B.C. government expands 'no-hunt' areas for bears

The B.C. government has announced a major increase in no-hunting zones in a bid to protect the famed white-coloured black bear known as the "Spirit," or Kermode, bear.

The B.C. government has announced a major increase in no-hunting zones in a bid to protect the famed white-coloured black bear known as the "Spirit," or Kermode, bear.

An additional 470,000 hectares have been closed to grizzly bear hunting and more than 22,000 additional hectares have been closed to black bear hunting on the central and north coast of the province, Environment Minister Barry Penner said in a news release issued on Monday.

A total of 1.9 million hectares in the Nass-Skeena, Annuhati and Khutze-Kitlope-Kimsquit Upper Dean-Tweedsmuir areas are now closed to grizzly bear hunting, the release said.

A total of 122,000 hectares are now closed to black bear hunting, including Gribbell Island and those portions of Princess Royal Island known as the Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy and the estuary of Whalen Creek and one kilometre surrounding the estuary, the release said.

These areas have a high proportion of the white-phase black bears — more commonly known as "Spirit" or Kermode bears — which have a unique recessive gene that makes the bear's coat white.

Under the B.C. Wildlife Act, it is now illegal to hunt Kermode bears anywhere in the province, with penalties ranging up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison. Subsequent offenders could pay double and do double the jail time.

Previously, the prohibition only applied to the Kermode subspecies found in coastal regions.