The trophy killing of grizzly bears is an embarrassment to B.C. It hurts us all, environmentally, morally and economically. It should be stopped.
Thousands of tourists are drawn to grizzly bear-viewing that is now worth up to 10 times more than grizzly hunting in the province. The Commercial Bear Viewing Association reports more than 60 bear-viewing operations in B.C. that are at, or close to, capacity because of their inability to expand into hunted populations.
Increasingly, international travel agents will not send clients to B.C. lodges where grizzly hunting is also supported, and ecotourists are often dismayed that B.C. grizzlies can still legally be killed twice a year. This mixed message can’t help but tarnish B.C.’s branding as a natural wilderness destination, and it jeopardizes millions of dollars in bear-viewing income.
Grizzlies that are hunted become wary and fearful, thus more difficult to view in their natural settings. And the truth is, all grizzly hunting is really trophy hunting.
The consensus is that grizzly meat is unhealthy with bacteria, is distasteful and is only good for heavily spiced jerky, sausage or pepperoni. Bears are generally hunted for their heads, paws and hides, leaving behind an eerily humanoid carcass; a travesty.
The auditor general’s investigation into B.C.’s approach to grizzly-bear management is timely. Estimates of grizzly bear populations are speculative at best, ranging from 6,000 (conservation science) to 15,000 (government science). That’s a huge gap in number models.
B.C. does not have a stand-alone law to protect species and ecosystems at risk. Grizzly bears are already blue-listed in B.C. and are, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, a species of special concern, due to their extreme sensitivity to human intrusion. These bears are wide-ranging omnivores that require widely varied habitats and clear movement corridors in order to forage and find suitable mates.
Habitat loss and fragmentation pose large threats to their viability, but it is human hunting, poaching and conflict kills that are major causes of mortality. Female bears are mistakenly killed at least 30 per cent of the time and a female bear killed in the spring hunt might leave tiny cubs to perish. True bear mortality rates might be much higher than reported.
Grizzly bears are a keystone species that entire ecosystems depend upon for spreading seeds and nutrients throughout their entire range. They have one of the lowest reproductive rates of all North American land mammals, and populations are slow to recover when numbers fall. They have been eliminated from about half of their historical range since the mid-1800s and their largest population now is here in B.C.
Yet each year, the B.C. government sells about 1,800 trophy-hunting licences, and each year, about 300 grizzlies are killed within this system.
The government states that bear viewing and bear killing can co-exist because there are “enough” grizzlies to go around. It’s just not so. For one thing, grizzly viewing has to shut down in locations where grizzly killing is occurring.
In the past 10 years, research into the behaviour and biology of this remarkable species has proliferated through the dedicated efforts of conservation and First Nations groups. This highly intelligent, individualistic bear is believed by some biologists to have an intelligence on par with primates. What value system could possibly justify killing them, based on any numbers, even if those numbers were accurate?
The developed world is becoming savvy to ecological justice — killing bears for sport is an anachronism.
Why does the B.C. government continue to approve the trophy hunt of grizzly bears when it is less economically viable than viewing, violates First Nations law, is contrary to the values of most B.C. citizens and is an unethical action toward a sentient creature?
The answer is elusive: vested interests, lobbying influence, a frontier outlook on human-animal relations or an emotionally charged issue that politicians, and some citizens, might be loath to wade into.
Grizzly killing happens out of view for most of us, but we should all care.
We pledge to do everything we can to raise the grizzly hunt high on political platforms leading up to the 2017 provincial election.
Val Murray of Victoria and Barb Murray of Nanoose Bay, both retired from educational roles, are full-time bear advocates. For more information, go to justiceforbcgrizzlies.com.