Why Does B.C. Still Kill Grizzlies for Sport?
By Judith Lavoie • Wednesday, November 23, 2016
In early October a provincial government news release landed in the inboxes of reporters and researchers around B.C.
It boasted of a new government-commissioned report that concluded B.C. has “a high level of rigour and adequate safeguards in place to ensure the long-term stability of grizzly populations.”
Even though the report was less glowing than the news release and noted there are monitoring difficulties and a lack of funding, the review gave the BC Liberals the ammunition they needed to conclude the controversial practice of hunting grizzlies for sport is just fine.
But, here’s the thing: even if the province’s estimates of 15,000 grizzly bears in B.C. is correct — and it is a figure disputed by independent biologists, some of whom believe the number is as low as 6,000 — the stand-off over hunting intelligent animals for sport isn’t about the science. It’s about values and ethics.
“The ethical argument is clear. Gratuitous killing for recreation and amusement is unethical and immoral,” says Chris Genovali, executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation, one of the organizations fighting to stop the trophy hunt, which takes the lives of about 300 grizzly bears in B.C each year.
“This is a moral issue. This is about ethics and values,” reiterated Val Murray of Justice for B.C. Grizzlies, an organization hoping to make the grizzly hunt an issue in the upcoming provincial election.
“After more than 30 years as a teacher, if a child in the classroom was deliberately hurting animals, he would be immediately referred for counselling before the behaviour escalated into anything else, but people go out and just kill these bears,” she said.
Dramatic pictures of grizzlies fishing for salmon bring tourists from all over the world to “Super, Natural B.C.”
But those tourists rarely see the gut-churning videos of a grizzly being shot, attempting to run for his life and then being shot again — a sequence included in the new film “Trophy” produced by LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics.
Yet, Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals show no sign of changing course and, in a parting shot, one of the most energetic supporters of the hunt, retiring Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett told Vaughn Palmer on Voice of B.C. that parts of the province have too many grizzly bears and they need to be shot.
It is a view that is increasingly out-of-step with the majority of British Columbians and in direct opposition to the views of Coastal First Nations who have banned trophy hunting in their territory.
Following a trend set by previous polls, an October 2015 Insights West poll found that 91 per cent of British Columbians oppose hunting animals for sport. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 per cent.
“Look at who we are as a people and a nation and where we are headed,” environmental activist Vicky Husband urged the Grizzly Bear Foundation board of inquiry in Victoria.
“We are past the time to stop grizzly hunting. It’s not ethically right,” she told the three-person panel headed by philanthropist Michael Audain.
In addition to holding public hearings, the panel is talking to First Nations, scientists, hunters, guide outfitters and conservation organizations and will use the information it garners to set up conservation, research and education programs.
The group, which is looking at the effects of climate change, urbanization, loss of habitat, accidents and food availability as well as the hunt, is writing a report that will be handed to government in February.
Another report headed government’s way this spring is from Auditor General Carol Bellringer, who is looking at whether the province is “meeting its objective of ensuring healthy grizzly bear populations throughout B.C.”
The government claims its decisions are science-based and points to the new scientific review, but the Audain panel was cautioned to take the report with a grain of salt
“This was a government report, commissioned by government, for government. It was not peer-reviewed,” warned professional forester Anthony Britneff.
Government estimates of the number of grizzly bears are based on models, but Melanie Clapham, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Victoria, who has researched grizzlies for a decade, cautioned that more research is needed.
“Models are only as good as the numbers you put in to them,” she said.
A 2012 study by Stanford University in conjunction with the Center for Responsible Travel found that bear viewing groups in the Great Bear Rainforest generated “more than 12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting.”
But there is increasing concern that the two activities cannot co-exist.
Grizzly bears are a passion for Dean Wyatt, owner of Knight Inlet Lodge, and he takes pride in showing tourists the bears feeding on salmon and berries near his lodge.
But, even though Wyatt wants more British Columbians to understand the vital role grizzlies play in the environment, most of his guests are from overseas because he has found from bitter experience that advertising in B.C. is dangerous for the bears.
“I would love to have more British Columbians, but the ones that come first are the hunters, so we don’t market very much in B.C.,” he told the Audain panel.
“If we put something in the paper, immediately the hunters show up to see if the bears are there. The hunters are there in their boats 24 hours later. It’s horrible,” Wyatt said.