Grizzly bear trophy hunting will be banned, for both resident and foreign hunters, if the NDP form the next provincial government, leader John Horgan promised Thursday.
The NDP is walking a fine line between meshing the party’s views with the 90 per cent of British Columbians who say they oppose the hunt and supporting rural voters who fear a grizzly hunting ban could affect food hunting.
There has been active discussion in caucus, but there was a general recognition of the tremendous opposition to the hunt from both rural and urban residents balanced by the need to reassure hunters that New Democrats are not anti-hunting, George Heyman, NDP environment spokesman said in an interview.
Horgan, describing grizzlies as an iconic species, carefully emphasized that sustenance hunting will not be affected and said B.C.’s heritage and its future can thrive if government makes the right choices.
“This province has a proud outdoor heritage that includes hunting and fishing. We also have a future that includes welcoming the world to enjoy our spectacular scenery and wildlife, creating jobs for British Columbians and a tourism industry that is second to none,” Horgan said at a Vancouver news conference.
Bear viewing creates more jobs and brings up to 12 times more in visitor spending than grizzly hunting, so the trophy hunt is affecting the economy by removing opportunities from the booming ecotourism sector, Horgan said.
No one knows that better than Katherine MacRae of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association.
“A hunted bear can’t be a viewed bear,” she said.
“In recent years, the bear-viewing industry has seen double-digit growth, creating many good jobs in rural areas, but experience has shown that taking guests to view bears that are hunted just doesn’t work,” said MacRae, estimating that bear viewing brings in $13.1 million dollars annually in direct revenues and creates more than 200 jobs.
Environmental organizations and representatives of Coastal First Nations — who banned the trophy hunt in the Great Bear Rainforest four years ago — applauded the NDP move as a good first step to end the needless killing.
However, the question for many was whether grizzly hunting for meat would still be permitted under an NDP ban.
The vast majority of those hunting grizzlies do so for the hide, paws or head, but some resident hunters claim to eat the meat, even though it is generally avoided as it can carry the parasite that causes trichinosis.
B.C.’s grizzly hunt is not a subsistence hunt, it’s about bagging a trophy — a head for the wall or a rug for the floor, Wildlife Defence league campaign director Tommy Knowles said in a news release.
And the only way to end the unpopular hunt is a total ban that does not allow it to continue under the guise of a so-called meat hunt, he said.
At a Grizzly Bear Foundation hearing in Victoria last month, three hunters came forward to say they ate the meat, turning it into sausage or burgers.
It is a claim that provokes skepticism among hunt opponents and raises fears that there could be a loophole in an NDP ban.
“If hunting grizzlies for meat is to be allowed — and very few hunters eat grizzly bear –— tough regulations will need to be put in place to ensure that trophy hunting does not continue under a different guise,” MacRae said.
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Chris Genovali, executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation, a group that has purchased three commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear rainforest, covering 32,000 square kilometres, said the group appreciates the NDP announcement, but is adamantly opposed to any “pretend-to-eat-the-meat” policy.
Heyman said that under an NDP government, the few people who say they hunt grizzlies for food will be eligible to get a hunting tag, but will be subject to regulations to ensure it is not an excuse for a trophy hunt.
That could mean surrendering the trophy parts of the animal or some other mechanism.
“We are not planning to leave loopholes in the banning of the trophy hunt. We are serious and we will put regulations in place to make it happen,” Heyman said.
“We will ensure that a food hunt is not used as a surrogate for the trophy hunt and we are serious about letting the bear viewing industry succeed and thrive.”
The NDP is planning to hold nation-to-nation discussions with Coastal First Nations to help them achieve their wildlife management and cultural practices goals and representatives of an NDP government would also meet with the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. to discuss compensation, Heyman said.
“We understand when you affect people’s rights that they have held, governments then need to negotiate how you compensate for that,” he said.
Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has come out against the trophy hunt, but the B.C. Liberals show no sign that they will change the hunt.
The government says there is no need to end the hunt as the grizzly bear population is healthy with an estimated 15,000 bears — a number disputed by some scientists who say the population could be less than half that number.
The Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. is a generous contributor to the Liberal party and between 2011 and May 2015 the organization contributed almost $37,000 to the party.
Auditor General Carol Bellringer is looking into whether the government is managing the grizzly population and her report is expected next spring.
Photo credit: Mike Hoekendijk