April 2 was International Bear Day! Celebrating the fact that we still have these amazing animals roaming some parts of B.C. is a reason to acknowledge that good fortune, but there is much more to this day than accepting the notion that what we have left is the best we can do.
There are remnant endangered grizzly bear populations in nine regions of southern B.C., including one just over the hills to the east of the Okanagan. There, the Granby population limps along at fewer than 40 bears, and is now several decades into “planning” for recovery; problem is, “our” governments have never finalized or legalized that plan.
On the ground it only gets worse; logging and roads continue to invade the remnants of a landscape that has been ravaged by industrial scale logging for half a century, and still there exist no established core security areas or limits on road density. Livestock scour the landscape degrading vegetation and aggravating conflict with bears.
To the west, the “Cascades” grizzly bear population, one British Columbians share with Washington, struggles even to be recognized as a biological population. Evidence indicates there are as few as 10 grizzly bears somewhere “out there,” perhaps even one occasionally finding itself in Cathedral Provincial Park, a place grizzly bears roamed historically until they were hunted to extinction by the livestock industry, trappers, miners and hunters.
Once again, recovery action has been stalled for decades even though a plan has been written, and even when protected landscapes like Cathedral and Manning Parks would form a sound core for recovery.
The talked about Okanagan National Park could be another wheel on the recovery wagon! To their credit, the Americans are proceeding with a legally established plan, and they are even proposing to reintroduce some bears. No such foresight or generosity exists in the minds of British Columbia’s elected politicians or land or wildlife managers.
Some humans around the world celebrate International Bear Day, but no matter how sentient bears are, I’m not sure they would be celebrating. Special interests in B.C., fueled by what they see as a historical entitlement to exploit public land, and a political system undermined by lobbyists and conflict of interest, have not been kind to bears.
Confound that with a “public service” that behaves as though land and wildlife management barely deserves afterthought treatment, much like a battered caboose dragging along behind, and bludgeoned by, subsidized economic and industrial strategies.
Collectively these powers have abused the landscapes bears need in order to recover or survive as viable parts of nature.
On this occasion at least, may I remind you that you and I own these public landscapes, that few British Columbians support bear hunting, and that a large number of citizens think government is failing to honour the wishes of the people to protect bear habitat from logging, oil and gas exploitation, roads, off road vehicles, and grazing conflict. It is we that will have to work to give ourselves and bears a reason to celebrate!
– Dr. Brian L. Horejsi, Wildlife Scientist, Penticton