British Columbia's contentious grizzly hunt may grab all the headlines but when it comes to the long-term survival of the iconic animal, the most serious threat is destruction of habitat caused by human activity like gas exploration and forestry.

That's according to a report just released by B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer, who also says that real action around grizzly conservation is sorely lacking because of an "unclear organizational structure and unclear accountabilities for wildlife management." 

"While government has undertaken activities to conserve grizzly bears, some of its commitments have gone unfulfilled," said Bellringer. 

"These include identifying and securing key grizzly bear habitats, creating a grizzly bear management plan and implementing a recovery plan for the North Cascades grizzly bear population."

Just one grizzly remains

North Cascade grizzly population unit map

A lone male is the last grizzly bear known to be living in the Canadian section of the North Cascade grizzly population unit. (Ministry of Environment)

The North Cascades area, where only one grizzly remains, serves to highlight some of the issues.

According to Bellringer's report, the area, although identified as "the highest conservation priority" in the province, has seen no action from the government to support that statement. 

In 2001, the government did put forward a recovery plan for the North Cascades, and tt was approved three years later by the environment minister. However, in 2006, a new minister rejected the plan, because it involved moving grizzlies into the area. 

The report goes on to say that the "lack of implementation [of the plan] has not been publicly disclosed."

Grizzly hunt concerns

The report also highlights numerous problems with the annual grizzly hunt, including how animals are counted and monitored and how hunting fees are determined and distributed.

Grizzly Hunt

Approximately 15,000 grizzlies remain in B.C. (file photo/Canadian Press)

Currently a resident of B.C. pays $80 for a grizzly hunting licence, while a non-resident pays $1,030. 

Whose job is it?

Bellringer says the current grizzly plan isn't working, partly because of the confusion and tension over the roles and responsibilities of the two bodies responsible for grizzly management — the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • Creating clear goals and targets for each ministry, along with effective monitoring programs.
  • Developing and implementing an adequately resourced inventory and monitoring strategy for grizzlies.
  • Better policies and transparency around grizzly bear hunt allocations.
  • Giving enough resources to the Conservation Officer Service to allow it to prevent and respond to grizzly-human conflicts.
  • Developing clear policies for bear viewing.
  • Identifying actions to recover at-risk grizzly populations.
  • Evaluating and adjusting tools to mitigate the impact of industry on grizzly habitat.
  • Evaluating and adjusting tools to conserve grizzly habitat.

There are an estimated 15,000 grizzlies remaining in B.C. 

The report says numbers of the bear are increasing in certain areas, but "this is likely happening independently from an adequate management framework."

Bellringer says her office was motivated to do the audit because "if grizzly bears aren't faring well, it's a sign the ecosystem as a whole is facing challenges."