by JULIUS STRAUSS
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016 3:34PM EDT
Strauss is a B.C.-based bear viewing guide and member of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association
The killing of a black bear by a U.S. hunter with a spear this week in Alberta has caused public outrage.
What has shocked is not so much the cruelty involved – the bear survived its initial injuries and ran off into the forest only to die later – but that the bear had been baited, and the act was legal.
The hunter, Josh Bowmar from Ohio, went on to celebrate the feat by posting a video of the killing on YouTube replete with footage from a GoPro he had attached to the spear.
Another hunter said Mr. Bowmar had “cojones” for being willing to approach the bear on foot, as it rummaged around a baited barrel that had been put out specifically for the purpose.
For a small minority, such a feat is something to crow about on social media.
Whether it is the trophy hunting of grizzly bears in British Columbia or the spear-hunting of a baited black bear in Alberta, there are sites on the internet that pore over the details of the kill, boasting of the endeavour.
Increasingly, however, there is a chasm between this small minority and the rest of Canadians who see such practices as outdated and morally repugnant.
Alberta banned the grizzly hunt more than a decade ago after the number of bears in the province fell to dangerously low numbers. But it still sanctions hunting black bears with bait.
In neighbouring British Columbia, trophy hunters still shoot between 250 and 300 grizzly bears a year. In B.C. the arguments against grizzly hunting have become increasingly persuasive in recent years.
Bear-viewing, a growing industry in which tourists pay to visit specialized lodges where they can safely watch wild bears, is now worth more than ten times to the province what grizzly hunting is.
A recent poll found overwhelming opposition: around 90 per cent of British Columbians have said they want to see grizzly hunting banned.
The government has so far stuck to its guns, so to speak. It maintains that the hunt is scientifically sustainable.
But even that argument took a blow recently when official figures showed that a hunted population in the Southern Rockies had dropped by 40 per cent in less than decade under government management.
As provincial elections near in British Columbia – they are due next spring – both the NDP and the Liberals have been jockeying for position with the electorate.
The arguments over whether grizzly hunting in B.C. should be allowed to continue, and whether black bears in Alberta should be baited and killed with spears, are raging in small circles.
Environmentalists are understandably furious with present policies and some warn that without change certain bears populations will disappear forever.
Trophy hunters fear that any erosion of their rights to shoot bears will lead to a wholesale onslaught by the government on their rural lifestyles.
Wildlife managers, meanwhile, spend days in endless meetings debating minute changes to hunting zones, seasons and what they term allowable harvest.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, attitudes have changed.
Many Canadians were incensed last year when a U.S. dentist shot Cecil, a prized African lion, who was lured out of a protected area and killed for its pelt.
They are ready to accept culling in areas where animals overpopulate, but bears never do that because their biology means that they have fewer cubs in times of poor food availability. Most would certainly condone killing an animal in self-defense.
Alberta has now promised to ban spear hunting – but that’s not enough. The concept of killing a bear – an animal that is so iconic – just so its skin can adorn a sofa is something the majority now finds unacceptable.
It’s time that Canada did better by its bears.