09/20/2012 05:12 EDT | Updated 11/20/2012 05:12 EST

Saving the Spirit Bear of British Columbia

National Park Service

On the heels of the declaration by 10 coastal First Nations that formally oppose the sport hunting of grizzly and black bears on the central and north coast of British Columbia, Raincoast Conservation Foundation has now secured the commercial trophy hunting rights across a large portion of B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest.

A new purchase, completed this past week, abuts another exclusive guiding territory purchased by Raincoast in 2005, which was the first conservation acquisition of a guide outfitter territory in B.C.

With the purchase of this additional 3,500 square kilometre (1,351 square mile) hunting license in the heart of Spirit Bear (the world's only white form of the black bear) habitat, Raincoast now controls more than 28 thousand square kilometres (10,810 square miles) of commercial hunting territory in the Great Bear Rainforest. With this latest acquisition finalized, Raincoast, in collaboration with coastal First Nations, will turn our attention to potential future buyouts of other territories on B.C.'s central and north coast.

Coastal bears provide important services to the ecosystem, like the dispersal of fruits and nutrients from salmon remains. Killing them not only disrupts these processes but also potentially imperils populations. Ecological issues aside, however, the coastal trophy bear hunt cannot be justified from either an ethical or economic perspective.

"As guide outfitting territory owners in the Great Bear Rainforest, our intention has been to support the economic initiatives based on bear viewing in these coastal First Nations communities," said Brian Falconer, Guide Outfitter Coordinator for Raincoast. "Accordingly, we have and will continue to manage our territories in consultation with coastal First Nations -- no bears have been killed since the acquisition of these territories."

But make no mistake about it, this is not a wholesale anti-hunting strategy. Raincoast supports the privilege of people to put food on the table. It is the wanton slaughter and suffering of animals in the name of trophies that we oppose.

The very rare Spirit or Kermode Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) is a North American black bear living in the central and north coast of British Columbia, Canada. About one tenth of the population has white or cream-coloured coats. The Spirit Bear may owe its survival to the protective traditions of the First Nations, who never hunted the animals or spoke of them to fur trappers

Although it is illegal to kill the actual white Spirit Bears, Raincoast's acquisition of the Spirit Bear guide outfitting tenure stops the commercial trophy hunting of the black bears that carry the gene responsible for producing the white bear. The acquisition also supports the burgeoning wildlife viewing initiatives being pursued by the Kitasoo/Xais-Xais and Gitga'at First Nations.

"Raincoast's purchase of this territory supports the Kitasoo/Xais-Xais investment in sustainable eco-tourism jobs," said Chief Councillor Doug Neasloss, who also serves as head guide at the beautiful Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu.

"The B.C. government and the trophy hunting lobby claim that management of the coastal bear hunt is based on solid science. The unadorned reality, however, is it's more science fiction than science," said Raincoast senior scientist Dr. Paul Paquet. "In the face of climate change, habitat fragmentation, salmon declines and threats of oil spills, the province's faith-based wildlife management is unlikely to ensure the long term viability of coastal bear populations in the Great Bear Rainforest."

"This is great news, from an economic and ethical standpoint," said Kevin Smith, president of Maple Leaf Adventures, one of the many ecotourism companies that offer bear viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest. "This region has some of the world's best bear viewing, and bear viewing provides far more economic benefit than the trophy hunting of coastal bears. We applaud Raincoast for their vision and drive to make this happen.

Even the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C., a pro-trophy hunting organization that holds significant sway with the provincial government, is now showing signs of support for this unique conservation economy solution. As recently reported by the Victoria Times Colonist, Scott Ellis, the association's executive director, has stated that his members support Raincoast's right to buy hunting rights via a willing buyer- willing seller scenario. We suspect the GOABC sees the writing on the wall: bears will soon find a safer future in this vast coastal ecosystem named in their honour.