The recent sighting of a grizzly bear family near Whistler, along with the ongoing scientific, political, and public awareness efforts of the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Initiative has brought the larger variety of our ursine friends back into the public eye.
We’ve written about the history of grizzlies around Whistler before, and even contemplated their return. This remains a poorly understood topic among the general public, so we recently had a chat with Claire Ruddy, Communications & Outreach Coordinator for Coast to Cascades to get the inside scoop.
First off, Coast to Cascades is a regional coalition of scientists and conservation experts working towards the successful coexistence of humans and grizzly bears in southwestern BC. What makes their work so crucial is the fact that our region currently rests along the southern line of extinction of grizzly bears in North America, a population which used to extend all the way to central Mexico.
The task of stopping the further retreat of grizzly habitat now firmly rests in our hands. It helps to understand our region’s grizzlies in terms of distinct population units:
When you see the numbers on the map and understand how vast the territories occupied by each of these population units, you start to appreciate how imperilled these grizzlies are. Unfortunately for the Garibaldi-Pitt group, an estimated population of 2 means that the sub-population to our immediate south has very little long-term viability, though there is some hope.
Like the neighbouring North Cascades sub-population, one key to long-term sustainability for critically endangered grizzlies is growing the population in neighbouring districts with more robust populations. Once this is accomplished, preserving key habitat corridors that enable migration between sub-populations can bring much-needed genetic diversity to the more isolated groups.
An encouraging example comes from the Squamish-Lillooet sub-population where the population seems to be stabilizing in large part due to decreasing industrial activity in the Toba-Bute region which has proven a boon to local grizzlies.
Another positive development has been the growing support from Sea-to Sky local governments to encourage higher levels of government into implementing and acting upon a regional grizzly recovery plan. If all goes well, grizzly sightings in our surrounding wilderness could become more frequent in the near future.
The return of these large apex carnivores will not be without controversy, and the success of such efforts will greatly rely on cooperation and support from the general public. Avoiding grizzlies altogether is best, but Claire also emphasized how the single most important step one can take to ensure potential grizzly-human interactions remain mutually beneficial is to carry bear spray. Studies repeatedly indicate that bear spray is a more effective deterrent than firearms, and of course a non-lethal solution is always preferable.
For more info on best practices during bear encounters, check out this page from the Get Bear Smart Society.