Environmental groups, First Nations and members of the tourism sector are calling on the British Columbia government to legally protect grizzly and black bear dens across the province.
According to Sierra Club BC — a Victoria-based environmental program — recent studies have shown a decline in black bear denning sites across the province, with black bears on Vancouver Island being some of the most affected.
Sierra Club BC says that black bears on Vancouver Island rely heavily on dens associated with standing and downed large-diameter trees most commonly found in old-growth forests, however, logging of forests has greatly reduced the supply of suitable denning trees on Vancouver Island and other parts of the province.
“The fact that we still have no province-wide legal protection for bear dens is a shocking policy gap that should have been resolved years ago. It’s also a small step the B.C. government could take in the short term while the work continues on implementing the promised paradigm shift in forest stewardship. This is an easy and simple opportunity where everyone can agree that protecting bears’ homes is necessary for their long-term wellbeing,” said Mark Worthing, Coastal Projects Lead at Sierra Club BC.
In a recent report published by the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, researchers have identified policy measures requiring minor amendments to the Wildlife Act that could provide provincial-scale protection for bear dens and practical guidelines for landscape-level planning and management on the ground.
“Bear dens are nurseries for bears—as essential to cubs as nests are for birds. Cubs can only be born and successfully raised in safe, secure den sites that protect them from weather and predation. Yet specific legal protections for black bear dens only exist on Haida Gwaii and the Great Bear Rainforest where First Nations have demanded such protections. We now need a law to protect bears across the province from heedless logging,” said Calvin Sandborn, Senior Counsel at the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.
Sierra Club BC adds that dens in second-growth forests are decaying as well, building the case that regulations and enforcement need to be put in place to protect the decline of bear habitats.
“Protecting bear dens in British Columbia is vital because dens are paramount to species’ survival. As critical keystone species, their decline negatively impacts other species and can contribute to the eventual degradation of intact ecosystems. For bear viewing to continue, we know we need to continue to work diligently to protect these species, and protection starts with dens,” said Katherine MacRae, Executive Director of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association.
Sierra Club BC feels that a province-wide regulation that protects bear dens can be rolled out immediately.