Imagine a land where bears are bountiful, hunters are welcomed, and the local economy thrives from hunting expenditures. That’s yesterday’s British Columbia. There, grizzly bears number between 16,000 and 17,000 animals, and the black bear population is in the neighborhood of 100,000 bruins. With such strong numbers, it’s a fact that hunters go to B.C. to hunt bears.
Now toss in some anti-hunting propaganda and claims of declining bear numbers, and instantly more than 5 million acres are made off limits to bear hunting. Hunters are locked out. That’s the future British Columbia. The many bears are still there, it’s just that a few who oppose bear hunting have twisted the media to their advantage to confuse the public about which bears are where, how many bears inhabit what regions, and that special “spirit” bears need to be protected.
Among the antis are groups famous for misleading the public about conservation issues—Greenpeace and the Humane Society International/Canada. The Greenpeace website has numerous releases about their victories in the Great Bear Rainforest (coastal B.C.) and how they are now working to protect polar bears from U.S. hunters.
With so many bears in the province, it’s no surprise there are bear-human conflicts. During the four-month period from April through July 2008, more than 2,350 bear-specific problems were reported.
Bear problems are so rampant in B.C. that there’s a large campaign underway to educate the public on how to avoid, survive, or deal with problem bears. Recently, two groups—the B.C. Conservation Foundation and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation—reported granting more than $450,000 to numerous small rural communities for ongoing Bear Aware public education campaigns. Large amounts of dollars have been poured into such programs in recent years, which teach rural residents how to be safe in areas where bears are present. Increasing requests for these programs and the dollars pumped into them should clearly indicate that growing bear populations are quickly becoming a nuisance.
With so many bears, and so many problems, you’d think hunters would be welcomed to keep bear numbers in check.
Not in B.C.
Hunters have long pursued bears across British Columbia. Hunter dollars have added income to many local economies through expenditures for guides, food, lodging, goods, and other services. This influx of dollars could be coming to an end.
Along B.C.’s coastal rainforest region, groups are working to halt bear hunting, and this time they’ve turned to the British Columbia Ministry of Environment for help. The method is to close many millions of acres in the coastal region to bear hunting via negotiated agreements. Groups leading the land lockout are factions of First Nations (aboriginals), Pacific Wild, Valhalla Wilderness Society, and Defenders of Wildlife. On the B.C. government official website, a release states that: “…your B.C. Government and First Nations worked collaboratively with Greenpeace, ForestEthics, the Sierra Club of B.C., communities and industry to develop the largest consensus-based land use plans in the world for the Central and North Coast of B.C. In this area, known as the Great Bear Rainforest, your B.C. Government has created 114 conservancies since 2006 that will protect the habitat of bears and other wildlife. As part of these plans, your B.C. Government has established three new Grizzly Bear ‘no-hunting’ areas that will bring the total area closed to Grizzly Bear hunting along the North and Central Coast to 1.9 million hectares (roughly 4.7 million acres).”
The official B.C. government website also reports that, “In fact, according to peer-reviewed science, grizzly populations in B.C. are able to withstand up to 9 percent total human-caused mortality, yet in B.C. only 6 percent (or less) is allocated for harvest and often only 2 percent are actually hunted each year.” In 2008, 317 grizzly bears were taken by hunters, far less than 2 percent of the population and down 13 percent from 2007.
Despite strong bear populations and numerous bear-human conflicts, anti-hunting groups argue that hunting is removing bears from B.C., and that bears are nearly extinct. It’s very clear these groups do not like hunters, especially bear hunters from the United States.
“It’s not a hunt. And it’s not trophy hunting. It’s slaughtering,” said Arnie Bellis, vice-president of the Council of the Haida Nation, a First Nation affiliate. The group reported that 430 grizzly bears were killed in B.C. during 2007, and 87 percent were taken by hunters. Many of the hunters are from the U.S. That’s a small number when you consider that there at many thousands of grizzlies. The anti-hunting groups are also claiming that eco-tourism—bear watchers, specifically—will bring more dollars to the region than hunters have been contributing.
“It’s not right that anyone should make a sport of killing,” said Guujaaw, a spokesperson for Coastal First Nations. “Bears are as much a part of the environment as we are.” Those cries have reached sympathetic ears. So far the anti-hunting groups have worked closely with British Columbia’s Environment Ministry office. According to Environment Ministry director Barry Penner, the ministry has taken necessary action by expanding protections for bears. Along with the huge tracts of land that were previously closed to bear hunting in 2006, more will be added on June 1, 2009.
“We are setting aside a further 475,000 hectares (1,173,750 acres) where grizzly bear hunting will not be allowed, and a further 170,000 hectares (more than 420,000 acres) where black bear hunting will not be allowed,” said Penner. The new closures will bring the total area closed to grizzly hunting to well over 5 million acres. This will mean far fewer numbers of bear hunters, and their dollars, in the years ahead. Jobs will also be lost.
“First Nations on the Queen Charlotte Island are threatening to hassle hunters, but this is no different than last year,” says Scott Ellis, general manager of Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia. “There are 266 different FN bands in the province and only a couple have teamed-up with the anti-hunting groups.” Those couple have been supported and coached by outside anti-hunting forces on how to grab land and stop hunting in the name of aboriginal rights. Science and wildlife management do not apply.
“Bear hunting alone pumps $120 million a year into B.C.’s economy with $2.5 million generated from guided grizzly bear hunts,” said Ellis. “Some grizzly hunt outfitters charge up to $20,000 per trip for hunters. B.C.’s guide businesses that rely on bears and bear hunters are bracing from serious economic problems as lands are closed.”
Another economic and hunter-focused report states that the hunting industry as a whole contributes more than $350 million annually to the B.C. province. There are more than 260 guide/outfitters in the province that employ more than 2,000 people in rural communities. Nonresident hunters are required by law to use a licensed guide when hunting big game in B.C. Since 1981, B.C.’s Habitat Conservation Trust Fund has raised more than $100 million for wildlife management and habitat projects. Nearly half of this funding pool came from licenses, tags, fees, and royalties paid by nonresident hunters. Now a bear hunting ban could halt the funds.
B.C.’s established guidelines and quotas place the bear harvest at 60 percent for residents and 40 percent for nonresidents. Residents enter drawings for tags, and nonresidents go through outfitters who are governed by quotas. Estimates are that less than 2 percent of B.C.’s total bear population is taken each year. This very small estimate holds true for the grizzly population in B.C. if you use the Environment Ministry numbers and the 430 grizzlies reportedly killed in 2007 (430/16,000= .0269). According to a 2002 Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, grizzlies found in Canada’s northwest are a species of special concern. That does not mean “nearly extinct.” The report also notes that the huge bears occupy an area equal to about one-quarter of Canada’s total landmass.
The Anti’s Ace Card
While bear population figures and dollar signs are often the basis of argument either for or against the hunts, according to the Defenders of Wildlife, there’s another reason to halt bear hunting—Kermode or glacier bears. These bears—the official B.C. provincial mammal—have unique cream colored and whitish-blue color phases and are only found in coastal British Columbia, according to Defenders of Wildlife. For many groups, these genetically unique black bears are considered to be “spirit bears,” much like white bison and albino deer.
The spirit bear is considered an “umbrella species,” according to the Valhalla Wilderness Society (VWS), another anti-hunting group. If a large habitat area can be protected for the spirit bear, many other species within the ecosystem will also be protected under this umbrella. This passes protection along to salmon, birds, wolves, deer, grizzlies, black bears, insects and many others. The Kermode bear was also touted as the international poster child for the Great Bear Rainforest Campaign, the “umbrella” land grab tactic that is in the process of closing bear hunting on more than 5 million acres. To help further confuse the public, and take in dollars, the VWS claims to be a conservation (not preservation) group.
It should be noted that under the B.C. Wildlife Act, it is already illegal to hunt Kermode bears, with penalties up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison—repeat offenders can pay double and do double prison time. The presence—or suspected presence—of Kermode bears seems reason enough to stop all bear hunting, according to the anti-hunters.
If you are confused or upset about this closing, don’t bother to contact the Environment Ministry’s office. Official spokesperson Matt Gordon reported, “It’s an election year here in B.C., and we don’t comment on anything related to public policy.”
In the future, hunters could see more areas made off-limits to hunting. Why? Because Canada and the B.C. provincial government are still negotiating land and rights settlements with First Nation Groups. According to the official B.C. provincial government website about treaties with First Nations, “There are currently 45 B.C. treaty tables involving 116 B.C. First Nations, or 60 percent of First Nations in British Columbia.” Again, the government couldn’t comment on these negotiations. Land rights and wildlife are some of the top items listed in the negotiation process. The negotiations will continue, and bears, bear hunting, and land access will certainly be a hot topic again, especially if groups opposed to bear hunting have their say.
American hunters should take note before planning hunting adventures—or spending dollars—in this region.
Note: Additional details will be posted on the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia website (www.goabc.org) as they are available. You can also call 604-541-6332 for more details. The Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia suggests writing letters of protest to:
PO BOX 9041 STN PROV GOVT