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Why Does B.C. Government So Desperately Want Grizzly Bears Dead?

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We want these bears dead. This is the message the B.C. government's "reallocation policy" sends to Raincoast Conservation Foundation, British Columbians, and Canadians across the country. This policy is also preventing the implementation of an innovative solution to end the commercial trophy hunting of grizzlies and other large carnivores throughout B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest.

With the mismanaged, and some would say depraved, B.C. grizzly bear hunt having commenced this month, the ongoing controversy surrounding the recreational killing of these iconic animals is spiking once again.

In 2001, a hard-won, Raincoast-led moratorium on grizzly hunting in B.C. was overturned by Gordon Campbell's newly elected Liberal government with no justification other than serving as an obvious sop to the trophy hunting lobby. So, what was supposed to be a three-year, province-wide ban was revoked after one spring hunting season. Raincoast, recognizing the then new premier's mulish intractability on this issue, decided to take a different approach.

In 2005, Raincoast raised $1.3 million to purchase the commercial trophy hunting rights across 24,700 square kilometers of the Great Bear Rainforest. In 2012, Raincoast purchased an additional 3,500 square kilometers, including nearly all the habitat of the spirit bear. (Despite a restriction on killing spirit bears, trophy hunting of black bears that carry the recessive gene that causes the white coat is allowed).

The sellers of these hunting tenures received a fair price, bears and wolves were safeguarded, and ecotourism prospered, including within coastal First Nations communities.

The province has countered by instituting a so-called reallocation policy (a.k.a., "the Raincoast policy"), whereby unused (i.e., not killed) grizzly bear "quota" would be stripped from Raincoast's commercial tenures and allocated to resident hunters (i.e., B.C. residents who do not require a licenced hunting guide by law).

Bereft of any legitimate argument to justify the recreational killing of grizzlies, provincial wildlife managers stand naked in front of an increasingly disgusted and disapproving public, their blatant cronyism on behalf of the trophy hunting lobby exposed for all to see.

The ecological argument is clear; killing bears for "management" purposes is unnecessary and scientifically unsound. Although ongoing attempts are made to dress up the province's motivations in the trappings of their proverbial "sound science", they are clearly driven by an anachronistic ideology that is disconcertingly fixated on killing as a legitimate and necessary tool of wildlife management.

Dr. Paul Paquet, senior scientist at Raincoast and co-author of a recently published peer-reviewed paper on B.C. bear management, states, "We analyzed only some of the uncertainty associated with grizzly management and found it was likely contributing to widespread overkills. I'm not sure how the government defines sound science, but an approach that carelessly leads to widespread overkills is less than scientifically credible."

The ethical argument is clear; gratuitous killing for recreation and amusement is unacceptable and immoral. Polling shows that nine out of 10 British Columbians agree, from rural residents (including many hunters) to city dwellers. In their 2009 publication, "The Ethics of Hunting", Drs. Michael Nelson and Kelly Millenbah state that if wildlife managers began "to take philosophy and ethics more seriously, both as a realm of expertise that can be acquired and as a critical dimension of wildlife conservation, many elements of wildlife conservation and management would look different."

The economic argument is clear; recent research by Stanford University and the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) identifies that bear viewing supports 10 times more employment, tourist spending, and government revenue than trophy hunting within the Great Bear Rainforest.

Notably, the Stanford-CREST study suggests the revenue generated by fees and licences affiliated with the trophy killing of grizzlies fails to cover the cost of the province's management of the hunt. As a result, B.C. taxpayers, most of whom oppose the hunt according to poll after poll, are in essence being forced to subsidize the trophy killing of grizzlies.

What remains unclear is why the B.C. government so desperately wants these bears dead.

Raincoast stands ready to raise the funds to acquire the remaining commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest, a mutually beneficial solution that the guide outfitters have indicated they will not oppose. Although the province, at their own political peril, has failed to recognize it, Coastal First Nations have banned trophy hunting under their own laws throughout their unceded territories, and the public is overwhelmingly in support.

Buying out the remaining hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest, coupled with the administrative closure of resident hunting in the region, would create the largest grizzly bear reserve in the world and a model for sustainable economic activity.

A version of this article previously ran in the Vancouver Sun.

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