British Columbia's controversial spring grizzly bear hunt opened Tuesday, with the highest number of tags issued in decades.

The spring hunt runs from April 1 to May 31, with a fall hunt beginning Oct. 1 and continuing into mid-November.

Provincial biologists estimate there are up to 15,000 grizzly bears in the province — about a quarter of the North American population.

Based on government counts that showed stabilization of grizzly populations in areas that were previously overhunted, the government reopened several areas to hunting this year.

No one from provincial wildlife management was immediately available to comment but about 1,800 tags for bear kills are being issued this year, up from about 1,700 last year.

Biologist Paul Paquet from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation says it's extremely difficult to do a proper count and there could be as few as 6,000 grizzlies in B.C. -- too few to risk a trophy hunt.