As Valerie Murray realized she was witnessing the end of grizzly bear hunting in B.C. she burst into tears.
After years of tirelessly campaigning to stop the trophy hunt, Murray, a founder of Justice for B.C. Grizzlies, could hardly believe that the provincial government was not only banning grizzly bear trophy hunting, but closing the loophole that would have allowed hunting for meat, provided perceived trophies such as the paws, head, hide and penis bone were not taken.
“I just had to weep. People are almost afraid to believe it. Way-to-go for listening NDP. They knew they couldn’t monitor it, so they did the right thing,” Murray said.
The surprise was echoed by Chris Genovali, Raincoast Conservation Foundation executive director.
“Wow. That’s amazing,” said Genovali, who, before the news broke, was preparing to write a news release castigating the government for allowing the meat loophole to stand.
“To hear that they have responded to the input of stakeholders, scientists and a whole range of people who did not support the concept of packing the meat out is just tremendous… It is just an amazing thing to see the government respond and that (consultations) were not just a public relations exercise,” Genovali said.
The government announced in August that the grizzly trophy hunt would end November 30 and that no grizzly bear hunting would be allowed in the Great Bear Rainforest, but said it would hold consultations on regulations to support the sustenance hunt.
That brought a flood of reaction from British Columbians who believed the trophy hunt would continue in the guise of a meat hunt — a viewpoint supported by advertisements on the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. website where 2018 spring and fall grizzly hunts were promoted in the usual way, with prices ranging from $20,000 to $25,000.
“They are truly a once-in-a-lifetime trophy,” said one site.
The government received 4,180 emails of which almost 80 per cent wanted a total ban on grizzly hunting, Environment Minister George Heyman and Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Minister Doug Donaldson announced Monday.
“British Columbians told us in no uncertain terms, very clearly, how strongly they feel about protecting grizzly bears and grizzly bear habitat,” Heyman said.
“Protecting this iconic species is simply the right thing to do,” he said, adding that the new rules will leave no room for confusion between a trophy hunt and a food hunt.
First Nations will continue to be allowed to harvest for food, social or ceremonial purposes or treaty rights, but that impact is expected to be minimal, especially as Coastal First Nations led efforts to halt the hunt in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Vernon Brown, a councillor with Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, which has a successful bear-viewing operation in Klemtu, said the government announcement was “overwhelming, emotional and amazing.”
The first priority for Kitasoo/Xai’xais is always conservation of all resources, Brown said.
As some look at the financial impact of losing the grizzly hunt, the success of the Klemtu tourist operation, which includes the Spirit Bear Lodge and offers employment to community members, could serve as a model for other aboriginal communities, he suggested.
Between 250 and 300 bears a year are killed by resident and non-resident hunters. A recent Suzuki Foundation investigation found that hunters killed 12,026 grizzlies between 1975 — the first year that records were kept — and 2016.
Government figures put the B.C. grizzly population at 15,000 grizzly animals, but that number is questioned by some scientists, who believe it is considerably less, and nine of the province’s grizzly bear populations are on the verge of elimination.
Donaldson said although it is clear British Columbians do not support killing grizzly bears, he knows hunting is important to British Columbians and offered reassurances that the hunting culture would continue to be supported to government. “Transition” help, such as assisting with a switch to bear-viewing and promoting other hunting opportunities, will be offered to guide outfitters, he said.
In addition to immediately banning the grizzly hunt, the government will be implementing recommendations from Auditor General Carol Bellringer’s highly-critical report into the province’s management of grizzly bears.
Those recommendations include improving monitoring of populations, developing an adequately funded inventory of bears, developing clear policies for bear viewing, finding better ways to conserve habitat and reviewing wildlife management in B.C.
“In 2018 we will embark on a full consultation process of B.C.’s overall wildlife management strategy,” Donaldson said.
The grizzly bear management strategy will include looking at excessive access to habitat, Heyman said.
Bellringer’s report found that there are 600,000 kilometres of resource access roads cutting into grizzly habitat, with about 10,000 kilometres added every year.
While groups who have fought to stop the hunt are celebrating the government decision, Jesse Zeman, B.C. Wildlife Federation director of fish and wildlife restoration programs, said he finds it “terrifying” that the government is making decisions based on polls rather than science and he fears that other species such as wolves and black bears will be next on the list.
“I think we will be seeing a broader narrative. The dialogue is already changing,” he said.
But, for Zeman, what irks him most is that government changed the rules around the consultation process.
“We were told the hunt itself would continue and the discussion was more about what to do with the trophy parts. . . .We have a major issue around consultation and democratic proceedings,” he said.
Zeman suspects the government wanted to end the hunt and promising a meat hunt and then saying they were consulting was simply an incremental way getting to the decision.
“I think it is terrifying that they can ask about consultation and set the goalposts and then move the goalposts. That’s the spooky bit,” he said.
Trish Boyum, a wildlife photographer and operator of an eco-charter boat, has spent years working to protect grizzlies and knows, first hand, that tourists want to see live bears.
“I am pinching myself. This is just so exciting I am hardly able to talk,” she said.
“This is absolutely huge and good to see that the government is listening. That wasn’t evident after the Site C decision.”
It is possible that there will now be pressure to end trophy hunting of species such as black bears and wolves, Boyum said.
“I don’t believe we should be killing any animal as a trophy… My background is in social work and killing animals for fun is not a good sign,” she said.
Guide Outfitters Association of B.C executive director Scott Ellis did not respond to calls from DeSmog Canada.