09/12/2012 04:55 EDT | Updated 11/29/2012 02:11 EST

BC Bear Hunting Ban Declared By 10 First Nations


KLEMTU, B.C. - A coalition of 10 First Nations on B.C.'s north and central coast says years of urging the government to ban trophy bear hunting in its territory hasn't worked so now it has declared its own moratorium.

But the provincial government showed no indication Wednesday that it was willing to go along with a ban that contributes millions to the B.C. economy.

First Nations coalition spokesman William Housty admitted that enforcing the ban won't be easy without the province making trophy hunting illegal.

"That's an issue that we're facing — how we're going to be able to deal with that without the province supporting us," said Housty of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

He said the First Nations don't have the authority to impose a ban, and that hunters and poachers who leave bear carcasses lying around have ignored signs urging them to stop the practice.

"That's really a problem. We can't walk up to these hunters and say, `You can't hunt here.' We can't write a ticket."

Housty said trophy hunting threatens the First Nations' lucrative ecotourism opportunities, but the province has ignored such concerns.

"Because we have not ceded any of this land to anybody, we feel that we have a voice and should have a voice in how these lands are managed and this includes the bear hunt."

But Steve Thomson, minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations, said he was disappointed by the announcement, saying the government has always been open to talks with First Nations.

"We also know that as the hunt gets under way at this time of the year, this is when many of the concerns about the hunt come forward," he said. "Disappointed but not totally surprised in a sense."

Thomson said hunting industry contributes about $350 million to the province annually and is an important part of the economy and the B.C.'s heritage.

More than 58 per cent of the traditional territory of the coastal First Nations is closed to grizzly bear hunting he added, noting the government has also put in place eco-system based management.

"We believe that the current hunt is sustainable and is managed based on sound science."

When asked if the provincial government sees a difference between trophy hunting and hunting for food purposes, Thomson said, "that's part of what we need to engage First Nations on."

Housty said coastal First Nations are working on marine- and land-use plans to manage resources in their territory and are also considering the salmon run and how it affects birds, bears and the evolving ecosystem.

"It goes against our cultural beliefs and values of management of our territories and bears in particular, and because we have an increasing presence on our land with research projects, with our people reconnecting to the land, it doesn't make sense to have hunters in the same area."

Guides are making money selling hunting tags, and pressure from them may be one reason why successive governments have failed to take the First Nations' concerns seriously, Housty said.

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