Grizzly Bear Hunting in BC

Claire Hume

Grizzley bears in BCBrown bears, of which grizzlies are the North American subspecies, were once found on four continents, making them one of the most widespread mammal populations in the world. Their original range included Europe, North Africa, northern and central Asia, the Middle East, and North America. Today, they are locally extinct or endangered across the map – except in Russia, Alaska, and BC.

Exact population numbers are contested, however, because grizzly bear’s solitary and roaming nature makes them difficult and expensive to study. The BC government estimates there are 15,000 grizzlies in the province today, but some scientists, like Chris Darimont at the University of Victoria, think there could be as few as 6,000.

Precise estimates aside, the global trend for brown bears is clearly one that favours extinction. Local and international scientists have harshly criticized the government’s scientific justifications for the hunt, but the BC Liberal government maintains the fate of BC’s grizzly bears will be different.

Through the provincial Wildlife Act, the government sets limits on how many grizzly bears can be killed before population levels start to decline. But research conducted by Kyle Artelle and Darimont illustrates that the province’s own records show they have historically allowed hunters to kill beyond those limits.

They calculated grizzly death rates using the government’s own figures. Their basic research question, Darimont explained from his University of Victoria office, was: “How did the government do? Did they keep grizzly bear mortality levels below their own thresholds?”
“And the answer is, ‘Not very well,’ based on their own criteria.… Excess mortality may have occurred up to 70 per cent of the time,” said Darimont of the study’s findings.
Polls show that a vast majority of British Columbians oppose the trophy killing of grizzly bears. A 2013 poll by McAllister Opinion Research showed 87 per cent of BC respondents favour banning trophy hunting for bears.

The European Union embargoed the importation of BC grizzly bear parts and trophies into its 28 member countries because they believe the hunt is not sustainably managed.
The NDP’s bear hunting moratorium was immediately overturned by the BC Liberal government of Gordon Campbell, and over the past 14 years, the government has steadily maintained and increased the rights for outfitters.
These policies are even starting to drive a wedge within the hunting community. Should foreign hunters be given licenses to hunt BC’s bears? Should they be hunted at all? As policies expand, many have raised critical questions about the politics behind expanding access to bear hunting in the province.

Liberal Hunting Policies
Key Liberal politicians in BC are champions of hunting, and by extension, the grizzly bear trophy hunt.
Bill Bennett, the current mining minister and a respected figure in East Kootenay, told fellow MLAs in 2002 that he represented hunters in the province.
Recreational hunting, he noted to the legislature, is “a topic near and dear to my heart … I speak this morning on behalf of the hunters in the East Kootenay but also for all those men and women in BC who hunt the mountains and valleys of our province. With respect, I will be their voice in this House today.”

A focus on hunting has been consistent throughout Bennett’s political career, from the Hunting and Fishing Heritage Act he introduced as a newcomer in 2001, to the newspaper ad he published in 2012, pledging to continue to support the right of hunters to kill grizzly bears in BC.
Though Bennett says he speaks for “hunters” as a general group, resident and non-resident sub classifications within the community make such generalizations complicated. There are over 100,000 resident hunters in BC, most of them local sustenance hunters who go hunting with friends and family.

Non-resident hunters – those who do not live in BC and travel here to hunt game – are legally required to hire a professional guide to lead them. Representing 245 outfitters, the Guide Outfitters Association of BC (GOABC) is one of the key proponents of ongoing trophy hunting of grizzly bears. Its members constitute a small minority of BC’s population, but carry significant weight with the provincial Liberal government.

Over the last few years, the Liberal-led government has made a series of changes within the Ministry of Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations that favour the commercial hunting industry.
In 2014, a round of amendments overhauled the guiding industry. Notably, it changed who could purchase guiding territory certificates, which give outfitters the exclusive right to guide within a specified region.

As of April 1, 2015, which marks the start of the next hunting season, guiding territory certificate holders will no longer need to be Canadian. They also won’t even have to be people: guide outfitting businesses in BC can now be owned and operated by foreign corporations.

The GOABC is taking credit for proposing the changes announced over the last year.
“The Guide Outfitters Association asked for the change,” GOABC executive director Scott Ellis told the Vancouver Observer. “It legitimizes some of the things that were happening anyway.”

Norm Macdonald, the NDP MLA for the Columbia River–Revelstoke district, says his main concern is that these changes drastically increase the commercialization of the hunting sector in BC.
“I think that foreign buyers introduce a number of elements that we really have to think about,” Macdonald told the Vancouver Observer.
“BC tends to very easily give up control of our public land and not only put it into private hands, but often private hands that are offshore.”
Ellis disagreed.
“I’m not sure how allowing corporations on the [guiding territory] certificate commoditizes the backcountry,” he said. “We pushed for this for liability reasons, tax reasons, for lending and borrowing reasons, not for commoditization or anything else.”
Macdonald thinks organizations like the Guide Outfitters Association who donate “huge money” to the Liberal Party of BC have disproportionate influence over wildlife management.
“There is no question there is lobbying involved. It’s one of the broader problems for us, so many of these decisions are [made] behind closed doors,” he said.
“A lot of people do lobbying,” Ellis countered. “The David Suzuki Foundation does lobbying, in my opinion.”

Lobbying and Money
A key difference between the lobbying efforts of pro-grizzly hunting groups, like the Guide Outfitters Association, and organizations that campaign against it, like the David Suzuki Foundation, is the money involved.
From 2005 to 2013, guide associations across BC made $84,800 in political donations. The Liberal Party of BC received 84 per cent of that money, getting $73,275. The NDP received the remaining $11,525, usually in the months leading up to provincial elections.
Organizations lobbying for the environmental perspective, like the David Suzuki Foundation and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, have not made any political donations, due to their charitable status.
The latest set of changes to hunting operations in BC sparked outrage from resident hunters around the province when they were announced in December.

The new amendments, which alter how wildlife will be allocated between hunters, reduces the number of hunting licenses available to BC residents so that more licenses can be sold to foreign hunters.
It is another win for the guide outfitting industry, this time at the expense of local hunters.
“BC residents who depend on hunting to help sustain their families should be supported by provincial government policy,” said Jesse Zeman, a British Columbia Wildlife Federation director. “The overriding priority for all hunters is conservation, ensuring there is enough game available for First Nations, and then fulfilling the hunting needs of BC families.”

The steady trend of changes to hunting regulations favours foreign hunters and the guide outfitting industry that profits off of their visits, the BCWF wrote in a statement.
After a month of outcry from the BC public, Liberal MLA Bill Bennett acknowledged the government “didn’t get it quite right” with the allocation policy amendments.

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Claire Hume lives in Victoria and holds a Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy from the University of Cambridge, England.

This article was sponsored by Glasswaters Foundation

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