Grizzly bears have been reduced to less than 2% of their former range in the continental United States, and remaining populations in the lower 48 states and Canada are under increasing threat as hunting, other forms of human-induced mortality and extensive habitat destruction take their toll.
Recently however, concerns about the grizzly's plight have been brought into the international spotlight. On January 15, 2004, the European Union (EU) decided to suspend all imports of grizzly bear hunting trophies from the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC). The unanimous decision by the 15 member states was a result of the BC government's failure to protect its grizzly bear population despite repeated promises of action. Grizzlies are listed as vulnerable or threatened throughout the majority of their range in Canada, yet more than 200 are killed legally in a commercial sport hunt each year. Most foreign hunters who kill BC's grizzlies come from Europe and the United States.
The EU previously had warned the Canadian province that continued imports would be dependent on implementation of a series of important recommendations for grizzly management made by the BC government's own science panel. However, none of the substantial recommendations have been implemented and in some cases, actions have been taken that directly contradict the Panel's advice.
One of the key recommendations was for a network of protected, no-hunting reserves throughout the province. However, despite the fact that the reserves have been part of the government's Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy since 1995, none has been set up to date. A recent scientific review by five expert bear biologists concluded that, in order to secure a long-term future for grizzly bears in the province, these reserves must be fully protected from all ecologically damaging human activities, contain productive, roadless habitat and be able to support at least 500 grizzly bears. The report notes that "with existing management grizzly bears in British Columbia (BC) are on a long-term slide leading to extinction" and urges immediate action.
However, the BC government is not only failing to implement the recommendations of its own scientists, but is eliminating or weakening the regulations that protect grizzlies' wilderness homes, and continues to allow a sport hunt that scientists have been warning for decades is unsustainable. This all has worrying implications for the neighbouring populations of grizzlies in America's lower 48 states, which are strongly dependent on BC's bears for genetic exchange and population replenishment.
The BC government must now listen to the international community and recognise that if this enigmatic animal is to continue to roam through BC's forests, substantial measures to protect both grizzly bears and their habitats must urgently be executed.