Grizzly bear viewing is a growing tourism business that brings in millions of dollars to the B.C. economy. PHOTO: Jonathan Hayward/CP
While the world has been gripped by the sad fate of Cecil the Lion, shot earlier this week by an American trophy hunter on the plains of Africa and left to die, British Columbia has many of its very own Cecils quietly bringing millions of dollars into the provincial economy.
Over the last two decades, grizzly bear viewing in B.C. has grown from a tiny niche business to one estimated be worth $30 million in direct revenue to the economy in 2012, according to the Centre for Responsible Travel’s study conducted with Stanford University.
This is more than 10 times as much as the industry of killing bears for sport.
And yet, this industry is under pressure from trophy hunting.
While some operations are fortunate enough to have dozens of bears to view, others rely on a small handful of grizzlies that return year after year. All of them, though, are vulnerable wherever trophy hunting of bears is permitted.
For in areas where bears are hunted, they not only hide from humans and but their population suffers. So we can’t view them. Conversely, where bears are not hunted, they go about their days without running into the forest when we arrive, and we can watch amazing things, such as mother bears teaching their cubs to fish. And we can do it over and over again.
When Raincoast Conservation Foundation bought trophy hunting licences in the Great Bear Rainforest, which ended the hunt in some areas, and when the government created grizzly bear sanctuaries in other areas, there were suddenly more bears for us to view.
What’s the importance of a grizzly bear alive? There are grizzly bears in one valley in the Kootenays alone that are worth $50,000 per year to just one local bear-viewing business. Bear viewing can be practised in the same area by several businesses year after year.
Locally-owned bear viewing companies plow more than 80 per cent of revenue back into local businesses or the salaries of local residents; it is a huge resource for our economies. Almost all bear-viewing operations in B.C. have their own Cecil the Lion.
Until recently, officials with the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations in B.C. maintained that bear-viewing and bear-hunting could exist in harmony.
But one of our operations in the Kootenays has been forced to cancel its spring bear-viewing season for next year — worth up to $80,000 to a remote area — because of the persistent presence of grizzly hunters in areas where they view bears.
On the other hand, on the coast where there are still areas free from grizzly bear hunting, the industry continues to expand rapidly, with all operators reporting sold-out seasons, year after year.
The B.C. government recently extended the length of the trophy hunt without any consultation outside the hunting community. In the Kootenays, we have asked the official responsible for an explanation, but a month has passed with no reply.
Our industry often operates in economically-depressed areas. The cancellation of bear viewing costs those areas jobs and income. In the Kootenay valley operation referred to above, it will cost local businesses and residents up to $80,000.
The demand, worldwide, to view bears in a respectful, ecologically sensitive way is staggering. It’s one of the things that Canada is known for around the world in tourism. It’s also arguably much more in tune with the values of our modern society. Several polls suggest that more than 80 per cent of British Columbians oppose the trophy hunting of grizzly bears.
So, despite a recent assertion by the B.C. Guide Outfitters Association, which represents the province’s trophy hunting guides, that it is an acceptable sport, we suggest that bear viewing trumps trophy hunting on all levels — ethics, jobs, revenues, and B.C.’s brand worldwide. We encourage British Columbians to let their elected officials know that Cecil’s story is a story that plays out here every year, and we want that to end.
Julius Strauss has owned and operated Grizzly Bear Ranch in the Kootenay Valley since 2004. Kevin Smith has owned and operated Maple Leaf Adventures on the B.C. coast since 2001. Both are bear viewing guides and members of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of B.C.