Environmental groups, First Nations and tourism sector call for legal protection of bear dens across B.C. as old-growth den habitats continue to be destroyed
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 27, 2022
Unceded Lekwungen Territories (VICTORIA, BC) — As bears emerge this spring from their winter denning sites, environmental groups, First Nations and members of the tourism sector are calling on the British Columbia government to formally protect grizzly and black bear dens and ensure viable habitat is available for a healthy bear population across the province.
In a new report developed by the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, researchers have identified simple yet effective policy measures requiring minor amendments to the Wildlife Act that could provide provincial-scale protection for bear dens and practical guidelines for landscape-level planning and management on the ground.
Recent studies have shown a decline in black bear denning sites across the province, with research showing that black bears on Vancouver Island are some of the most affected. Black bears on Vancouver Island rely heavily on dens associated with standing and downed large-diameter trees most commonly found in old-growth forests. However, a century of logging these forests has greatly reduced the supply of suitable denning trees on Vancouver Island and other parts of the province.
“Bears are one of our closest forest relatives that have taught Kwakwaka’wakw people many lessons over time. Old-growth logging has been steadily destroying the homes of our t̕ła’yi (black bears). It’s time the province disavows the destruction of bear dens and takes responsibility for their protection,” said Rande Cook, Giǥa̱me’ ‘Ma̱kwa̱la, Ma’a̱mtagila and ‘Na̱mǥis First Nation.
“The fact that we still have no province-wide legal protection for bear dens is a shocking policy gap that should have been resolved years ago. It’s also a small step the B.C. government could take in the short term while the work continues on implementing the promised paradigm shift in forest stewardship. This is an easy and simple opportunity where everyone can agree that protecting bears’ homes is necessary for their long-term wellbeing,” said Mark Worthing, Coastal Projects Lead at Sierra Club BC.
“Bear dens are nurseries for bears—as essential to cubs as nests are for birds. Cubs can only be born and successfully raised in safe, secure den sites that protect them from weather and predation. Yet specific legal protections for black bear dens only exist on Haida Gwaii and the Great Bear Rainforest where First Nations have demanded such protections. We now need a law to protect bears across the province from heedless logging,” said Calvin Sandborn, Senior Counsel at the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.
Research has also found that dens in second-growth forests are decaying and will not be replaced because new logging is permitted long before the large-diameter trees suitable for dens have a chance to develop. As this new report states, the B.C. government has enough evidence of the decline of bear habitat to justify regulations that protect this habitat in an enforceable way, across the entire province.
“Moving forward with province-wide protection of black bear dens is overdue. This is not just about the necessity to stop logging old-growth den trees. All den types require protection. We need to start thinking about recruiting black bear den cavities by replacing big trees, especially in the most heavily logged coastal and interior wet belt landscapes,” said Tony Hamilton, former Large Carnivore Specialist at the B.C. Ministry of Environment.
“Protecting bear dens in British Columbia is vital because dens are paramount to species’ survival. As critical keystone species, their decline negatively impacts other species and can contribute to the eventual degradation of intact ecosystems. For bear viewing to continue, we know we need to continue to work diligently to protect these species, and protection starts with dens,” said Katherine MacRae, Executive Director of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association.
“Logging and other forms of resource extraction as they’re practiced today often threaten wildlife throughout the province. Den protection is an important part of keeping healthy, ecologically functioning black bear populations on the landscape,” said Thomas Knowles, Project Director at Echo Conservation.
“I have long believed in the need for legal protection of bear dens in B.C. The scientific research supports this need. It is gratifying to have others come to the same conclusion and I hope the B.C. government acts on the mechanisms suggested in the report,” said Helen Davis, Registered Professional Biologist at Artemis Wildlife Consultants.
The ongoing destruction of bear dens across many parts of the province is a dramatic example of the biodiversity crisis in B.C., particularly for species that depend on intact forests. In 2020, Premier Horgan promised to implement all recommendations made by the Old Growth Review Panel, including to “declare conservation of ecosystem health and biodiversity of British Columbia’s forests as an overarching priority and enact legislation that legally establishes this priority for all sectors.” (Recommendation 2). Province-wide regulation that protects bear dens can be rolled out immediately as efforts to implement Indigenous-led conservation solutions to protect all at-risk ecosystems and endangered species habitats continue.
For more information, please contact:
Mark Worthing | Coastal Projects Lead, Sierra Club BC
250-8893575 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Calvin Sandborn | Senior Counsel, UVic Environmental Law Centre
250-472-5248 | email@example.com
Tony Hamilton | Former Large Carnivore Specialist, BC Ministry of Environment
250-818-4931 | Hamilton.Anthony.Neil@gmail.com
Kathy MacRae | Executive Director, Commercial Bear Viewing Association
604-762-7751 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas Knowles | Project Director, Echo Conservation
Helen Davis | Registered Professional Biologist, Artemis Wildlife Consultants
Photo: Artemis Wildlife Consultants