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New signs at Bella Coola Airport declare trophy hunting closed in Great Bear

New signs at the airport detail First Nations opposition to the hunt    - Caitlin Thompson
New signs at the airport detail First Nations opposition to the hunt
— image credit: Caitlin Thompson

B.C.’s fall grizzly hunt opened September 1 in the Great Bear Rainforest and there has been plenty of strong pushback from local First Nations and conservation activists.

Much of that work has been spearheaded by the Coastal First Nations and the Central Coast First Nations Bear Working Group through their sister organization, Bears Forever.

“This is one of the most disrespectful industries,” said Kitasoo/Xaixais chief councillor and CFN spokesperson Douglas Neasloss. “We're there to make sure, as stewards of our territories, that people are respectful.”

Signs posted across the province — including the south terminal at YVR — are taking shots at the annual grizzly hunt in the coastal rainforest. They read “Trophy Hunting is Closed in the Great Bear Rainforest. Respect our Traditional Laws.”

Signs are also up in the Bella Bella and Bella Coola airports, where Neasloss hopes they will catch the eyes of tourists destined for the Great Bear Rainforest.

“We’re just looking at new ways of really trying to make sure that people understand, before they even get on a plane or decide to come up here that they understand very clearly what the position is of Coastal First Nations,” said Neasloss.

Despite Premier Christy Clark’s confusing message box declaring the commercial grizzly hunt was “closed” in the Great Bear Rainforest last spring, the reality is quite the opposite.

“Premier Clark, speaking at a press conference said the agreements “include the end of the commercial grizzly hunt in Coastal First Nations traditional territory,” and later referred to ending the trophy hunt on the coast. Although her first statement was slightly more accurate, both neglected to tell the whole story,” said Neasloss. “The reality is the province has committed no financial assistance to the effort to retire the commercial hunting tenures, leaving it up to CFN and Raincoast to negotiate and fund agreements with existing guide outfitting businesses. They have also done nothing to curtail the killing of bears for trophies by B.C. residents in the Great Bear Rainforest.”

Beginning in 2005 and through the end of 2015, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, in collaboration with Coastal First Nations, raised nearly two million dollars and purchased three commercial hunting tenures covering over 30,000 square kilometers of the Great Bear Rainforest. Neasloss says the organizations are committed to raising the rest of the funding required to purchase the remaining commercial tenures.

“While it will be a challenging task, CFN and Raincoast are deeply committed to raising the money and completing the purchase of the remaining trophy hunting tenures,” said Neasloss. “The province should now step up and end the resident hunt. The bears of the Great Bear Rainforest would then be truly protected. The world would join the over 90 per cent of British Columbians who oppose trophy hunting and truly celebrate such an accomplishment.”

The government has been widely criticized for its controversial science on the actual number of grizzly bears in B.C., and the issue has caught the attention of the auditor general.

The David Suzuki Foundation and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre asked for an investigation after a study they conducted suggested the limits on human-caused bear deaths were being exceeded.

B.C.'s auditor general will look into the province's controversial grizzly bear hunt to see if the government is managing the animals properly.

Much of Auditor General Carol Bellringer's audit will focus on the government's target for how many bears can be killed by people each year — targets which the government has defended and advocates like Calvin Sandborn of the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Clinic have criticized.

In a statement, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations wrote, "The province makes its decisions on the best available science and is confident that the auditor general's report will show that."

The auditor general's office says it hopes to have the audit completed by the spring of 2017.

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