British Columbia

B.C. auditor general to look into grizzly hunt

B.C. currently strives for a maximum six per cent human-caused, mortality rate for bears . Is that too high? And is the target being met? The auditor general intends to try and answer those questions.

Province currently strives for a maximum 6% human-caused, mortality-rate for bears

B.C.'s auditor general will look into the grizzly bear hunt in B.C. and hopes to have a report completed by the spring of 2017. (file photo/Canadian Press)

B.C.'s auditor general will look into the province's controversial grizzly bear hunt to see if the government is managing the animals properly.

The David Suzuki Foundation and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre asked for an investigation after a study they conducted suggested the limits on human-caused bear deaths were being exceeded.

Much of Auditor General Carol Bellringer's audit will focus on the government's target for how many bears can be killed by people each year — targets which the government has defended and advocates like Calvin Sandborn of the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Clinic have criticized.

The government strives for a maximum six per cent mortality rate for bears from human causes, generally over a five-year period. These deaths could be from bears being shot or accidental, such as being hit by a car or train.

"This valuable resource needs to be protected and conserved, and we asked the auditor general to investigate because it appears the government is not carefully conserving the grizzly bears," Sandborn told Radio West host Audrey McKinnon.

"They say to sustain populations, the maximum number of mortalities should be six per cent, and we submitted a new peer-reviewed study that shows they're exceeding six per cent mortality 26 per cent of the time for female grizzlies."

Sandborn says because some bear killings by humans are unpredictable, such as self-defense and the killing of problem bears, the government needs to issue fewer hunting licences to provide a wider margin.

In 2014, the latest year numbers are available, 267 bears were killed province-wide by hunters out of an estimated population of 15,000.

However, the numbers of bears killed are not evenly divided across the province, and some areas are thought to be harder hit than others.

A study published last month by government scientist Garth Mowat noted bears in the South Rockies area experienced a 40 per cent population decline from 2006 to 2013.

"We suspect the actual number of bears killed in the South Rockies was greater than was recorded," the study concluded. "The methods of accounting for the unreported mortalities used by the province underestimated unrecorded human-caused mortality during the period of population decline."

The auditor general's office says it hopes to have the audit completed by the spring of 2017.

In a statement, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations wrote, "The province makes its decisions on the best available science and is confident that the auditor general's report will show that."

With files from CBC Radio One's Radio West

To hear the full interview with Calvin Sandborn, click the audio labelled: Are we killing too many grizzlies? Auditor general to examine B.C.'s grizzly hunt