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Comment: ‘Pack it out’ plan for grizzly hunts doesn’t work

Trophy hunting of grizzly bears is opposed by 90 per cent of British Columbians, including scientists, environmentalists, First Nations and most hunters.

Trophy hunting of grizzly bears is opposed by 90 per cent of British Columbians, including scientists, environmentalists, First Nations and most hunters. Although the provincial government has steadfastly defended the hunt, a new policy is being proposed as a potential solution, one that has the backing of trophy hunters.

It smells fishier than a grizzly’s breath in the fall.

Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver’s private member’s bill would require hunters to “pack out” the meat of killed grizzlies. Grizzly bears are one of the few so-called big-game animals in B.C. for which no such requirements exist.

Depending on which argument is tabled, this new policy could somehow eliminate the “trophy” element from the hunt or reduce grizzly hunting. We disagree with both of these claims.

“This bill would eliminate the trophy hunt,” its proponent and sponsor has publicly and repeatedly asserted.

No matter how forcefully stated, however, the logic remains incoherent. The hope is that the policy change could — poof! — turn the achievement-focused slaughter of a grizzly into a socially palatable “food hunt.” Most people support hunting for food. But most will not believe this far-fetched argument.

Why? Because forcing a hunter to pack out grizzly meat does not change the driving motivation, which is to produce a trophy with which hunters can boast to others. While grizzly meat might be consumed by the odd hunter, we should not expect a Martha Stewart recipe soon.

Humans avoid the meat of predators for good reasons: it tastes bad, and it harbours parasites potentially dangerous to us.

Weaver argues that the increased cost associated with packing out the meat would also reduce the demand for grizzly hunts, citing market forces. A relatively minor additional burden on a hunt that can cost resident hunters many thousands of dollars and guided non-resident hunters up to $25,000, however, will have no such effect.

Additionally, in other parts of the world, increasing the cost to acquire wildlife trophies can actually drive more aggressive exploitation. This is because a more expensive trophy signals greater resources of the hunter, upping the bragging rights.

Why would the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. and B.C. Wildlife Federation (which lobby for hunting guides and B.C. resident hunters, respectively) enthusiastically support a proposed policy change that, as argued by its proponent, would reduce the number of animals their clients and members could kill? They support it because they hope it will provide them cover — magically granting critical social licence to an almost universally reviled trophy hunt.

Weaver also mounts a self-described evidence-based argument to justify his proposed bill. He repeatedly claims a reduction in the number of black bears killed after a similar “pack it out” policy was implemented. He compares the average number of black bears killed annually in the periods before and after 1994, which is when the policy was introduced.

Undeniably, the average number of kills did drop following the “pack it out” requirement. Is this evidence of the policy’s efficacy?

The answer is a resounding no. We examined the same data provided by the government. As our figure shows, whereas the mean number of annual kills did decrease after 1994, the decrease occurred around 2003, some nine years later.

But there is more. Inferring causation by comparing averages before and after an event (such as the policy’s inception) is often misleading. What one assumes might be responsible for the difference in fact might not be.

In this case, black-bear hunting declined in lockstep with an overall decline in all hunting in B.C. since the 1990s. Indeed, as our figure shows, hunting of the province’s most sought-after large animals (elk, deer and moose, long subject to “pack it out” policy) all decreased during this same period.

This reality makes any supposed causative link between black-bear hunting declines and the “pack it out” policy hopelessly unlikely.

All this proposed bill would do is provide cover for trophy hunters, thereby causing more harm than good.

We support Weaver’s otherwise exemplary record of using science to craft evidence-based policy, but we appeal to his scholarly training to reconsider the data and logic underlying his proposal.

Chris Darimont, Kyle Artelle and Paul Paquet are scientists at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and scholars at the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.