VANCOUVER -- Hunting grizzly bears has been banned in British Columbia, a move guides complain will put them out of business while environmentalists say is long overdue.

B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said public consultations have made it clear that killing grizzlies cannot be allowed, with the exception of First Nations who hunt for treaty rights or for food, social and ceremonial reasons.

"It is no longer socially acceptable to the vast majority of British Columbians to hunt grizzly bears," Donaldson said Monday. "That's the message."

The spring hunt was scheduled to open in April, but the ban for both resident and non-resident hunters took effect immediately.

There are an estimated 15,000 grizzly bears in the province, which Donaldson said is a sustainable population.

In August, the provincial government announced a ban on trophy hunting across all of B.C., which came into effect following the close of the fall hunting season on Nov. 30.

The government issued about 1,700 grizzly bear permits in 2017, mostly to B.C. hunters. Around 300 bears are killed in the hunt ever year, about 250 of which are taken by non-First Nations hunters.

Rachel Forbes, head of the Grizzly Bear Foundation, applauded the ban, which she described as a welcome surprise.

"It's been well over a decade of bad news for bears in B.C., so we're not usually prepared for good news," Forbes said.

"The easy decision is done," she added. "Now the hard work on addressing all the other cumulative threats to grizzly bears, such as habitat loss and food supply, has to begin."

Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee called the ban tremendous news.

"We are grateful that the government has finally stepped up to do what the people have asked for which is an end to this barbaric, bloody sport hunt," Foy said in a release.

Monday's announcement came two months after B.C.'s auditor general released a report calling on the province to develop a more robust wildlife management strategy for grizzlies. The report noted a lack of population monitoring and described habitat loss as the number 1 threat facing the bears.

The Opposition Liberals condemned the New Democrat government's decision, which it said was prompted by pushback from environmentalists who are angry at a separate decision to move forward with the Site C dam, a controversial hydroelectric megaproject in the province's northeast.

"It's sad to see the NDP have abandoned scientific-based decision making in favour of political calculus designed to appease U.S.-based environmental groups," Opposition politicians John Rustad and Peter Milobar said in a statement.

The repercussions for those who work in the hunting and guiding industry will be significant, said Scott Ellis, executive director of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C.

The government unfortunately looked to polls and engagement websites to make this decision, he said, adding that some operators in rural B.C. will likely go out of business as a result of the ban.

"Wildlife management is complex," Ellis said. "And when emotions get involved lots of times we don't make the best decisions."

Donaldson reassured outfitters that the move to ban the hunt did not suggest the government was eyeing prohibitions on other species.

Environment Minister George Heyman cited research suggesting the economic impact of bear viewing is far greater than hunting, both for revenue and job creation.

More information will be available in the spring budget outlining how much money the province's conservation service would receive to enforce the new prohibition, he added.

B.C. Green party spokesman Adam Olsen commended the government's decision, describing it as a breakthrough.

"After years of work on this file, my colleagues and I are absolutely overjoyed this decision has finally been made," Olsen said in a statement. "The results of the government's consultation were clear and government has listened -- we couldn't be more thrilled."