By Stephen Hume
Government misrepresents the research used to justify its decisions.
Provincial management of the annual trophy hunt that has yielded a 500-per-cent increase in the number of grizzlies killed since the Liberals ended a moratorium in 2001 fails the most basic scientific standards, says a letter from four B.C. scientists to the international journal Science.
In 2001, about 50 bears were killed. By 2007, the annual kill was more than 350. The government claims killing up to six per cent of grizzlies a year is sustainable based on its estimate of 15,000 bears. But the scientists say such uncertainty surrounds grizzly numbers and they could be as low as 8,000. And even based on the higher population, grizzly kills routinely exceed sustainable mortality.
Ten First Nations worried by numbers banned grizzly trophy hunting in traditional territories in 2012, although they can’t enforce a moratorium. Surveys show almost 90 per cent of the province’s citizens want the hunt stopped. Yet this year government increased grizzly tags issued through its trophy lottery.
“It is alarming that purported scientific management often proceeds without the hallmarks of science — transparency, intelligibility, and rigorous evidence,” write Kyle Artelle, John Reynolds, Paul Paquet and Chris Darimont. The scientists are from Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
“We propose that wildlife managers be held to the same level of scrutiny as research scientists through independent oversight similar to the peer-review process,” the scientists write in a letter published Friday under the headline When Science-Based Management Isn’t. “This would incorporate science into management, ensure that the best available evidence is used in management decisions and improved accountability to the public for whom wildlife are ostensibly managed.”
The four scientists recently published research that found that between 2001 and 2011, in half of all the hunted bear populations, human-caused death of grizzlies exceeded mortality rates deemed sustainable by government biologists.
“In addition,” the scientists write, “failure to properly account for uncertainty in estimates of population sizes, poaching rates, and population growth parameters meant that hunting targets might have been too high. Surprisingly, despite the ensuing media attention, the government reopened hunting in previously over-hunted populations.”
They make particular objection to the government’s apparent misrepresentation of actual research findings in publicly justifying its hunting policy.
The scientists say the province “borrowed” the language in their research to justify expanding the hunt although that decision ran counter to the researchers’ conclusions. Furthermore, they say, government claimed that another recent study confirmed the hunting policy’s sustainability when, in fact, the paper made no such claims.
“This decision raises doubts about the rigour of wildlife management and government policy in the region,” the scientists write.
“Such outcomes reflect a wider problem that often arises when scientific evidence exposes flaws in preferred government policies. Governments can make ‘science-based’ claims without being held to the same standard of transparency and scrutiny expected from scientific researchers.”
In the journal Nature, an article about the controversy notes that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora now bans import of any products from B.C. grizzly hunts.
The ban follows B.C.’s failure to implement a grizzly bear strategy promised in 2003 based on better population assessments, it says.
Nature quotes Paquet, a researcher with the University of Victoria and the Rainforest Conservation Foundation:
“Wildlife management wraps itself in science and presents itself as being scientific, but really, when you examine it, it isn’t true.”