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Coastal First Nations Fight Bear Trophy Hunting in BC’s Great Bear Rainforest

Coastal First Nations (CFN) has launched a new website to help educate the public and drum up support for the First Nations ban on bear trophy hunting in BC's Great Bear Rainforest. The website provides easy access to information about the bears, their habitat, and the First Nations ban on hunting them for trophies.

The website is a part of the Bears Forever project, launched on September 4 with the release of the short documentary 'Bear Witness' and the results of a poll documenting the opinions of BC residents on the trophy bear hunting ban.

"This website gives all British Columbians a chance to meet some of our real coastal bears, and speak up on their behalf," said Heiltsuk Coastwatch Director William Housty.

The CFN is an alliance of Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai'xais, Nuxalk, Gitga'at, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and the Council of the Haida Nation, collaborating to create a sustainable economy on BC's North and Central coast and Haida Gwaii.

The ban was announced by the CFN last September, prohibiting trophy hunting for bears within the unceded territories of member nations. The September 2013 telephone poll conducted by McAllister Opinion Research for the CFN Bear Working group shows that 87 percent of British Columbians surveyed agree with the ban, with 71 percent "strongly" in favour.

Angus McAllister, president of McAllister Opinion Research, said that 91 percent of hunters surveyed "agree that their fellow hunters should respect First Nations laws and customs when on First Nations territory. And 95 percent of hunters agree that people should not be hunting if they're not prepared to eat what they kill."

Despite the ban, a young grizzly bear first sighted by field technicians camping in the Kwatna estuary during spring, was killed by trophy hunters in May 2013. The bear, named 'Cheeky' by the technicians for its playful curiosity, was shot three times while he browsed in an open field. His head, paws and skin were cut off for trophies by the hunters, and the rest of his body left to rot in the estuary.

Housty said that the "so-called sport is a violation of First Nations laws and customs," and that the poll "shows people across the province share these values. Trophy hunting for bears is wasteful and unfair."

Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations told the Vancouver Sun that he "[doesn't] agree with the approach they've taken to ban the activity within their traditional area." Thompson argued that the province's "policy approach provides the appropriate balance and respects the traditional opportunities and economic contribution that both resident hunting and guide-outfitting provide for B.C."

Current BC provincial regulations permit bear trophy hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest during spring and fall. Hunters are allowed to pursue bears that have just woken from hibernation or are feeding by the banks of salmon streams. Some use planes or SUVs to spot the bears.

The Great Bear Rainforest encompasses the world's largest intact temperate rainforest, stretching along the BC coast from the Discovery islands to the Alaska panhandle. It is home to grizzly bears, black bears, and is the sole habitat of the white Kermode or "spirit bear."

The CFN argues that trophy bear hunting is wasteful, disrespectful to First Nations culture, and gets in the way of ecotourism ventures like wildlife viewing. It could also prove damaging to the ecosystem of the coastal rainforest, as "nobody knows how many bears there are in the Great Bear Rainforest," according to the site.

The Bears Forever project aims to shed more light on the role of bears in the ecosystem, through a science project bringing together the University of Victoria, the Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, Kitasoo/Xai'xais and Heiltsuk Nations, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

"Bears are an essential part of our culture, and the coastal ecosystem," said Nuxalk biologist and elected councillor Megan Moody. "Here in the Great Bear Rainforest, the salmon they carry into the forests is responsible for up to 80% of the nutrients in our huge old-growth coastal trees. Whether we see it or not, all sorts of plants and animals rely on bears, including us as people."

The website encourages visitors to sign a pledge showing support for the First Nations ban on trophy bear hunting. Visitors can also make donations to help get the word out and alert hunters of the ban.

Image Credit: Douglas Neasloss / Bears Forever

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