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BC Greens MLA tables bill to protect bear dens from logging for 3rd time

UVic report finds old growth logging decimating critical hibernation options for B.C.’s black bears
A black bear mother and her two cubs were sighted at Boer Mountain in Burns Lake on Sept. 23, 2023. A BC Greens MLA and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs are calling on the province to legislate protections for bear dens. (Saddman Zaman/Black Press Media)

BC Greens MLA Adam Olsen retabled a bear den protection bill for the third time Wednesday afternoon (March 6), in hopes of safeguarding areas that experts say are under threat from logging.

Olsen has been pushing for the legal changes since October 2022, but has yet to have his private member’s bill heard.

If passed, the bill would amend B.C.’s Wildlife Act to make disturbing, molesting, damaging or destroying a bear den on Crown or private land an offence. Olsen says this is largely targeted at logging companies whose practices risk decimating bear denning options in forested areas.

A March 2022 report by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre found logging of old growth forests poses a particularly serious threat. This, the authors said, is because black bears in coastal B.C. rely almost exclusively on woody structures to wait out the winter and need large-diameter trees to do so. When the larger, older trees are logged, bears are forced to turn to younger “second-growth” forests where dens are known to decay far faster.

The report explains that dens serve as “nurseries” for bear cubs and are essential for them and their mothers to make it through the cold months alive. Without hibernation spaces, bears are more easily killed by predators like wolves. They are also unable to preserve their energy in the same way and may die of starvation or resort to bear-to-bear cannibalism.

This matters not just for the bears themselves, but for the ecosystems they play a key part in, the report says.

Bear biologists and First Nations have been calling for protections for decades, but so far in B.C. the only regions with legislated safeguards are Haida Gwaii and the Great Bear Rainforest. Olsen says logging companies operating in other areas are only guided by “a kind of patchwork of voluntary measures.”

He says he is hopeful his bill will be called this time around, given B.C. and Canada’s recent commitment to protect 30 per cent of the province’s lands by 2030. This includes the protection and conservation of biodiversity, habitats and species at risk.

“These are exactly the kind of changes that need to be made made in order to have a more balanced relationship with nature and a more balanced relationship with wildlife,” Olsen says.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs applauded Olsen’s move on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it is “long overdue that we close this loophole once and for all.”

Along with Kwakiutl First Nation, UBCIC is calling on the province to form and fund a panel with them to ensure bear dens are protected under the Wildlife Act before the spring 2024 sitting of the legislature ends.

“Bears hold a very sacred role within First Nations culture and worldviews. They are also one of the most important ecosystem stewards active on the landbase. They teach us about medicines, food and how to be good neighbors with one another. We know that we have a spiritual responsibility to respect bear habitat and if we get this right, it will mean we will also be protecting all the biodiversity that comes with bears being safe on the territory where they belong,” Kwakiutl Nation Chief David Mungo Knox said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Protections needed for bear hibernation dens: Cowichan expert

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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