Grizzly Bear Population Status in B.C.

  • There are approximately 15,000 Grizzly bears in British Columbia1; this is about a quarter of the entire North American population.
  • Of the 56 extant Grizzly bear Population Units in British Columbia, 9 are classified as threatened.
  • Grizzly bears are an important part of the British Columbia landscape in many ways:
    • They are a symbol of ecological integrity that represents much of what British Columbians and visitors alike appreciate about B.C.’s natural beauty.
    • B.C. is host to some of North America’s last remaining places where large predators and their prey play out their millennia-old roles; Grizzly bears are a key part of these systems.
    • They are an important “umbrella” species, as landscapes that support healthy Grizzly bear populations will be able to sustain many other species.
    • Grizzly bears play a key role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, for example, by distributing salmon nutrients into forests (often far from streams), and transporting seeds through their feces.
    • They are an important part of the culture of First Nations People living in B.C.
    • Grizzly bear viewing and hunting are important economic and social components of B.C.’s tourism and recreation industries.

Tip: The map below shows all of the Grizzly Bear Population Units in B.C., colour-coded by status. Click a polygon on the map to learn about population estimates, mortality, and various other pieces of information about that Grizzly bear population.

*Note: In the mortality charts embedded in the above map, a limited number of mortality records have not been spatially verified and thus may be assigned to the incorrect Population Unit; most of these potential errors are from 1976-1980.

  • Grizzly bears are ranked S3 (Vulnerable; 2012) in B.C. by the Conservation Data Centre, and are classified as a species of Special Concern by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
  • Grizzly bears are extirpated from much of their southern range in the USA, as well as several areas in B.C.:
    • The dry southern/central interior from the US border to north of Quesnel
    • The Peace Lowlands around Ft. St. John and Dawson Creek
    • The lower Fraser Valley/Lower Mainland and the Sunshine Coast
  • Habitat quality and population density vary widely across the province.
  • The cumulative effects of human development is the greatest threat to Grizzly bears in B.C.; these effects impact bears in three main (often overlapping) ways:
    • Conflicts between bears and humans increase in frequency, often resulting in bears being killed or relocated;
    • Bear populations become isolated because of human settlements, agriculture, and utility corridors in major valley bottoms;
    • Habitat may be lost or degraded by development, alienated through bears’ avoidance of humans and human activities, or fragmented (for example, by high density road networks with high traffic volumes).
  • Roads are known to have a negative effect on Grizzly bear habitat use when they reach a density of about 0.6 km of road per sq km; this effect gets stronger when road density increases over ~1 km/sq km. In addition, new or improved roads bring people into contact with Grizzly bears more frequently, and sometimes those encounters are lethal for bears.
  • In addition to the nine threatened population units, there are an additional five where hunting is not allowed due to small population sizes or special designations. There are additional areas in the province where hunting is not allowed (e.g., National and some Provincial Parks, Grizzly Bear Management Areas, etc.).
  • Since 1976, an average of 340 Grizzly bears are known to have been killed from human causes each year (all known Grizzly bear mortalities are recorded by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations in the Compulsory Inspection database). On average: 297 are legally killed by hunters, and 31 are killed by animal control officers due to human/bear conflicts. An average of eight are known to be killed illegally, and four are known to be killed on roads and railways, however some illegal and road- and rail-caused deaths go undetected.
Notes about this chart:
The vertical axes are scaled differently in each panel of the graph.
*Prior to 2004, road and rail kills were not distinguished and were documented with 'Pick Ups'.
A Limited Entry Hunt (LEH) was instituted province-wide for grizzly bears in 1996.
There was a province-wide moratorium on hunting grizzly bears in the spring of 2001.
Photo credit: BC Parks

References and Other Useful Links

B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. Grizzly Bear Ecology, Conservation, and Management.

1B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. 2012. 2012 Grizzly bear population estimate for British Columbia (PDF)

B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. Grizzly bear hunting in B.C. FAQ (PDF)

B.C. "Bear Aware" Program: www.bearaware.bc.ca

Apps, C.D., B.N. McLellan, J.G. Woods, and M.F. Proctor. 2004. Estimating Grizzly bear distribution and abundance relative to habitat and human influence. Journal of Wildlife Management 68: 138-152.

Ciarniello, L.M., M.S. Boyce, D.C. Heard, and D.R. Seip. 2007.Components of Grizzly Bear Habitat Selection: Density, Habitats, Roads, and Mortality Risk. Journal of Wildlife Management 71: 1446-1457.

Hamilton, A.N. and M. A. Austin. 2001. Grizzly bear harvest management in British Columbia: background report. Prepared for the information of the British Columbia Grizzly Bear Scientific Panel. Biodiversity Branch, Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection, Victoria, British Columbia. 72pp.

Mowat, G., D.C. Heard, D.R. Seip, K.G. Poole, G. Stenhouse, and D.W. Paetkau. 2005. Grizzly Ursus arctos and black bear U. americanus densities in the interior mountains of North America. Wildlife Biology 11: 31-48.

McLellan, B.M., F. Hovey, J. Woods, M. Gibeau, D. Carney, R. Mace, W. Wakkinen, W. Kasworm. 1999. Rates and causes of grizzly bear mortality in the interior mountains of British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, and Idaho. Journal of Wildlife Management 63:911-920.

McLellan, B.N. 1998. Maintaining viability of Brown bears along the southern fringe of their distribution. Ursus 10:607-11

Proctor, M. et al. 2012. Population fragmentation and inter-ecosystem movements of Grizzly bears in western Canada and the northern United States. Journal of Wildlife Management. Wildlife Monographs 180:1-46.

Smith, J. 2010. Challenges for grizzly bear management in B.C. in Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management (Conference Proceedings), Oct 6-7, 2010, Revelstoke British Columbia. Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology. PP 49-58. Available online at: http://www.cmiae.org/_PDF/CMI-Human-Dimensions-2010-conference-summary.pdf (PDF)

Data

*By accessing these datasets, you agree to the license associated with each file, as indicated in parentheses below.

Updated November 2012