Study confirms grizzlies living on unprotected coastal islands

Local tour guide’s knowledge, now backed by research, raises major conservation concerns.

By Cara McKenna, July 14, 2014,

As a tour guide of 14 years, Douglas Neasloss knows the Kitasoo/Xai-xais First Nation’s remote B.C. Central Coast territory inside and out.

The 31-year-old former chief always knew the mainland region was the only place to spot grizzly bears, whereas black bears and white “Spirit Bears” could be found both on the mainland and coastal islands. It was knowledge engrained in him as a young boy, when he was taught how to track animals.

But in 2006, Neasloss started to notice a strange shift: many grizzly bears were showing up on unprotected coastal islands where he had never seen them before.

Confused, he starting asking elders if they had ever seen grizzlies on the islands — but none had.

“I’ve seen a lot of grizzly bears shot [by trophy hunters] over the years and if they’re there, you want to make sure the habitat is protected,” he said.

“I notified the province and they said: ‘Well, you’re not a scientist or biologist.’ I felt like local knowledge didn’t mean a lot in their eyes.”

So Neasloss recruited scientists to look into it. Now, the results of two years of research, published Tuesday, have not only validated Neasloss’s observation but could trigger new habitat protection policies for a group of coastal islands across from Haida Gwaii.

Huge unprotected area

Published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal by Spirit Bear Research Foundation, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the University of Victoria, the research reveals 10 of 14 surveyed islands show evidence of resident grizzlies and are currently unprotected by government law…

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