Grizzly standing on a beach in the Great Bear Rainforest with its reflection in the water. Bob Bush photo.

Grizzly standing on a beach in the Great Bear Rainforest with its reflection in the water. Bob Bush photo.

Vancouver Island grizzlies: moving in, or just passing through?

Lack of data makes seeming increase in grizzly sightings on the North Island an open question

Officially, grizzly bears don’t live on Vancouver Island.

But increasing numbers of anecdotal sightings are causing observers to question the conventional notion the big bears are just passing through.

Lack of studies and conclusive data on the exact number of grizzlies has left a trail of unanswered questions and prompted debate among residents and researchers.

The Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Developments does not have any historical data on the subject. Ministry spokesperson, Dawn Makarowski, said Vancouver Island has not been included in any grizzly study since it is not considered “occupied,” meaning there is no record of females birthing cubs here.

Makarowski maintained that the “two grizzlies reported north of Campbell River,” earlier in May was a “good estimate of the entire grizzly bear population on the Island.”

READ MORE: After grizzly spotted in Sayward, mayor warns not to come searching for the bears

The official numbers vary from what North Island residents have reported. In May, when grizzlies were spotted in Sayward, Mayor Bill Ives went on to say that there may be seven grizzlies in and around the community.

Multiple Island grizzly sightings in the past decade may signal deeper issues such as climate change, habitat destruction due to resource extraction and low salmon run.

While it could be argued that grizzlies are moving in and out of territories in search of food, grizzly advocate Nicholas Scapillati from Grizzly Bear Foundation said grizzlies turning up during spring cannot be about salmon and their behavior “raises questions.” However, he said that there are no conclusive answers yet.

“Why the grizzlies are moving is a phenomena we want to look at,” said Scapillati, who called for studies to be undertaken on the subject.

He said studies were essential to “ensure safety” and educate people who may not be accustomed to having grizzlies around.

Makarowski said that there were no plans to undertake any grizzly studies on the Island yet.

Chris Darimont, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria and Science Director at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation suggested that environmental changes could be one factor in the rising number of sightings. Grizzlies might be moving from the mainland to seek new opportunities when food supply — affected by environmental factors — is not enough in their areas.

Another hypothesis is that there has been a growing grizzly population due to a hunting ban. In its wake, fierce competition and territorial aggression could be leading to older bears pushing younger ones out. Darimont finds this hypothesis less appealing, since grizzlies don’t reproduce that often and three years into the hunting ban is hardly enough time for a “population explosion.”

He said social media may also be contributing to an impression of more grizzlies. This, combined with increased tolerance means grizzlies are around longer rather than getting shot at five minutes after being spotted.

“People’s collective action or sentiment will also determine the population of grizzlies on Vancouver Island, ” Darimont said.

RELATED: Mali, the grizzly shot after an epic relocation, to be buried on First Nation’s land

Darimont was part of the 2014 research team that identified grizzly colonization of more than 10 islands, near Bella Bella and Klemtu, outside their management boundary.

The study also identified that the ecological, cultural and economic consequences of a distribution shift in grizzly population might be considerable. For instance, where grizzlies occur, forestry has to act differently to protect ‘high-quality’ habitats.

When asked about the lack of data, Darimont said that although he is always in favour of more research, the process of collecting Vancouver Island grizzly data is not feasible right now as it is “expensive, costs millions of dollars and does not yield quick answers.”

He indicated that other endangered species could benefit from the limited research funds.

RELATED: Great Grizzlies Go Home: North Island true tale becomes a children’s book

Environmentgrizzlyvancouverisland

Just Posted

Ultra runner Jerry Hughes circles the track at the Cowichan Sportsplex as he nears the end of his six-day Canadian record attempt and fundraiser in November. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Ultramarathon a few miles short, but many dollars beyond its goal

Six-day run misses record bid, but Help Fill A Dream fundraiser a big success

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. Dr. Henry frequently reminds people that there are those people who cannot wear a mask for legitimate reasons and they don’t have to. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island woman reminds community that not everyone can wear a mask

People enforcing mask rules frequently ignore that possibility

Emergency crews used a backhoe loader to clear fire debris from the scene of a fire on Wesley Street Thursday as police and firefighters gathered up propane tanks, stoves and fireplaces used by camp residents to heat tents. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
UPDATE: City dismantling Wesley Street homeless encampment after fire

Fire broke out at about 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3

Joe Robertson and Jack Amos ran the length of Vancouver Island, with the help of their van Pippi, raising more than $12,000 for 1Up Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre. (Photo submitted)
Greater Victoria pair finishes running length of Vancouver Island a day early

Joe Robertson and Jack Amos raised more than $12,000 for single parents

An electronic sign at the Tofino-Ucluelet junction notifies travellers heading towards Sutton Pass that closure windows are in effect Thursday morning. (Andrew Bailey photo)
Survey swirls up confusion around Tofino-Ucluelet highway closures

“The Highway 4 Kennedy Hill Project closure times remain the same for now,” ministry says

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

BC Ambulance Services reassures people that the service is well staffed and ready to respond. Photo by Don Bodger
BC Ambulance assures the Island community they’re ‘fully staffed’

‘Paramedics are not limited to a geographical area.’ — BCEHS

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

The notice at Port Hardy Secondary School’s athletic track. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
North Island school tracks closed to the public during school hours

To keep P.E. classes safe, the restriction went into effect Nov. 30

Some older Canadian currency will have its legal status removed at the start of the new year. (Pixabay.com)
Bank of Canada puts the boots to old bills

$1 and $2, $25 to $500 and $1,000 lose cash value Jan. 1, 2021

The Sooke School District is actively looking for more bus drivers after they had to cancel a handful of bus routes in late November. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bus driver shortage cancels routes in Sooke School District

More drivers needed to accomodate expanding bus routes amid pandemic

Most Read