The board of Bella Coola Valley Tourism passed a resolution to support the Coastal First Nations in their ban on of trophy hunting on the Central Coast at its Annual General Meeting on March 7, 2017.
“It is obvious that we would support the trophy hunting ban,” said BCVT Director Deborah Nelson while introducing the special resolution. “We want non-consumptive tourism.”
BCVT President Ernest Hall noted that because eco-tourism on the Central Coast increasingly involves First Nations, and because aboriginal and eco-tourism are the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry in B.C., the overwhelmingly unpopular trophy hunting (particularly for grizzly bears) is within the organization’s mandate.
“Bella Coola Valley Tourism’s purpose is to work together to promote tourism development,” said Hall. “We are that pleased to announce our support for the Coastal First Nations ban on trophy hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest.”
Some directors said the Valley, unlike the Outer Coast, has a reputation for killing bears and this has a negative effect on tourism. “Supporting this ban will open BCVT up to other markets who do not wish to work with us because of trophy killing,” said Director Tom Hermance. “We should respect and support First Nations, because it is their wish to see trophy killing ended.”
Nine out of ten directors attended the meeting and the resolution was passed easily. One director abstained from voting on the motion because he questioned whether BCVT has any business considering such an issue which he interprets as outside the mandate or mission of the organization.
BCVT’s Visit Bella Coola Facebook administrator Carsten Ginsburg said the most popular post since the site was created two years ago is a photo of the First Nations’ sign announcing the trophy hunt ban. “It is time for Bella Coola Valley Tourism to take a stand on conservation and support this,” he declared.
The move by Bella Coola Valley Tourism is yet another blow to the B.C. government’s continued sanctioning of the grizzly bear hunt.
Studies show that 90 percent of British Columbians oppose the hunt, and there have been several ongoing high-profile campaigns to end the trophy hunt. Lush Cosmetics recently took aim at the hunt with a visible presence in Vancouver, and large enviromental groups such as Pacific Wild, Bears Forever, the Suziki Foundation and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation have campaigned continually for years to end it.
The NDP Official Opposition also issued a position on the hunt last year, saying it would end it if elected, but the B.C. Liberals still support it based on their “population estimates.”
A 2013 study by SFU and University of Victoria scientists questioned the B.C. government’s claim the province’s trophy grizzly bear hunt is sustainable, saying the kill rates are too high and the population estimates are too inaccurate.
The B.C. government claims the provincial population of grizzlies is about 15,000, making the annual harvest of approximately 300 bears sustainable. However, new research analyzing 10 years of the government’s data from 2001 to 2011 raised serious questions about that conclusion.
SFU biologist Kyle Artelle says in half the population groups around the province where hunting is permitted, more grizzlies have been killed than even government targets allow. In at least one regional population, hunters killed 24 more bears than the local quota allowed.
“It does cast some doubt that management is safeguarding the future of these populations,” said Artelle.
The study also raises major concerns about the government’s population estimates. Artelle explained that wildlife managers have only surveyed very small areas on the ground, about 15 percent of the province, meaning most population estimates come from computer models or expert opinion.
He says this very likely is resulting in quotas that are too lax.
“In a way it’s a bit like a game of Russian roulette,” Artelle explained. “The data just don’t let us have a precise picture on how big that threat is. But it is a considerable risk based on that uncertainty.”
The province, however, has a different opinion.
“The information that I have and the information that we use to manage, we feel is the best available science and it’s based on the information we have at hand,” said Andrew Wilson, director of Fish and Wildlife at the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources. “I’m confident in our abilities to manage grizzly bears and to manage the hunt based on those numbers.”
While hunting is currently allowed in 40 of the 57 population units in B.C., including the Great Bear Rainforest where the government does not recognize the First Nations ban, the report recommended cutting the hunting quotas by 80 percent, or eliminating it all together.
Artelle says that grizzlies low-reproduction rates makes them highly vulnerable and slow to recover from population declines.
Washington State has seen their grizzly population decline to fewer than 10 in the North Cascades, which once had thousands of grizzly bears and hasn’t had a confirmed sighting on the U.S. side of the border since 1996.
This has resulted in proposal from the North Cascades National Park Service to potentially move grizzly bears from B.C. into the area, with the hopes of restoring the population to about 200 bears.
The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has put forward a draft plan with four options to restore the North Cascades population, which range from taking no action to moving 200 bears within the next 25 years.
So far there is no agreement in place and no comment from the B.C. Ministry of Environment on the proposal.
With files from CBC News