By Sally MacDonald
After a summer where Kimberley saw grizzly bears roaming through town, the B.C. government is proposing to re-open limited entry hunting for grizzly bears in the St. Mary River Valley.
It’s one of two areas in the East Kootenay – the other is around Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford – that could be reopened to grizzly hunting after a two-year sabbatical.
“The areas where resumed hunting is being proposed have stable to increasing grizzly populations that can sustain a conservative hunt,” said Andrew Wilson, Director of B.C.’s Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Management Branch within the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
“If hunting or other grizzly mortality exceeds mortality estimates, the hunt can be reduced or even completely closed, as has been done previously.”
The government is proposing that limited entry hunting could be reopened next spring in Management Units 4-20 – the St. Mary Valley and around Skookumchuck – and 4-23 – in the Elk Valley – to allow the harvest of five grizzlies each year for three years. This target could be altered if more grizzlies are killed than the target, either through hunting or rail and road kills.
“Because we recognize inherent uncertainty in our population and harvest rate estimates, conservative mortality targets are used as well as other important sources of information,” said Wilson.
Grizzly hunting in the two areas was closed in 2011 because more bears – specifically female bears – had been killed than the province thought was necessary to maintain the population. The Fish and Wildlife Branch asks hunters to select male grizzlies.
Grizzly hunting remains permitted in other parts of the East Kootenay. In 2012, the province issued 3,716 tags across B.C., but only 250 grizzlies were harvested.
The Ministry conducted a study of the grizzly bear population in the South Rockies, with the report published in September.
“The proposal to open these hunts is based on the best available science, as are all grizzly bear hunt decisions,” said Wilson.
In the Elk Valley, two men were attacked by a grizzly bear on Mount Proctor in July. The pair were hiking when attacked by a sow without knowing she was nearby. After first using bear spray, one of the men shot and injured the bear, which fled. They suffered wounds to the arms and legs.
In October, two hikers came across a sow and two cubs feeding on a moose on the Galloway trail. When the sow charged the hikers, one of the men shot and injured the bear. Trails in the area where closed for a week.
Local wildlife ecologist Bob Jamieson, a resident of Ta Ta Creek, said all of these encounters with grizzlies indicate there is a healthy population in the Rocky Mountain Trench.
“We closed the fall grizzly bear hunting season back in the 1970s and it allowed these bears to recover and they’ve been managed very conservatively for 30 years now. And the population has recovered. It’s a huge success,” said Jamieson.
“Our dilemma here in the Kootenays is this: how do we balance maintaining a healthy bear population, including many bears living in the trench, where they constitute a the risk to people who live in the rural areas in the main valley?”
Jamieson has prepared a report, “Grizzly bear numbers in southern B.C., Alberta and northern Montana,” detailing the grizzly population in the region.
According to Jamieson’s report, there are now more than 900 grizzlies in the East Kootenay. In the Crown of the Continent region – the Waterton and Flathead areas and northern Montana – there are an estimated 1,226 bears. In the Canadian Rockies there are an estimated 1,309 bears, and west of the Rocky Mountain Trench there are an estimate 1,767 bears, for a total of 4,302 bears.
“One of the pieces of the puzzle is that most people don’t realize just how many bears we have now. Grizzly bears are certainly not a species at risk anymore. We have a very healthy population that is producing an excess of bears that are moving into human occupied areas.
“If you don’t like hunting, you need to realize that by opposing hunting, you are not saving a bear’s life. It just means the conservation officers will have to shoot it instead of the hunter,” said Jamieson.
A former outfitter and rancher, Jamieson said that when he first moved to the East Kootenay 40 years ago, people would talk for a week if they saw a grizzly bear track.
“From my window I’m looking out at the Kootenay River and a month ago I had a grizzly bear feeding on a dead horse right in my view,” said Jamieson.
“I expect to carry a rifle or bear spray when I’m up the White River or up the St. Mary’s. But I don’t think it’s very good for bears or people if we have to grab a bear spray when we want out of the house to walk the dog.”
Jamieson supports the province’s proposal to reopen the grizzly bear hunt around Kimberley and in the Elk Valley to manage this population growth.
“I would suggest it’s time we stabilized the grizzly bear population and that means we should be harvesting more of them. But that’s a hard sell with some people, especially with people who live in Victoria who can feel good about saving grizzly bears but don’t have to live with the consequences of having them in your backyard.”
You can read Jamieson’s report in full at www.dailytownsman.com.