Last month, a hunter shot and killed a female grizzly bear after she wandered from Alberta into neighbouring B.C., where grizzly trophy hunting is still legal. Bear 148 was moved in July from the Bow Valley just outside Banff National Park to Kakwa Wildland Park, closer to the B.C.-Alberta border. According to the B.C. Conservation Service, the hunter who shot Bear 148 was well aware that the bear was wearing a research tracking collar but killed it anyway, which isn’t illegal.
Bear 148 wasn’t the first grizzly from a neighbouring jurisdiction to be killed by hunters after entering B.C. In 2014, a hunter near Golden legally killed Bear 125, which was part of a monitoring program in Banff National Park, after it travelled from the Upper Bow Valley in Alberta across the continental divide to B.C.’s Upper Blaeberry Valley. As with Bear 148, killing Bear 125 in B.C. was legal, even though both bears came from a highly threatened population in and around Banff National Park. Alberta banned grizzly-bear hunting in 2006, but in B.C., resident and foreign hunters legally kill about 300 grizzlies every year.
That hunters in B.C. can kill bears from Alberta, or other neighbouring jurisdictions like Montana, after they step to the other side of the border reveals how ineffectual our wildlife policies are for species that roam across vast areas of territory. Grizzlies don’t recognize political borders. They have huge ranges that extend well outside parks and protected areas. This puts them at great risk of encountering not just hunters but other threats, such as confrontations with people at townsites or workers’ camps in remote areas.
Polls show that most B.C. residents oppose trophy hunting of grizzlies. And many First Nations have banned the practice in their territories. The trophy hunt was even a major issue in the recent B.C. election. Now in government, the NDP has announced a plan to end all grizzly hunting in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, but to allow a regulated “food hunt” of grizzly bears in place of the trophy hunt elsewhere.
A food hunt wouldn’t prevent the killing of “protected” transboundary grizzlies. Although no one legitimately hunts grizzlies for meat, such a policy has a built-in loophole that would allow recreational hunters to kill grizzlies as long as they surrender the animal’s head, pelt, claws, teeth and other “trophy” items to a government official and/or remove the meat from the carcass and pack it out. These proposed changes to hunting regulations are semantics. Grizzly bears will continue to suffer pain and deaths at the hands of hunters, regardless of whether hunters hand the head, pelt, paws, teeth and claws to a government bureaucrat after killing the animal, or keep them to be stuffed and mounted on a wall or made into a rug. We remain concerned that recreational hunters could continue to kill grizzlies under the guise of food hunting.
We commend the B.C. government’s commitment to stop grizzly hunting throughout the Great Bear Rainforest, as it will finally ensure that the iconic namesake of this vast coastal region will be fully protected. And while we appreciate the B.C. government’s desire to end grizzly-bear trophy hunting throughout the province, the proposed food-hunt policy fails to address significant conservation and ethical problems with the grizzly hunt. Only a ban on all grizzly hunting will ensure that the slaughter ends.
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Faisal Moola is the foundation’s director general for Ontario and northern Canada. Chris Genovali is executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.