Site C flooding highlights importance of protecting bear dens

Grizzly bears
Grizzly bears in British Columbia.
Photo by Michel Viard / Getty Images

A new report from The Narwhal has revealed that BC Hydro contracted a company to trap, tranquilize, and relocate hibernating grizzly and black bears ahead of the flooding for the Site C dam. Since the report’s publication, The Fur-Bearers received information from BC Hydro that bears will now be left to hiberate this winter.

Flooding of 128 kilometers of the Peace River Valley for the dam was reported to start in fall 2023. The last-minute plan by the Crown corporation to try to save bears from drowning in their dens in the flood zone comes after eight years of construction of the hydroelectric project. It includes waking up bears from hibernation, tranquilizing them, and relocating them to areas with artificial dens made from straw, a measure with limited success. 

After the report from the Narwhal, a statement was issued by BC Hydro on November 14, 2023 writing that the company will begin flooding the reservoir in 2024, but it does not mention bears or if the plan to tranquilize and relocate bears this fall will continue.

The statement from the Crown corporation writes, “There are some critical work areas that still need to be completed before reservoir filling could begin, including the approach channel, spillway gates and powerhouse intake gates. With winter weather and colder conditions setting in, the window to safely begin reservoir filling was coming to a close.

The Fur-Bearers reached out to BC Hydro for more information about whether the contract to relocate bears this winter will proceed. BC Hydro responded that bears will be left alone this winter.

“We want to confirm that we have not relocated any bears this year – and that is not in our plans for next year when we begin reservoir filling. Bears will be left to hibernate this winter in the reservoir area.”

BC Hydro statement to The Fur-Bearers - November 15, 2023

While the plan to delay flooding and leave bears alone this winter is welcome news, BC Hydro’s initial plans to disrupt bears when they have settled in their dens for winter dormancy shows a complete disregard and afterthought for wildlife in the planning of this infrastructure project.

The situation raises the critical importance of protecting bear dens from industrial development and resource extraction. Private member’s bill B202 was introduced in early 2023 to amend the Wildlife Act to protect bear dens; the bill has not made it to second reading.

Wildlife and ecosystems need greater protections from the province. Share your concerns about Site C and its impacts on wildlife by contacting your MLA. You can look up your MLA’s contact information by clicking here.

Learn More

  • The Wilderness Committee published a news release with more information about this issue. Click here to learn more.
  • The Sierra Club and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre published a report calling for the legal protections of bear dens.
  • Information about the bill to protect bear dens from Adam Olsen, MLA can be found by clicking here.

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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