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Province proposes grizzly hunting around Kimberley

Hunting of grizzly bears was closed in the St. Mary River Valley in 2011. After a summer of bear incidents around Kimberley, the B.C. government is seeking to allow grizzly hunting in the area next spring - File
Hunting of grizzly bears was closed in the St. Mary River Valley in 2011. After a summer of bear incidents around Kimberley, the B.C. government is seeking to allow grizzly hunting in the area next spring
— image credit: File

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 next spring, limited entry hunting could be reopened in Management Units 4-20 – the St. Mary Valley and north to 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 those 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 based its proposal on a study of the grizzly bear population in the South Rockies published in September.

The ministry’s proposal comes after a year of increasing grizzly bear incidents around Kimberley.

In September, two juvenile grizzly bears spent a week roaming through Kimberley and Marysville. Conservation Officers were forced to kill one of the pair in Marysville and relocate the other bear up the St. Mary River Valley. The same month, a grizzly bear killed an elk on Lois Creek Trails in Kimberley.

Grizzlies were also spotted over the summer at Kimberley Alpine Resort, and long-time Wycliffe rancher Ray Van Steinburg reported grizzlies killing his cattle in September for the first time in his 63 years on the property.

In November 2012, two Wycliffe residents were fortunate to survive an attack by a sow grizzly near LD Ranch Road after they startled the grizzly and her cubs feeding on a deer. Susan Bond and Peter Moody both suffered multiple lacerations, bites and puncture wounds to the head, arms, legs and torso.

Local Conservation Officers tracked the grizzly but determined the bear and her cubs had left the area so they did not feel it necessary to pursue the bears, a decision that Susan and Peter supported.

Meanwhile, 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 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 – in 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 estimated 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. That’s very common now,” 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.

“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/breaking_news/236393541.html.

A biologist for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation cautions there is a history of grizzlies being killed past the target in the Kootenays.

“The government has also identified this region as being one of particular conservation concern given numerous other human-caused impacts, such as roads, development, and bear-human conflicts,” said Kyle Artelle, who is a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University.

Artelle added that factors such as food shortage or habitat loss could be bringing grizzlies into communities, rather than overpopulation.

“Observing more bears in a given location does not necessarily mean that populations are increasing,” said Artelle. “Expanding the hunt in an area in which bears are experiencing considerable other stressors, and where repeated management failures have historically led to frequent and widespread overkills, is a management strategy based on neither caution nor on sound science.”

You can provide input on the B.C. government proposal to reopen grizzly bear hunting in parts of the East Kootenay before Friday, Dec. 20 at http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/hunting/re-open-grizzly-bear-leh-hunts-mus-4-20-and-4-23.

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