The British Columbia government’s recently announced a “ban” on the controversial grizzly-bear trophy hunt falls short on many levels. Importantly, it is not a true ban.
Grizzly-bear hunting will remain legal throughout the province as a regulated “food hunt,” except in the renowned Great Bear Rainforest. Although no one legitimately hunts grizzlies for meat, such a policy has a built-in loophole that would allow recreational hunters to kill grizzlies as long as they surrender the animal’s head, pelt, claws, teeth and other “trophy” items to a government official and/or remove the meat from the carcass and pack it out. At best, these proposed changes to hunting regulations are disingenuous.
Let’s face it: Grizzlies are hunted for trophies. Grizzly hunters kill to feed their egos, not their families. Additionally, and despite pre-election rhetoric, the new government is missing an opportunity to craft policy that aligns with ethics and economics.
It is not about whether bear killing is “sustainable,” as provincial wildlife managers and many hunters are often trying to assert (despite evidence to the contrary for many areas). Rather, we question whether it is ethically supportable to kill grizzlies anywhere. In other words, just because there might be enough grizzlies to kill does not imply they should be killed.
Other dimensions can and should matter. Case in point: The B.C. government should be lauded for proposing a true ban (no killing whatsoever) for the entirety of the Great Bear Rainforest. This represents a significant development, one rightly driven by First Nations in the region.
The so-called “food hunt” policy being proposed for interior regions of B.C. is another story. This policy feigns that some hunters target grizzlies for their meat (and not a trophy). Labelling it a food hunt is just a political sleight of hand to sanitize the trophy hunt.
The new government appears to have adopted this idea to signal to hunters (represented by a powerful lobby) that they needn’t worry about having their right to hunt for food taken away.
The government, however, wrongly assumes that the sole purpose of wildlife populations is to serve the needs of the communities that hunt them. That presumption is clearly woven into provincial policy without proper scientific support, and represents a devolution of wildlife management away from the fundamentals of applied ecological science and environmental ethics to a largely utilitarian and agriculturalist approach.
Whether this policy will remove incentives to kill grizzlies and reduce mortality is unknown. However, the supposed effectiveness of this proposed policy is scientifically naïve and irrelevant to the facts. When a similar “pack the meat out” policy was introduced for black bears, there was no detectable change in hunting-related killing.
Sound wildlife policy must include ethical considerations. Because there might be “enough” of a wildlife population in some cases to exploit it lethally does not mean we need to, or ought to, hunt the population. This is especially true for animals hunted only for trophy, which most people believe offers a far less defensible reason to hunt than for sustenance.
A true ban aligns with society’s dominant moral compass. Consistent polling data have shown strong opposition to the grizzly hunt, even in rural areas and among hunters. Clearly, hunting large carnivores for recreation and trophies is no longer acceptable. Although trophy hunting benefits hunters with an opportunity to show off, the individual bears pay the ultimate cost in suffering and with their lives.
For most, the moral algebra does not add up. Notably, the notion that the current policy has to appease a single and tiny portion of the population (grizzly trophy hunters) at the expense of all other facets of society belies a management geared not toward conservation but rather to a narrow fringe interest.
A true ban would benefit various regional economies. Bear-based ecotourism is burgeoning, earning significantly more revenue than the trophy hunt. Viewing and killing grizzlies are not compatible uses. As such, predictable ecotourism opportunities likely cannot coexist with bear hunting.
By abandoning the moral and economic realities that once appeared in election platforms, the new government is fumbling badly. A more rational, clear and realistically enforceable policy would be to end all grizzly-bear hunting throughout B.C.
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. Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Faisal Moola is the David Suzuki Foundation’s director general for Ontario and Northern Canada and a conservation-policy expert at the University of Toronto.