Stricter bear-hunting rules and more conservation officers may mean fewer Haida Gwaii black bears are killed illegally this year.
Yesterday, the B.C. government closed the open spring hunt for Haida Gwaii black bear, which started April 1, and announced a permanent switch to a limited-entry hunt.
One bear had already been killed under the old rules.
Under the new rules, a total of four black bears a year can still be legally hunted on Haida Gwaii, but hunters have to enter a lottery and win a ticket to take one.
Before the change, the open spring or fall seasons closed 72 hours after a total of four Haida Gwaii black bears were reported killed, which lead to over-harvesting during the grace period.
“The whole point of the switch to limited entry is so we can ensure there is a harvest of four bears a year, and we don’t see the over-harvest, like we have in the past,” said Constable Kyle Ackles, conservation officer for Haida Gwaii.
Although bear hunters usually wait until late April or early May when bears are more active, Ackles said it is possible that some hunters may be unaware of yesterday’s sudden season closure.
“We’re putting posters all over town,” he said the day of the closure, April 12.
“There very well could be someone who is on the ferry right now, so getting the communication out right away is very important.”
Along with stricter rules for the bear hunt, Haida Gwaii will soon have more conservation officers on the ground.
A second Haida Gwaii conservation has already been hired and is now in training off-island, expected to start work in July.
Another officer is expected to be hired soon through a Haida Nation and B.C. government partnership, and the officer will be of Haida ancestry.
While a limited-entry hunt will stop over-harvesting by law-abiding hunters who simply found out too late that the open season had closed, Ackles said there will always be a hardcore of dedicated poachers to watch out for.
“They have full intent of taking that animal illegally,” he said.
“That’s where having a presence out in the field, and having people come forward that witness things is important. I don’t think we’re ever going to stop that through seasons.”
To report poaching, islanders are asked to phone the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1-877-952-7277.
Licensed hunters have until midnight on Friday, May 25 to apply for one of the three remaining Haida Gwaii black-bear tags for this year.
The odds of winning a tag are impossible to guess for this first limited-entry hunt, but last year the province got a total of 166,483 applications for 22,669 tags on eight species, so the average odds were one in seven.
A black-bear licence costs $20 for B.C. residents, $180 for non-residents, and only lone adult bears can be killed. It is illegal to keep the bear’s gall bladder or genitalia, which are often trafficked for traditional medicines. Other rules encourage hunters to make sure the bear meat is used.
More than four black bears were killed on Haida Gwaii last year due to human-bear conflicts over unsecured garbage, whether by conservation officers or residents who apparently took matters into their own hands.
Two bear carcasses were found dumped in Sandspit after several bear encounters in town last year, and three more were reported killed in Tlell and Old Massett.
Ackles said he hasn’t received any bear complaints so far this year — last year there were well over 50 from nearly every village on Haida Gwaii — but bears have already been seen along the logging roads.
“It’s really important for people to keep their attractants secure,” he said. “They’re definitely waking up.”