By Peter Wood
On October 1, the fall grizzly bear hunt opened in the remaining areas of B.C. where these bears haven’t been wiped out yet. Although B.C. lists the grizzly as a species at risk, B.C. is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada with no stand-alone species-at-risk legislation. On average, about 300 bears are killed for sport in B.C. every year. Grizzlies have been eliminated from over half of their historic range in North America, due to a combination of habitat loss, hunting, and other human conflict.
There is great uncertainty surrounding how many grizzlies are left, how hunting affects their populations over time, or how their removal affects the remaining ecosystem. New and compelling scientific evidence calls into question the “harvestable surplus” rationale behind this hunt, revealing that in half of all hunted populations, human-caused grizzly deaths exceeded rates that government biologists consider sustainable. Scientists also found that managers failed to properly account for uncertainty in population estimates and poaching rates in setting the allowable kill limits.
Killing grizzlies also kills jobs. A recent study out of Stanford University found that bear viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest generates far more value for the economy than trophy hunting: 27 times more employment, 12 times more visitor spending, and 11 times more government revenue. Any bear tourism operator can tell you that bear hunting and bear viewing don’t mix. Bears avoid areas where they get shot at, and at the risk of stating the obvious, bears that are killed are unavailable for viewing. Since these activities are mutually exclusive, to decide to allow the hunt to continue is to decide to have fewer jobs and subsidize an unsustainable activity.
Just south of the border, the U.S. is going in a decidedly different direction. The National Park Service is considering ambitious plans to recover grizzlies in Washington’s North Cascades. There is a growing awareness of the massive ecological and economic benefits of maintaining healthy bear populations, and organizations like People and Carnivores have pioneered exciting new work that is proving that bears and humans can co-exist within the same landscape. Here in B.C., Coastal First Nations have asserted a ban on trophy hunting for bears within their territories, and have linked with academics and NGOs to initiate an exciting new stream of bear research. The Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Initiative bridges efforts in northwest U.S. and southwest B.C. to bring these bears back from the brink. Overall, the outdated mentality of demonizing grizzly bears is giving way to reverence for the animal as a symbol of wilderness and a source of local pride.
The tide could be turning here in B.C. A poll conducted last year showed that 87 percent of British Columbians oppose the grizzly trophy hunt. Even the majority of hunters don’t support grizzly hunting. It’s considered a fringe activity that has nothing to do with obtaining food. The evidence is undeniable and mounting. Given all that has come to light, it is time for the B.C. government to do the right thing and cancel the grizzly trophy hunt.
Peter Wood is director of terrestrial conservation of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.