An elaborate charade is underway as the gun is raised and tourists listen intently to their instructions on how to react when a bear comes into sight.
Despite the gun and the presence of a guide outfitter, no bear will die that day or any other day during the official bear hunt near Klemtu, part of Kitasoo/Xas’xais First Nations territory in the Great Bear Rainforest.
“We haven’t done a very good job of actually taking wildlife,” Brian Falconer, guide outfitter coordinator for Raincoast Conservation Foundation, explains to Brandy Yanchyk in one of a series of five videos on Coastal Revival that the Edmonton-based filmmaker has produced for TELUS Optik Local’s YouTube channel.
In 2005 Raincoast began buying commercial trophy hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest and the non-profit organization now holds the rights to more than 27,000 square kilometres and is hoping to raise enough money to buy all the remaining tenures.
“My hope is within the next couple of years there will be a complete end to trophy hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest,” Falconer said optimistically.
Despite the B.C. government’s support for grizzly bear hunting, First Nations have banned trophy hunting in much of their territory and, backed by the Coastal Guardian Watchmen and Raincoast, are enforcing that ban.
“From Alaska down to California, there’s always this one rule, never shoot what you’re not going to eat, never take more than you need,” Vernon Brown from the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais resource stewardship office says in one of the documentaries that feature stunning footage of wildlife, ocean vistas and rainforest.
To meet the requirements of the licence, Raincoast is obliged to buy tags for hunting, fill out the forms and then hold “hunts.”
“For the viewing of the bear, we’ll take our hunters out, come within range and not shoot the bear,” Raincoast guide outfitter John Erickson says in the film.
Yanchyk, who has produced documentaries for the BBC, PBS and CBC, said in an interview with DeSmog Canada that she was drawn to the Coastal Revival series, funded by a grant from TELUS, because most Canadians are unaware of what is happening on the B.C. coast whether it is trophy hunting or the recovery of the humpback whale population.
“I kept hearing about what Raincoast is doing and I thought it was fascinating and I thought most Canadians who don’t live in B.C. have no idea that there is grizzly bear hunting and people don’t know that humpback whales were almost extinct — they just haven’t heard about it,” Yanchyk said.
The grizzly bear hunt makes people uncomfortable and then, judging from the online response, as they get details, they are shocked, Yanchyk said.
— DeSmog Canada (@DeSmogCanada) June 7, 2016
The TELUS Optik series lays out the facts, but a more direct approach to the ethics of trophy hunting is taken in Yanchyk’s documentary The Price of the Prize that will air across Canada on CBC on Saturday July 16.
“A big part of it for me is education,” Yanchyk said, who is hoping viewers will look seriously at the issue and decide where they stand.
The provincial government has persisted in its support for bear trophy hunting, despite polls that show almost 90 per cent of British Columbians want the hunt stopped. Studies show bear viewing generates 12 times more in visitor spending than hunting and creates many more jobs.
The success of bear-watching is illustrated in Yanchyk’s films, one of which looks at the attraction of white spirit bears, which draw visitors from around the world and regularly fill the remote Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu.
Douglas Neasloss, Kitasoo/Xai’xais Chief Councillor, explains in the one of the films why the community decided to invite tourists into their territory.
“It was really important that other people that are coming into our community might learn about the culture, learn about the territories and about these bears and maybe they will help educate people around the world about some of these issues as well,” he said.
In 2001, in the dying days of the NDP government, a three-year moratorium on grizzly bear hunting was introduced, but, within three months of the election, the Liberal government rescinded the moratorium and have not swerved from that path since.
While some scientists and environmental groups say bears are being overhunted especially as grizzly bear population estimates are vague and kill numbers uncertain, the government insists that the hunt is sustainable.
A glimmer of hope for opponents came this week with an announcement from the office of B.C. auditor-general Carol Bellringer that there will be an investigation into the grizzly trophy hunt.
A statement on the office’s website says: “The purpose of this audit is to determine if the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations are effectively managing the grizzly bear population in B.C.”
The investigation was requested by the David Suzuki Foundation and the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.
The TELUS Optik films, which are between eight and ten minutes long, have also been uploaded on Facebook and one of the most popular, the story of Jackie Hildering, humpback researcher with the Marine Education and Research Society in Port McNeill, has been viewed 8,000 times.
The stories of Marine Education and Research Society and the recovery of the humpback whale population show that wrongs of the past — such as the whaling that almost wiped out the humpback population — can be righted, but they also contain warnings for the future.
Hildering, talking about the whales, says in the film “The fact that they are impacted by climate change, the fact that they have toxins within their systems . . . they’re a canary in the coal mine. They’re an indicator, a sentinel of contaminated seas.”
Photo by Rebecca Boyd