Doug Neasloss and Deborah Nelson chat during the Acwsalcta screening of Bears Forever.

Central Coast First Nations premiere “Bear Witness” in Bella Coola

Central Coast First Nations premiere “Bear Witness” in Bella Coola

The Central Coast First Nations Bear Working Group (CCFN BWG) made a presentation of their film “Bear Witness” (Visit www.BearsForever.ca for the website and video link) on February 18 for a crowd of 40 locals at Lobelco Hall.

A brief introduction from the presenters; Megan Moody (Nuxalk Nation Resource Stewardship Director), Jason Moody (Nuxalk Nation Stewardship Office), Jen Walkus (Wuikinuxv Nation Bear Working Group Researcher and Representative), Cindy Hanuse (Wuikinuxv Nation Stream Enhancement), Douglas Neasloss (Kitasoo/Xai’xais Spirit Bear Lodge, Klemtu), and Kai Nagata (University of Victoria and Producer of film) preceded the 25 minute film. (The Heiltsuk Nation was unable to send a representative and sent their regrets.)

In September 2012 the CCFN announced a ban on trophy hunting for bears within the unceded territory of their member nations, which closely correspond to the area known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

Gathering data is one of the most important focuses of the group. “The Government bases its wildlife management on numbers of bears only, and does not take into account the data on declining fish populations” said Walkus. “In the Wuikinuxv Nation we have noticed salmon runs drop from 300,000 fish one year to just 3,000 the next. Bears are starving and last year alone, we were forced to euthanize 15 bears. They were emaciated, it was very sad; it was devastating to the community. We do not agree with the way that the government develops their numbers. First Nations traditions do not believe in a single species management program. We need to be looking at the ecosystem as a whole, and the data we are collecting will continue to help us move forward with a more comprehensive management plan.”

In the last year alone, 1500-1600 samples were taken and DNA analyzed. This shows data such as movement between territories, hormone and stress levels, genders, and dietary issues. As well as being able to identify individual bears, and gain a more accurate number of the existing populations. At more than $100 per sample, the BWG has been collaborating with UVic and Hakai Research Institute for students’ studies, which drastically cuts costs and provides further data for research papers and further studies in comprehensive Wildlife Management.

“There is a fear in the hunting community that we will lose our access, or rights, or that one area/group of the province will dictate hunting policy for everyone else.” said Nagata “There is a fear that hunters are going to lose their social licence to hunt. What is there to say to that? We are going to lose all sorts of rights to hunt, if we do not do speak up about trophy hunting now. We need to draw a clear moral line on what kinds of hunting we accept as a community, and what we do not. Anytime that we can promote these types of conversations is appreciated and healthy. Many of us hunters may enjoy sitting around a campfire cleaning weapons, but we are not really good at having these conversations about the deep meanings of life. So any conversations are appreciated.”

A September 2013 poll from McAllister Opinion Research conducted on behalf of the CCFN showed that “95 percent of B.C. hunters agree that people should not be hunting if they’re not prepared to eat what they kill.” A further 91 percent agree that their fellow hunters should respect First Nations laws and customs on First Nations territory.

By the numbers: A recent Tourism BC exit survey found that 79% of tourists came to BC to view bears. Stanford Centre for Responsible Travel (CREST) did an analysis and comparison of the tourism draw of hunting vs. viewing and found that four guiding businesses employ 11 people and serve 186 people. License fees are worth about $1.2 million to the Government coffers. Viewing on the other hand, employs 510 people directly, and countless others indirectly, services approximately 11,369 visitors a year, and garners $15 million in direct contributions to BC.

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