Photo: It's time to end the grisly trophy hunt

(Credit: Rob English via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation's Senior Editor Ian Hanington

Watching grizzly bears catch and eat salmon as they swim upstream to spawn is an unforgettable experience. Many people love to view the wild drama. Some record it with photos or video. But a few want to kill the iconic animals — not to eat, just to put their heads on a wall or coats on a floor.

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The spring grizzly kill starts April 1 and extends for several weeks, followed by a second fall season. By year's end, several hundred will have died at the hands of humans, close to 90 per cent shot by trophy hunters — many of them foreign licence-holders, as the B.C. government plans to enact new regulations to allow hunters from outside B.C. to take 40 per cent of grizzlies slated for killing. The government also plans to allow foreign interests and corporations to buy and run guide-outfitting territories previously run only by B.C. residents. Local hunting organizations say the new rules put them at a disadvantage.

According to the Vancouver Observer, hunting guide associations donated $84,800 to B.C. political parties from 2005 to 2013, 84 per cent to the B.C. Liberals.

In the controversy over regulatory changes, we've lost touch with the fact that the grizzly trophy hunt is horrific, regardless of whether bears are killed by resident hunters or big-game hunters who pay thousands of dollars for the chance to kill a bear here — often because it's illegal in their home countries.

Grizzlies once roamed much of North America, from Mexico to the Yukon and from the West Coast through the prairies. Habitat loss and overhunting have since shrunk their range by more than half. In Canada, 16 subgroups are on the brink of extinction, including nine in south-central B.C. and Alberta's entire grizzly population.

Just how many bears reside in B.C. is in dispute. The government claims more than 15,000 grizzlies live here, but Raincoast Conservation Foundation science director Chris Darimont, a University of Victoria conservation biologist, puts the number closer to the government's earlier estimate of 6,600 — before it doubled that in 1990 based on a single study in southeastern B.C.'s Flathead area.

According to a Maclean's article, in 2000, the government "suppressed the work of one of its own biologists, Dionys de Leeuw, for suggesting the hunt was excessive and could be pushing the bears to extinction. De Leeuw was later suspended without pay for having pursued the line of inquiry." The government then pursued a five-year legal battle with groups including Raincoast Conservation and Ecojustice to keep its grizzly kill data sealed.

Allan Thornton, president of the British Environmental Investigation Agency, which has studied B.C. grizzly management since the late 1990s, is blunt about the government's justification. "The British Columbia wildlife department does not use rigorous science," he told the Vancouver Observer. In 2004, the European Union banned imports of all B.C. grizzly parts into member countries after its analysis found the hunt to be unsustainable.

Even the economic case is shaky. Studies by the Centre for Responsible Travel and Raincoast Conservation conclude revenue from bear-viewing is far higher than revenue from grizzly hunting.

Grizzly population health is an indicator of overall ecosystem health, and bears are important to functioning ecosystems. They help regulate prey such as deer and elk, maintain forest health by dispersing seeds and aerating soil as they dig for food, and fertilize coastal forests by dragging salmon carcasses into the woods. Hunting isn't the only threat. Habitat loss, decreasing salmon runs, collisions with vehicles and other conflicts with humans also endanger grizzlies. Because they have low reproduction rates, they're highly susceptible to population decline. Hunting is one threat we can easily control.

According to polls, almost 90 per cent of B.C. residents oppose hunting grizzlies for trophies, including many First Nations and food hunters. Scientists say it's unsustainable. The Coastal First Nations coalition has banned grizzly hunting in its territories, but the government doesn't recognize the ban. The Raincoast Conservation Foundation has bought hunting licences in an attempt to reduce bear kills on the coast.

Simply put, most British Columbians — and Canadians — are against the grizzly trophy hunt. It's time for the government to listen to the majority rather than industry donors and ban this barbaric and unsustainable practice.

March 12, 2015

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Oct 14, 2016
12:05 PM

Do you know how many resident hunting licences for Grizzly bears were issued by the B.C.Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations in 2016? I am presenting my opinion on the trophy hunting of Grizzly bears in British Columbia on Thursday evening in Victoria,. And my biologist nephew, Niall McCann, has instructed me to present facts and not just outrage! I am adamantly opposed to the trophy hunting of grizzly bears.

Sep 14, 2015
9:48 PM

Even the minister in the BC Legislature confirms that British Columbians are almost unanimous on “no trophy hunting.” This clip is on-line from Hansard.

BILL M208 — WILDLIFE AMENDMENT ACT, 2015 A. Weaver presented a bill intituled Wildlife Amendment Act, 2015. A. Weaver: I move introduction of the Wildlife Amendment Act, 2015, for first reading. Motion approved.

A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to introduce this bill that, if enacted, would restrict the practices of non-resident trophy hunters who come to B.C. to kill large game, by making two specific amendments to the Wildlife Act. The proposed amendments remove grizzly bears from the list of animals exempt from meat harvesting regulations and ensure that all edible portions of animals harvested in B.C. are taken directly to the hunter’s residence. As the legislation currently stands, the edible parts of big-game animals — except cougars, wolves, lynx, bobcats, wolverines and grizzly bears — must be removed from the animal and packed out to one’s home or, importantly for non-resident hunters, to a meat cutter or a cold storage plant. These last two options provide trophy hunters with legal meat-laundering opportunities. By adding “directly” or “through” to the clause, hunters can still use meat cutters and cold storage plants to process their harvest, but it can’t end there. The meat must make it to their home address. If they want to donate that meat to charity after the fact, they are welcome to do so, but they have to take it home first. Hunters are required to remove the edible portion from black bears. If enacted, this bill would bring meat harvesting standards for grizzly bears up to the same standard. British Columbians and, in particular, B.C. resident hunters support these changes. A 2013 McAllister Research poll found that 88 percent of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting. In addition to that, 95 percent of hunters said they believe you should not be hunting if you are not prepared to eat what you kill. For local sustenance hunters, the vast majority of which are B.C. resident hunters, this bill merely echoes what they are already doing: harvesting wild game to bring the meat home to feed their families. For non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. to kill an animal only for its hide, skull or antlers, this poses a logistical challenge of exporting large quantities of meat. I look forward to the second reading of this bill, and I move that this bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House. Bill M208, Wildlife Amendment Act, 2015, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today

Mar 16, 2015
6:25 PM

When I read articles like this I feel like I’ve been tele-ported back to the stone ages… with all the environmental devastation going on globally we should be doing everything in our power to conserve what little pristine wilds we actually have left- and that includes all the species in them. I know I’m speaking to the choir here, so what is the best course of action to address this… a name.. an e-mail, address ??? Fish and wildlife?…who do we express our concerns too?

Mar 14, 2015
10:31 PM

its an ugly practice

Mar 14, 2015
10:31 PM

trophy hunting is just plain ugly and cruel. youngsters are often orphaned as well

Mar 14, 2015
10:27 AM

I know several outdoors people who have seen Males killing and eating cubs. I did some reserch and there is a lot of data out there saying that males will actively hunt and kill cubs like a cub seeking missile in order to get the females back in season as well a a easy protein source.

Mar 13, 2015
11:51 AM

Firstly, let me say from the start that I am all for banning the grizzly bear hunt in British Columbia but not because BC’s grizzly bear population is in danger of going extinct or in serious decline. No, to the contrary, anyone even remotely familiar with grizzly bears (or black bears) and that has an ounce of brains know that a “live bear” is worth ten times what any dead bear is. Tourists in numbers will pay big dollars to see the same live bear over and over again, while a dead bear hanging on a wall is seen by few. Secondly, and most importantly, I am an avid fair-chase hunter and I live and work in coastal British Columbia in an area that has a healthy and growing population of grizzly bears. Grizzly bears frequent areas I can see right from the windows of my house and on the salmon streams that I help rehabilitate. I don’t believe for a minute the misinformation currently being spread by Environmental groups (some of which I have belonged to and worked with in the past) looking to support their cause (and their families) with funds sent in or collected from city people ignorant of the facts. Grizzly bears in lower to middle coastal British Columbia are being seen more frequently with each passing year. Grizzly bears are also swimming across narrow areas in Johnstone Straits from the BC mainland and may soon become a problem on Vancouver Island. I been lucky enough to have my fingers on the pulse of grizzly bear populations in this area and can say from experience that bear populations are on the increase in the area I call home. Having worked with and fought for several BC environmental groups in the past, I am also keenly aware that biologists (whether fish or game) can be paid to say whatever the person holding the cash wants them to say.

In closing I’d simply like to say that I believe the time has come to focus on a sustainable, thriving and eco-friendly tourist trade in British Columbia where people from other countries—as well as BC residents—will pay big bucks to view the bears, marine life and other wildlife.

However, please tell the truth about bear populations because false information will generally do more harm than good in the end.

Ken Kristian Lifelong avid angler and proud fair-chase hunter Former director Save Our Fish Foundation and Pitt River and Area Watershed Network

P.S. John Werring your head scientist knows me well and has worked with me over the years

Mar 13, 2015
11:50 AM

Reading through the comments I see it is the typical knee-jerk reaction from those who either know very little about wildlife management or from those who spend virtually no time in the great outdoors. The hunt for grizzly bears has been ongoing for a long time and yet their populations persist in most of their historic ranges and are even over-populated in some areas like the south-eastern corner of BC (despite our efforts to destroy their habitat with pipelines and other types of first-world development). Some call the hunt barbaric but anyone who is not a strict vegan is a hypocrite. Have you ever researched where the beef, chicken and pork you eat come from? Go on, I dare you to explore a slaughter house and look at he conditions these animals are raised in and try to then tell me that it is not barbaric. At least Grizzlies live their entire lives free until suddenly and humanely, it is over. Wildlife viewing opportunities and Limited Entry Hunting can co-exist, it is not about one vs. the other. The hunting seasons each year are very short and wildlife viewing is much longer. The only issue I feel should be taken off the table is shooting sows. Currently it is a ‘recommendation’ to know the gender and target only males. If it could be ensured that only males were shot, grizzly populations would actually increase. Boars kill cubs so that sows will go back into heat and be receptive to mating. Eliminating big, old boars WILL result in an increased survival of cubs and result in population increases. It is called wildlife management people. Without hunters providing statistics on success and other hunt data, most of the estimates for population size would not even be known. In fact, whole populations could become extirpated and no one would know if not for the reporting by hunters. If you think Clark is going to flood provincial wildlife managers coffers with money so that adequate surveys and population estimates can be ascertained, you’re naive and badly disillusioned. Limited Entry means only a certain number of animals are harvested each year. Combined with adaptive management to increase or decrease the number of tags released each year ensures the hunt remains sustainable. Get out from behind your computer and sheltered life in the concrete jungle and explore beautiful BC, you will see that the great outdoors are teeming with grizzlies and a whole myriad of other wonderful creatures.

Mar 13, 2015
9:18 AM

Trophy hunting or honour killing, it’s all about the killer’s ego.

Mar 13, 2015
8:43 AM

Conservation. The only truly “scientific” balance to an ecosystem is conservation. What may be good for one localized ecosystem is rarely good for another localized ecosystem. Let us not paint a giant paint brush across a political region of BC which is one of the most diverse ecologically zoned places on the planet. If science matters, share it.

Mar 13, 2015
8:17 AM

Stop killing these beautiful animals, the humans have destroyed enough

Mar 13, 2015
7:01 AM

The austerity (running surpluses when there needs to be deficit spending) being practised by federal governments globally, forces Provinces/ States to make poor choices in order to help balance their budgets and keep taxes within the declining means of the populace. Selling licenses to foreign entities to exploit our wildlife is as much a symptom of this as privatizing public assets and the declining levels of employment and relative personal income now occuring around the world. This effect is so consistently in favor of transnationals etc, that it’s almost as if by design?

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