Environment Minister Barry Penner advised British Columbians that effective June 16, 2009, an additional 470,000 hectares are now closed to grizzly bear hunting and effective July 1, 2009, more than 122,000 hectares are closed to black bear hunting on the Central and North coast.
The three areas closed to grizzly bear hunting are situated in the Nass-Skeena, Annuhati, and Khutze-Kitlope-Kimsquit Upper Dean-Tweedsmuir areas.
Areas now closed to black bear hunting include Gribbell Island and those portions of Princess Royal Island called the Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy, and the estuary of Whalen Creek and one km surrounding the estuary. These areas have a high proportion of the white-phase black bears, more commonly known as Spirit or Kermode Bears.
The B.C. government has worked with First Nations on the coast to implement the land-use decisions agreed to in 2006 and 2007. The establishment of three additional closed areas for grizzly bears and the new closures within the Kermode bear range resulted from extensive public and First Nations dialogue over many years.
The "no hunting" areas for grizzlies were originally conceived as part of the Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy and endorsed by the Grizzly Bear Scientific Panel in 2002. Specific locations were agreed to through the land-use planning table, stakeholder feedback and government-to-government discussions with First Nations.
The addition of 470,000 hectares closed to hunting brings the total area closed to grizzly bear hunting along the Central and North coast to 1.9 million hectares.
Through Strategic Land-Use Agreements, the B.C. government and First Nations also identified more than 122,000 hectares to be closed to black bear hunting to provide additional protection for Kermode bears. These areas will be closed to black bear hunting following this spring's hunt, which ended on June 30. Additionally, as of this year the hunting of any white-phase black bears anywhere in the province is now prohibited. Previously this prohibition only applied to the Kermode subspecies found in coastal regions.
Under the B.C. Wildlife Act, it is illegal to hunt Kermode bears, and penalties are up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison. Subsequent offenders can pay double and do double the jail time.
Following amendments introduced by Environment Minister Barry Penner in 2008, the maximum penalty for a first offence conviction under the B.C. Wildlife Act is now $250,000, up from the previous $50,000 maximum. Penalties can now include imprisonment for a term of two years, up from the previous six months. Subsequent convictions for the same or similar offences carry a maximum fine of $500,000 and/or three years in jail.
Hunting of bears is only permitted in areas where bear populations can sustain a controlled harvest and where bear populations are determined to be either stable or increasing.
According to the best available science, sustainable harvest rates for grizzly bears can be as high as nine per cent where hunting is permitted.
The Ministry of Environment manages the grizzly bear harvest rate in B.C. more conservatively at a maximum of six per cent for total human-caused mortality, with an actual harvest rate of approximately two to four per cent in many grizzly bear population units where hunting is permitted.
There are an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 black bears in the province. The best available science supports sustainable harvest rates of 12 per cent, but B.C. manages for a mortality rate of up to eight per cent for black bears. This includes hunting and other human-caused mortality such as vehicle collisions.