October 1 marked the opening of B.C.’s controversial grizzly bear hunt and Central and North Coast First Nations are saying they will step up their actions against hunters found in their territory.
The Coastal First Nations is an alliance of First Nations on British Columbia’s North and Central Coast and Haida Gwaii. In 2012, CFN member nations issued a formal ban on trophy hunting for bears within their territories. The province, however, continues to issue grizzly bear tags despite the ban.
The B.C. government authorized 3,469 grizzly bear tags in 2015, up from 3,067 in 2014 but down from 3,786 in 2013. On average, hunters have killed about 270 grizzly bears in British Columbia every year since 2010. The province estimates there to be 15,000 grizzlies in British Columbia – about a quarter of the entire North American population.
Last week Premier Christy Clark continued to defend B.C.’s position on the hunt, saying it’s rooted in science.
“We aren’t contemplating any changes at the moment to the way we approach that,” Ms. Clark told reporters on Wednesday, when asked about the bear hunt. “We have a record number of grizzly bears in the province, a huge and growing population, and the hunt is scientifically managed.”
She said B.C. does a better job of managing grizzly bears “than anywhere else in North America and we are going to keep doing that.”
Earlier in the year Bella Coola Valley Tourism announced it supported a ban on hunting in Eucott Bay, an area frequented by tourists. It hasn’t however, announced any formal position on the grizzly bear hunt.
Bella Coola has seen an influx of bear watchers in the past few years, with several businesses offering wildlife viewing tours in the Valley. The Belarko Wildlife Viewing Platform saw over 2000 visits last year and enjoyed another very busy season in 2015.
“It is frustrating and embarrassing as a B.C. resident and Canadian to have to explain to so many foreign tourists and visitors that we still allow a grizzly bear trophy hunt here in B.C., and, it takes place mere kilometers away from where they have come from around the world to view these animals in the wild,” said Fraser Koroluk, Owner of Kynoch Adventures and Bella Coola Mountain Lodge. “Bear hunting for trophy has been widely opposed by B.C. residents and it appears dubious at best in my mind that the best available science can actually pinpoint a number on the grizzly bear population; however, this is the science they are using to allow the quota numbers to remain where they are or in some cases increase.”
Koroluk also stated that he believes bear-viewing benefits the local economy, and the animals should be preserved. A study last year found that tourists spent $15-million on bear viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest in 2012, while hunters spent $1.2-million.
“For the numbers of visitors to B.C. and the spin off in employment and services that bear-viewing brings it is a no-brainer that fostering a mind-set of preserving and sharing these animals and their experiences with international and local visitors is far more beneficial for the local community/ecosystem and economy than ruining or tarnishing it for the sake of a few hunters taking a prize animal for themselves,” said Koroluk. “Bear viewing is a way to share the experience, not take it home and stuff it.”
Douglass Neasloss, Chief Councilor of the Kitasoo-Xaixais, who are arguably some of the most active opponents of the hunt anywhere in B.C., echoed Koroluk’s position.
Neasloss has worked in his home community of Klemtu as a bear-viewing guide for over 14 years, “It’s certainly not 15,000 bears,” he said. “I would say it’s not even close to that.”
He believes that both the government’s scientific and economic modeling is flawed and that there is no way to sustainably or ethically support a grizzly bear hunt in the Great Bear Rainforest, or anywhere else for that matter.
Neasloss says that all aspects of the grizzly bear hunt are in complete opposition to his community’s culture, and that the Coastal Guardian Watchmen will be stepping up their patrols to ensure hunters get the message.
The first step is education, but enforcement follows, and Neasloss says they are willing to take extraordinary measures to stop the hunt.
“We’ll do whatever it takes. I guess I should be careful what I say, but on the ground, I think if we were to see someone responsible for this, I think it would be very interesting,” Neasloss said. “There are some communities that would literally drive between boats trying to shoot bears. Some people will stay and scare the bears away.”
Neasloss, whose community relies heavily on eco-tourism, says that Kitasoo’s Spirit Bear Lodge is now the second biggest industry in the remote coastal village, employing about 45 people.
Al Martin, director of strategic initiatives for the BC Wildlife Federation, said the grizzly hunt is carefully controlled in B.C., and wildlife managers take into account the mortality of bears from all factors before determining how many licences to issue to hunters.
He also stated that he was “confident” in the governments management plan, saying that it showed “in more cases than not, there’s an increase in [bear] numbers and there’s an increase in the age of bears.”
Steve Thomson, Minister of Forest, Land and Natural Resources, said that roughly 35 per cent of the land area in B.C. is already closed to grizzly hunting, including about 58 per cent of the area within the territories of the Coastal First Nations.