We have sad news to report this afternoon: Bear 148 has been shot and killed.
The six year old female grizzly bear, daughter of well documented Banff grizzly 64, made headlines in the spring when she was relocated from the Bow Valley to the northern border of BC and Alberta.
Though welcome and beloved in Banff by locals and Parks Canada alike, she seemed to court conflict every time she wandered within her known territory, but outside of the national park and into the areas surrounding the town of Canmore.
According to early reports, bear 148 was killed by a hunter in BC and the circumstances are still unknown. If she was a victim of the grizzly trophy hunt, it is important to note that while the recently elected BC NDP government has promised to end the massively unpopular policy, they won’t stop the hunt until the spring. Regardless, that bear 148 might be amongst the last grizzly bears to be killed under a dying policy is almost beyond words; that she died because she crossed an invisible line is, well, the story of her life.
The fact bear 148 ever came into the gunsight of a hunter has much less to do with BC policy and much more to do with the fact she was relocated in the first place.
The majority of the issues this grizzly encountered appeared to be in the eye of the beholder and in the eye of Alberta wildlife managers, the same habits that were given a pass in Banff were seen as unforgivable on provincial lands. In many ways, 148 is a perfect, if tragic, example of differing wildlife management policies: Parks Canada works to manage the people; Alberta Environment and Parks manages the wildlife.
We have written extensively on the subject while we were dismayed with 148’s plight in the spring, we also realized her story is one that will be retold over and over again until Alberta shifts its blanket policies. Her relocation was undoubtedly the result of best-of-intentions, but the outcome is hardly surprising. In fact, 148 being killed in BC was a likely scenario we highlighted back in July.
Those who love bears and who advocated for 148 now must come to terms with the bigger picture: 148 can’t be brought back, but her story can help guide us toward a better balance between the needs of people and nature. Those living in bear country must become better stewards of their backyards and be willing to, say, forgo a bike ride on a trail or two in exchange for keeping the animals they coexist with alive.
And in Canada, especially, jurisdictional infighting must become an issue of the past. If policies between the province and the federal government can’t align, then there must be transition zones for animals that know no better. Nowhere is this more pressing than in areas neighbouring our protected areas. If we refuse to safegaurd landscapes large enough to protect free-roaming species such as grizzlies, we at least owe them some flexibility when they cross that imaginary line that only humans understand.
Most critically, Alberta needs to adopt community-centred conservation strategies that removes the current cookie-cutter approach of today and moves us toward a place where citizens and scientists can converge and blend the rigor of conservation biology with the nuance of socio-economics and geopolitics. Only then will the people who live in the Bow Valley be allowed a real say in the decisions that affect the areas they live.
As far as the BC trophy hunt goes, this might be one more sad example as to why we’ve not been buying what the BC NDP has been selling. Waiting until the spring to end the killing of grizzlies was eyebrow raising when announced and what will remain a concern is the fact that grizzlies will still be allowed to be killed, so long as the meat is consumed. This unenforceable loophole has the potential to confuse the public, kill bears, and create headaches – or, in other words, do more harm than good for all involved.
As we have also argued before, to find a better balance between people and nature, we must end the culture war. Blanket policies by either side are unhelpful in the long run and until a thoughtful policy comes to pass in BC, more 148’s will die.
There are no easy answers in this mess and many people must answer some hard questions. But at some point soon, hard questions must fade to real action – concerted efforts by us all, no matter what side of this debate you’re on, to come together and find a better way forward. We owe it to 148 and we owe it to the cubs she was to have this coming spring. The world will not be better for her loss, but we must be better because of her tragic story.