Analysis: BC Liberals' promised ban on grizzly hunting in Great Bear Rainforest met with skepticism

The Great Bear Rainforest. Scene from <a rel="nofollow" href="https://vimeo.com/ondemand/thegrizzlytruth" target="_blank">The
The Great Bear Rainforest. Scene from The Grizzly Truth Documentary.

After weeks of negative news coverage regarding its connection to trophy hunters and donations from trophy hunting groups, including the US-based Safari Club International, the BC Liberals attempted to regain the narrative by promising to “work with the Coastal First Nations towards the elimination of the grizzly bear hunt in the Great Bear Rainforest,” while at the same time “continuing with the science-based approach to the bear hunt elsewhere in the province."

It is worth remembering that Steve Thomson, minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, made a similar announcement back in February of 2016, when he mistakenly told reporters that "The agreement today as we announced retires the commercial hunt for grizzly bear for the Great Bear Rainforest. Protecting the species is the first principle and we will continue to manage the process elsewhere on a science-based approach to grizzly bear and wildlife management generally."

A statement that was later clarified by the ministry communications director Vivian Thomas as only applying to First Nations territories. But even that turned out not to be true since it was contingent on hunting territories being bought out, which was never fully accomplished, while the resident hunt continued unabated.

"This false sense of relief is deadly," said Brian Falconer, spokesman for Raincoast Conservation Foundation, back then. "Sixty per cent of grizzly kills in the province goes to resident hunters."

The new BC Liberal’s party platform was therefore immediately met with skepticism from First Nations and the Commercial Bear Viewing Association (CBVA).

“I don’t feel comfortable until we have something in writing,” said Doug Neasloss, chief of the Kitasoo/Xaixais band council. But he later also expressed optimism and relief: "This is long overdue," he said. "The bear hunt is very important for us to end in the Great Bear Rainforest. I've been on this file for the last 20 years, so I'm really proud that the Liberals have changed their position and are in talks to put it to an end. This is about more than the bear hunt. It's about survival for remote communities; protecting the Great Bear Rainforest, and how we're trying to save some of the industries like tourism that create jobs for the local community."

“Some of our members operate in the Great Bear Rainforest and for them this ban, if and when it happens, could be good news,” said Julius Strauss, Chair of the CBVA’s Political Committee. “Bear-viewing brings in more than ten times what grizzly hunting does and many operators are not in the Great Bear Rainforest, ” Strauss said in a statement to the Huffington Post.

Chris Genovali, the executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation pointed out that “the Liberals need to clarify whether their announcement applies to the entirety of the Great Bear Rainforest or only Coastal First Nations territory, as that is not exactly clear from the statement they put out yesterday.”

Further adding to the confusion Steve Thomson, said in an interview that 11 bears are shot annually within the Great Bear Rainforest. However, according to Doug Neasloss, 12 grizzly bears are shot by trophy hunters from outside the province and 18 grizzlies by resident hunters, bringing the total to 30 grizzlies shot within the Great Bear Rainforest annually.

It was also unclear how the ban would be implemented as both the commercial guide outfitters as well as the BC Wildlife Federation would have to be involved.

One possible scenario could be for First Nations to buy out tenure licenses, currently owned by guide-outfitters, with help from Raincoast Conservation Foundation an organisation that has been buying out grizzly hunting territories for several years now. But the details of a complete buy-out are unclear because the market-value of those licenses is very much up for discussion and commercial guide outfitters would have to agree to the sale as well as the terms of the agreement.

Map of Great Bear Rainforest and grizzly hunting territories.
Map of Great Bear Rainforest and grizzly hunting territories.

Thomson said in a statement that he believes that the B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) will agree to a ban on grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest, which would mean that they are willing to give up 18 resident hunting tags. “I think they understand the rationale for doing this and that they’ll accept it within the Great Bear Rainforest,” he said.

While the federation does not comment on political platforms during the election, in a statement made to The Grizzly Truth in May of 2016, Al Martin, spokesman for the BCWF, said that “First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest have made it clear from their perspective that they don’t support grizzly bear hunting. I think we need to respect those differences and open up the dialogue.” He added that across the province there will be different preferences and that the BCWF recognizes that one size does not fit all.

Doug Nealoss cautioned that “Election time is obviously when people make a lot of promises. If we can hold their feet to the fire and make sure we end it … There’s a lot of conversations that have to happen.”

Given the vagueness of the BC Liberal’s platform further clarification is needed as to what the promised ban really means and how exactly it will be implemented. It also needs to be viewed within the context of the party’s move towards privatizing the grizzly hunt allocation system and giving it over to hunting organizations in an effort to remove itself from the political repercussions of the controversial hunt. As Bill Bennett, MLA for Kootenay East, said “Hopefully an agency that is separate from government can make decisions that are in the best long-term interests of wildlife and just forget about politics and do what's best for the animals."

The BC NDP on the other hand has promised a province-wide ban on grizzly trophy hunting but again it is unclear what that means exactly, whether it applies to commercial guide outfitters only or to resident hunters as well and whether it would include a loophole that would allow grizzly hunting if the meat is packed.

It is therefore imperitive for environmentalists, First Nations and the media to keep pushing this issue until definitive progress is made.

Tom Reissmann is the director and producer of The Grizzly Truth, a documentary that scrutinizes the motivations and arguments for grizzly bear hunting, while dispelling the myth of the dangerous grizzly. Experts from both sides of the argument discuss the myths and the facts in an effort to arrive at The Grizzly Truth.

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