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Grizzly trophy ban ends hunt, but not debate

A spokesperson for the bear-viewing industry thinks the province should consider closing bear-hunting season for good. — Submitted photo

A Kootenay outfitter says he doesn’t think the provincial government’s ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting will have much affect on local outfitting businesses.

The owner of Kimberley-based Sawtooth Outfitters says he won’t have any problem abiding by the government’s new requirement that the bears can only be hunted for food purposes.

“I was concerned about it until I read that,” says Ryan Berard. “When you read [the news release] the government just said the meat would have to be packed out of the back country and utilized, which isn’t a problem.

“A lot of outfitters were already packing meat out of the back country even though it wasn’t law.”

The new NDP government announced on Monday that as of November, the province was ending the grizzly bear trophy hunt. All grizzly hunting was being banned from the Great Bear Rainforest, while the animals can still be hunted for food in the rest of the province.

Berard says he usually gets one tag a year for a spring trophy hunt of grizzlies, and that’s the same for most outfitters in the southeast. It’s not big business, as it is in other parts of the province. Still, at close to $20,000 a tag, that’s a bite out of his income.

“I would say it’s big enough. It’s a pretty valued hunt, it will definitely have a big effect on people’s bottom line for the year,” he says. “We will get by without it, but it’s never good to lose a hunting opportunity. You never get it back, and then you lose the next thing, and next thing.”

The minister responsible for the hunt says his government is listening to the people.

“By bringing trophy hunting of grizzlies to an end, we’re delivering on our commitment to British Columbians,” said Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson on Monday. “This action is supported by the vast majority of people across our province.”

Donaldson said that government will consult with First Nations and stakeholder groups to determine next steps and mechanisms as B.C. moves toward ending the trophy hunt.

Berard thinks that’s something that should have been done before the ban was announced.

“I think it should be consulting with user groups that are affected, not with user groups from parts of British Columbia that aren’t even affected by the grizzly bear population, that spend little time in the back country,” he says “It sounds like that’s  who the government is listening to now, not rural British Columbians.”

Bear-watchers approve

A spokesperson for the bear-viewing industry welcomed the ban, adding her group thinks the province should consider closing bear-hunting season for good.

“We feel that this is a good first step forward, but that a full ban province-wide on all grizzly hunting is necessary,“ says Katherine MacRae, executive director of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association.

“Bears are an iconic species to this province and statistics show that tourists come to BC to view bears, not to hunt them,” she adds.  “This ban will help BC’s image as it was being tarnished internationally with the news that BC was still allowing trophy hunting.”

MacRae says her industry is growing faster and brings in more revenue than outfitters providing traditional hunting tours.

“Our industry, the bear viewing industry, brings in ten times more money to the province than grizzly bear hunting does,” MacRae stated. “That tourism is expanding. With the CBVA bear viewing protocols, bear viewing is an extremely lucrative and viable business. “

Berard and his fellow hunting guides now find their industry in the sights of the bear-viewing business.

“The ban on trophy hunting is a good step for all bear viewing operators in this province,” says MacRae. “However, a full ban on all grizzly hunting is even better because a bear that is hunted is a bear that cannot be viewed; a scared bear is not a viewed bear.”

Many details of the policy are still being worked out. The government has promised to move forward with wider consultation on how the ban will work, consulting with First Nations and other interests.

Berard thinks the recent decision by the NDP government will actually hurt wildlife management practices.

“These bears will end up being killed anyway. When you have a higher population of bears, you get bears that don’t respect or fear humans,” he says. “Then our conservation officers are left to deal with it. They have to kill the bears-they don’t relocate them. The bear gets shot and disposed of. Then zero parts of the bear gets used.”

There are an estimated 15,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia. Each year, approximately 250 are taken by hunters.