturing from dens in search of food this spring will face landscapes dominated by mines, roads, pipelines, clearcuts and ever-expanding towns and cities. As in years past, they'll also face the possibility of painful death at the hands of trophy hunters.
British Columbia's spring bear hunt just opened. Hunters are fanning across the province's mountains, grasslands, forests and coastline, armed with high-powered rifles and the desire to bag a grizzly bear, just to put its head on a wall or its pelt on the floor as a "trophy."
According to B.C. government statistics, they will kill about 300 of these majestic animals by the end of the spring and fall hunts. If this year follows previous patterns, about 30 per cent of the slaughter will be females — the reproductive engines of grizzly populations.
Many grizzlies will likely be killed within B.C.'s renowned provincial parks and protected areas, where trophy hunting is legal. Government records obtained by the David Suzuki Foundation in 2008 show trophy hunters have shot dozens of grizzly bears in places we would expect wildlife to be protected. We don't know the exact number of bears killed in B.C.'s parks since 2008 because, in contravention of a ruling by B.C.'s privacy commissioner, the government refuses to disclose recent spatial data showing where bears have been killed.
Much of this killing has occurred in northern wilderness parks, such as Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park and Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park. Tatshenshini-Alsek Park forms a massive transboundary conservation zone with federal protected areas in the Yukon (Kluane National Park and Reserve) and Alaska (Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve). Trophy hunting is prohibited in most U.S. national parks and all Canadian national parks, but not in B.C.'s provincial parks.
Wild animals don't heed political boundaries. Wide-ranging species like grizzly bears move in and out of neighbouring jurisdictions. If a grizzly bear in Montana wanders a few kilometres north in search of a mate, it goes from being protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act to being a possible trophy hunter target in B.C.
But now, in response to intense pressure from the trophy-hunting industry, the U.S. administration wants to strip grizzly bears of federal protection. U.S. President Donald Trump also recently signed into law rules allowing trophy hunters to target grizzly bears around bait stations and from aircraft, and to kill grizzly mothers and their cubs in Alaska's national wildlife refuges, where they've been protected from these unethical hunting practices.
Grizzly bears face an ominous political climate under the Trump administration, along with growing human threats across their North American range, from trophy hunting to habitat destruction, precipitous declines in food sources like salmon and whitebark pine nuts, and climate change impacts.
In parts of Canada, mainly in sparsely populated areas of northern B.C. and the territories, grizzly bear numbers are stable. But in the Interior and southern B.C. and Alberta, grizzlies have been relegated to a ragged patchwork of small, isolated and highly threatened habitats — a vestige of the forests and grasslands they once dominated.
The B.C. government has ended grizzly hunting among highly threatened sub-populations in the Interior and southern parts of the province and, in response to pressure from local First Nations, has promised to do the same in the Great Bear Rainforest. But the slaughter of B.C.'s great bears continues everywhere else.
That this year's spring hunt coincides with a B.C. election could bring hope for grizzlies, possibly catalyzing the first change in government wildlife policy in close to two decades. The May 9 election will give B.C. residents the opportunity to ask candidates if they will end the grizzly hunt if elected. So far, the B.C. NDP and Green Party say they would ban grizzly trophy hunting (but allow grizzly hunting for food), whereas the BC Liberals continue to defend and promote the trophy hunt as "well-managed," despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
The fate of B.C.'s grizzlies is too important to be a partisan issue. All politicians should support protection. Rough-and-tumble politics this election season might finally end B.C.'s cruel and unsustainable grizzly bear trophy hunt. It's time to stop this grisly business.
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.