April 4, 2010

Environmentalists Warn Grizzly Population On The Decline

Canadian environmentalists are asking for stricter conservation measures as the controversial grizzly bear hunt began over the Easter weekend.

A group of scientists at two environmental organizations said the kill rate in past seasons exceeded provincial limits and will endanger the animals.

"The number of grizzlies being killed in British Columbia is excessive," Faisal Moola of the David Suzuki Foundation said in a statement.

"The government's own data show that humans are killing more grizzly bears than allowed, and the greatest cause of death is trophy hunting."

The existing bear population numbers remain inexact, however the scientist's said that it has now halved from an estimated 35,000 bears a century ago.

Part of the difficulty is that bears are solitary animals that range over thousands of square miles.

Provincial figures estimated 6,600 bears in the mid-1980s to about 16,000 in 2008.

Thursday's report called on British Columbia to stop trophy hunting bears in parks and other protected zones, as well as to protect bears from harmful human activities like setting up zones of interconnected habitats for the animals.

"In some cases, the number of grizzlies -- which no longer exist or are at risk of extinction in parts of the world -- killed by humans was more than double the number deemed allowable by the government," the Natural Resources Defense Council said.

The report, which was published by the Suzuki Foundation of Vancouver and the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, used opinion polls that suggest a majority of provincial residents support a ban on hunting.

It included a letter from eight biologists warning that without strong measures, "the viability of grizzly bear populations and their habitat continues to erode."

According to the report, about 25 percent of the giant bears left in North America live in mountainous British Columbia.

"Grizzlies have already been eliminated or are currently threatened in about 18 percent of the province," it said.

The species is considered to be endangered in the U.S. and hunting is banned in the Canadian prairie provinces.

A spokesman for professional hunting guides, Scott Ellis, told the AFP news agency that around 339 grizzlies were killed in British Columbia last year.

He disputed the findings that trophy hunting threatens grizzly survival.

"There are some good points raised, and some alarm bells that are rung unnecessarily," said Ellis of the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia, whose members are required by law to be hired by out-of-province hunters.

"The grizzly bear hunt is probably the most intensively managed hunt on the planet," he said.

According to Ellis, 100 of the animals killed on an annual basis were felled by out-of-province trophy hunters working with professional guides, 175 killed by hunters who lived in the province, and 60 that are destroyed by conservation officers or police. 

He said that hunting guides would demand stronger conservation measures if they thought the bears were threatened.

On Friday, the provincial government received the report and analyzed it.  However, Environment Minister Barry Penner told a local newspaper that the hunt kills two percent of the grizzly population annually, which is below the nine percent kill rate it could withstand.


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