Monday, September 26, 2011

BC Bear Facts

(Originally published in the Merritt News – Othmar Vohinger The Outdoorsman)

© By Othmar Vohringer

Part 1

I decided to write this column not as a hunter but as an animal behaviourist with a better-than-average knowledge of wildlife biology. In the past few months, a lot has been said and written here in Merritt and elsewhere in British Columbia about bears invading our communities and how we can prevent that. Over the years, bear/human encounters and cases of marauding bears in communities have risen sharply and so have incidents that ended in injured persons and, in several cases, with the death of a person. Despite all the efforts of organizations, like Bear Aware, the bear and human incidents are on a constant rise throughout British Columbia—even with all the information provided to the people on how to limit such encounters or attracting bears to our communities.

Are people to blame for this bear problem? If we listen to special interest groups, one could certainly think so, and in some cases, that might even be true, to a degree.

However, we’re never told the full truth as to why there are more bears scavenging in our communities. The truth and biggest factor of why these encounters happen more frequently should not be entirely blamed on people’s negligence but rather on an out-of-control growing bear population.

Yes, you read that right. Bears are far from an endangered or threatened species, as the mainstream media, supported by special interest groups, loves to point out at every drop of the hat. The truth of the matter is that British Columbia has the biggest black and grizzly bear population per square mile anywhere in North America and perhaps even in the world, and it is still growing. In some areas (including ours), the bear population has reached the habitat’s carrying capacity. According to an intensive government bear count conducted in 2000, there were over 130,000 black bears in B.C.

That is 30 per cent of the entire Canadian black bear population and 15 per cent of all black bears in North America combined. The grizzly bear population in B.C. ranged close to 15,000 animals. This means that grizzly bears have increased at a rate of six to eight per cent. However, this was in the year 2000. Since then, mild winters and good food growing seasons—plus the growth in prey populations, such as deer, elk, rabbits and other bear menu favourites—have resulted in a bear population explosion.

A study has shown that we now have grizzly bears where traditionally none existed, such as in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. Researchers still wonder how grizzly bears got to the island. Well, they didn’t take the ferry or come there by airplane …they swam across to the island.

Several other scientific opinions suggest that the bear population is at an all-time high, and unless we introduce a drastic bear management program, there will be no end to that population growth. How do you control a growing bear population? Easy, by reducing it. But it is exactly that which is a tough sell for politicians more interested in the votes of big-city dwellers, who have a romantic vision of cuddly bears that wipe their bottoms with triple-layered bathroom tissue or dance around a campfire singing catchy tunes.

Rather than upsetting voters, our government chooses to ignore the bear problem and, instead, invents measures that force rural and suburban people to adjust their lifestyle to marauding bears. To see what devastating effects such politically flavoured wildlife conservation can create, we need look no further than Ontario. In 1999, Mike Harris, the former premier of Ontario, banned the spring bear hunt and drastically reduced the numbers of tags for fall bear hunting. Harris ignored the concerns voiced by serious wildlife biologists, hunters and rural people, about the effects such a decision would have. In an attempt to stem the flood of protests against his decision, Harris went on public record saying that he was more concerned about getting the votes from the people in Toronto than about the concerns of biologists, hunters, and rural people.

Ten years after the decision to cancel the spring bear hunt, the rural and urban Ontario people are now living in constant fear of bears attacking children and breaking into houses.


Part 2 of this column will be posted October 9, 2010

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