By Elissa Sursara
April 1st saw the opening of another trophy hunt season in British Columbia, a sport in which armed hunters stalk bears, moose and other selective wild game animals, killing them and retaining their paws and heads as memorial.
Long considered morally unsound by scientists and conservationists, researchers are again questioning controversial industry claims that trophy hunts bring in attractive revenue and act as a push for conservation.
A 2013 study by the University of Victoria said around 300 grizzly bears are killed by trophy hunters every year in B.C., a finding that questions the government’s claim that the province’s trophy hunt is sustainable.
Less then 1,500 grizzlies are found in small pockets in the lower 48 states of the United States. Combining Canada and the US, grizzly bears inhabit approximately half the area of their historical range: extinct by almost 50%. The decrease is blamed in part on reproductive imbalances, created by seasonal trophy hunters who target older, bigger males.
According to UV researchers, “kill rates are too high and the population studies are too inaccurate.”
Grizzly bears are listed as threatened in the contiguous United States and endangered in parts of Canada. In May 2002, they were listed under the Canadian Species at Risk Act as being in danger of extinction in Canada.
Up to 189 countries signed to the Earth Summit in 1992 have developed action plans that discourage the hunting of protected species for trophy. In a 2007 report, “Arguments against trophy hunting”, groups including the League Against Cruel Sports suggested seasonal trophy hunts do little to pump governmental revenue and have had no positive impact on conservation.
A further study in January 2014 by the Stanford University ‘Center for Responsible Tourism’ found that wild bear viewing is exponentially more profitable than bear hunting, with “12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting, and over 11 times more in direct revenue for British Columbia’s provincial government.”
Stanford found that wild bear tourism saw more than $9.5 million in total contribution to GDP. Comparatively, bear hunting saw as little as $669,100.
Action groups are now facilitating Stanford’s sentiment across North America.
Tommy Knowles, who founded the Canada-based Wildlife Defence League, said, “laws governing trophy hunting in British Columbia are outdated and have failed to protect wildlife throughout the province. In addition to killing grizzly bears, the laws allow hunters to kill black bears who carry a recessive gene. The gene produces a cream-colored Kermode bear, known as the spirit bear. In numbers, the spirit bear is more rare than the panda.”
Wildlife Defence League said they believe participating in legislative process, like campaigning to members of the British Columbia parliament, is vital in bringing the B.C. trophy hunts to a close.
Their 2014 campaign, Operation Great Bear, aims to expose, document and intervene against trophy hunts by enforcing international conservation law on the ground.
“90% of British Columbians are against trophy hunting,” said Knowles.
In light of their findings, Stanford University and the Center for Responsible Tourism have called on the British Columbia government to suspend the province’s hunting policy.
Until then, action groups like Wildlife Defence League say they will remain on the ground.
“Our primary mandate is to assume a law enforcement role as provided by the United Nations World Charter for Nature,” said Knowles in a statement from the organization. “The population levels of all life forms, wild and domesticated, should at least be sufficient for their survival, and to this necessary end, they should be safeguarded.”