April 27, 2018
By Dr. Dave Samuel
This past august, British Columbia's provincial government announced the end of all grizzly bear hunting, beginning in November 2017. Although meat hunting will still be allowed, for all intents and purposes nonresident grizzly hunting is over, and it will never come back. The history leading up to this decision is a bit complicated, but in order to understand what happened, let's go back a few years.
The end to grizzly hunting started in what is called the Great Bear Rainforest. This is a huge area of B.C.'s central and northern coast where environmentalists fought to stop logging for the past 30 years. Logging brought attention to this area, but Coastal First Nations (a group of First Nations whose traditional territories overlap the Great Bear Rainforest) brought the grizzly into the situation.
Coastal First Nations, with help from the Great Bear Rainforest Foundation, bought out three commercial grizzly bear hunting rights beginning in 2005. Their goal was to convert trophy hunting dollars to wildlife-viewing dollars, and from an economic standpoint, within the Great Bear Rainforest that appears to have been successful.
By far, the majority of citizens in B.C. are opposed to grizzly bear hunting. That should come as no surprise, considering that most of the 4.65 million people in B.C. live in relatively urban areas surrounding Vancouver. Although Vancouver is the largest city in B.C. with 647,500 citizens, three of the next four largest B.C. cities (Surrey with 499,000, Burnaby with 239,000, and Richmond with 203,000) are located within 25 miles of Vancouver; my point being that when anything comes up for a vote in B.C., urbanites will decide.
In 2016, after years of negotiations, the B.C. government announced an agreement to protect 85 percent of the 16 million acres of the Great Bear Rainforest. This anti-logging agreement also included a pledge to end commercial grizzly bear hunts in Coastal First Nations' territories. However, the government caught all kinds of flack because they led people to believe that this would end grizzly hunting there. That couldn't happen until the four remaining guide areas in the Rainforest were bought out.
All of this became a moot issue on August 14, 2017, when the provincial government lived up to its pre-election promise and banned all grizzly hunting throughout the province, beginning right after the fall 2017 season. This totally eliminates grizzly hunts within the Great Bear Rainforest area, but one can still hunt grizzlies for meat in the rest of B.C.
As I write this, exact regulations have not been determined, but the government says that no hunter can take the hide or head of a bear out of the province. Presently, there are an estimated 15,000 grizzlies roaming B.C. (although some biologists say that 20,000 is a closer estimate), and around 250 are harvested each year. Of those, only 80 are killed by nonresidents, and my guess is that given the new meat-only harvest, few nonresident grizzly hunters will come to B.C. in the future. How many residents will hunt grizzlies if they can only keep the meat isn't known, but those numbers will also be low.
Some biologists note that predator numbers in B.C. and neighboring Alberta are already over the carrying capacity. Increases in grizzlies, coyotes, mountain lions and wolves, plus some bad winters, have ungulate populations in Alberta on the decline. Can that happen in B.C., and will this stoppage exacerbate that? The answer is probably yes. Unmanaged grizzly populations will lead to wildlife-related and people-related problems.
There is no question that ecotourists will continue to visit the coastal areas of the Great Bear Rainforest to view grizzlies in the spring. However, what about the guides in the rest of B.C.? The Commercial Bear Viewing Association, a group that totally opposes all grizzly hunting, stated that many bear-viewing companies are in other areas of the province (other than the Great Bear Rainforest), but I scoured the internet and found only one such operation. Also, the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development suggested that those guides (referring to those outside the Rainforest) should start taking customers to view bears. If you've hunted rural B.C., then you know that there will be little such viewing. Grizzlies in rural B.C. do not make themselves predictably visible to anyone, and certainly not to tourists. You have grizzly viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest, but there will be no such economy developed further inland.
Thus, just as when Ontario cancelled the spring black bear season years ago (it has now been reinstituted), rural guides and rural economies suffer. Apparently, the government has stated that they'll assist those outfitters, but I'm sure the outfitters are not counting on such help.
Obviously, this regulation change is not based on science. History shows that making wildlife-management decisions that are not based on science is a very slippery slope.
One opponent of the hunt posted a statement on Facebook noting that this new policy doesn't stop grizzly hunting, it just stops the "commodification" of hunting. Commodification refers to treating something as a mere commodity. My personal goal on many bowhunts is to harvest larger, older animals. Some might call that "trophy" hunting, but I assure you such hunts are far more than treating my goal as a mere commodity. To imply that reflects the public's misunderstanding of trophy hunting.
Space doesn't allow me to fully discuss this topic, but suffice it to say that many hunters understand the biology of the hunted species, enjoy the interactions and challenge of the hunt, and seek to harvest larger animals. They enjoy the meat, yet they keep and display the turkey beards, deer antlers, bear hides, etc.
The damage Cecil the lion did via social media cannot be overstated. African lion management and lion populations will suffer for years because of misinformation brought about by that hunt. Truth is, most hunters do not treat wildlife as a commodity. Let me just say again that we keep trophies for a number of reasons, but throughout history only the ethical trophy hunter was treated with respect by his/her peers. Several excellent essays and scientific publications and books have taken our history of trophy hunting one step further, documenting how man evolved as a trophy hunter. As Aldo Leopold said, "The trophy-hunter is the caveman reborn."
The big question is whether this decision in B.C., which is not based on science, is a sign of the times. Has a more urbanized society gotten so removed from wild nature and rural life that wildlife-management decisions will ignore the science and data surrounding carrying capacity, predation, and long-term health of the species? We're seeing more and more examples where the answer is yes.