An environmental group is warning that huckleberry pickers in the Kootenays have been stripping wild bushes of their berries at an unprecedented commercial scale, robbing bears in the area of a natural food source.
A commercial huckleberry camp has sprung up near Yahk, B.C., with about 30 pickers taking to the woods daily to pick for sale in the U.S., according to Wildsight.
"We're seeing commercial harvesting of wild huckleberries on a scale we've certainly never been aware of before," said Wildsight conservation director John Bergenske.
He's concerned there won't be enough huckleberries left for bears in the area, which need to eat hundreds of kilograms in preparation for winter hibernation.
In particular, grizzly bears in the Yahk area are listed as threatened, with only about 20 of them in region, according to the B.C. government.
500 pounds a day
Conservation officer James Barber has visited the camp, and told CBC News he saw a commercial style of rake being used to harvest the berries.
He also spoke to a berry buyer from the Lower Mainland there who was purchasing about 500 pounds a day from the pickers for resale.
Barber told CBC he spoke to the buyer about the cleanliness of the camp and attracting wildlife, but there was little else he could do.
"I'm not sure of anything that can be done under the Wildlife Act," he said.
Regulations needed says group
Regulating wild berry harvesting has long been discussed and studied in B.C., but Bergenske said rules haven't been put in place.
Wildsight said B.C. needs regulations on the commercial harvest of wild berries to make sure there's enough for both people and wildlife.
"We need to stop or at the very least regulate commercial harvest of wild foods," said Bergenske.
"Just as hunters cannot sell wild meat, people should not be harvesting unlimited quantities for sale."
The Ktunaxa First Nation is also raising concerns about the sustainability of the commercial harvest, according the joint release with Wildsight.
"If we respect the spirit of the berry, it will be able to feed people, feed the bears, feed all living things," said Bonnie Harvey of the Ktunaxa Nation.
"But if we disrespect the berry it won't provide in future years."
With files from Bob Keating