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Province could buy out hunting tenures and create world’s largest reserve
We want these bears dead. This is the message the B.C. government’s “reallocation policy” sends to the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, to British Columbians, and to the world.
This policy also prevents the implementation of an innovative solution to end the commercial trophy hunting of grizzlies and other large carnivores throughout the Great Bear Rainforest.
With the mismanaged, and some would say depraved, B.C. grizzly bear hunt having commenced this month, the controversy surrounding the recreational killing of these iconic animals is spiking once again.
A hard-won Raincoast-led moratorium on grizzly hunting in B.C. was overturned in 2001 by Gordon Campbell’s newly elected Liberal government with no justification other than serving as an obvious sop to the trophy hunting lobby. So, what was supposed to be a three-year provincewide ban was revoked after one spring hunting season. Raincoast, recognizing the then-new premier’s mulish intractability on this issue, decided to take a different approach.
Raincoast raised $1.3 million in 2005 to purchase the commercial trophy hunting rights across 24,700 square kilometres of the Great Bear Rainforest. Raincoast purchased an additional 3,500 square kilometres in 2012, including nearly all the habitat of the spirit bear (despite a restriction on killing spirit bears, trophy hunting of black bears that carry the recessive gene that causes the white coat is allowed). The sellers of these hunting tenures received a fair price, bears were safeguarded, and ecotourism prospered, including within coastal First Nations communities.
The province has countered by instituting a so-called reallocation policy (a.k.a. the Raincoast policy), whereby unused (not killed) grizzly bear “quota” would be stripped from Raincoast’s commercial tenures and allocated to resident hunters (B.C. residents who do not require a licensed hunting guide by law).
Bereft of any legitimate argument to justify the recreational killing of grizzlies, provincial wildlife managers stand naked in front of an increasingly disgusted and disapproving public, their blatant cronyism on behalf of the trophy hunting lobby exposed for all to see.
The ecological argument is clear: killing bears for “management” purposes is unnecessary and scientifically unsound. Although attempts are made to dress the province’s motivations in the trappings of proverbial “sound science,” they are clearly driven by an anachronistic ideology that is disconcertingly fixated on killing as a legitimate and necessary tool of wildlife management.
Dr. Paul Paquet, senior scientist at Raincoast and co-author of a recently published peer-reviewed paper on B.C. bear management, states: “We analyzed only some of the uncertainty associated with grizzly management and found it was likely contributing to widespread overkills. I’m not sure how the government defines sound science, but an approach that carelessly leads to widespread overkills is less than scientifically credible.”
The ethical argument is clear: gratuitous killing for recreation and amusement is unacceptable and immoral. Polling shows that nine of 10 British Columbians agree, from rural residents (including many hunters) to city dwellers. In their 2009 publication, The Ethics of Hunting, Drs. Michael Nelson and Kelly Millenbah state if wildlife managers began “to take philosophy and ethics more seriously, both as a realm of expertise that can be acquired and as a critical dimension of wildlife conservation, many elements of wildlife conservation and management would look different.”
The economic argument is clear. Recent research by Stanford University identifies that bear-viewing supports 10 times more employment, tourist spending, and government revenue than trophy hunting within the Great Bear Rainforest. Notably, the Stanford study suggests the revenue generated by fees and licences affiliated with the trophy killing of grizzlies fails to cover the cost of the province’s management of the hunt. As a result, B.C. taxpayers, most of whom oppose the hunt according to poll after poll, are in essence forced to subsidize the trophy killing of grizzlies.
What remains unknown is why the B.C. government so desperately wants these bears dead.
Raincoast stands ready to raise the funds to acquire the remaining commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest, a mutually beneficial solution that guide outfitters have indicated they will not oppose. Although the province, at its political peril, has failed to recognize it, Coastal First Nations have banned trophy hunting under their laws throughout their unceded territories, and the public is overwhelmingly supportive.
Buying out the remaining hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest, coupled with the administrative closure of resident hunting in the region, would create the largest grizzly bear reserve in the world and a model for sustainable economic activity.
Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
- In 2001, about 50 bears were killed. By 2007, the annual kill was more than 350. The government claims killing up to six per cent of grizzlies a year is sustainable based on its estimate of 15,000 bears, writes Stephen Hume. March 23, 2014 http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Stephen+Hume+Grizzly+hunt+fails+test+science+experts/9652306/story.html
Government misrepresents the research used to justify its decisions
Provincial management of the annual trophy hunt that has yielded a 500-per-cent increase in the number of grizzlies killed since the Liberals ended a moratorium in 2001 fails the most basic scientific standards, says a letter from four B.C. scientists to the international journal Science.
In 2001, about 50 bears were killed. By 2007, the annual kill was more than 350. The government claims killing up to six per cent of grizzlies a year is sustainable based on its estimate of 15,000 bears. But the scientists say such uncertainty surrounds grizzly numbers and they could be as low as 8,000. And even based on the higher population, grizzly kills routinely exceed sustainable mortality.
Ten First Nations worried by numbers banned grizzly trophy hunting in traditional territories in 2012, although they can’t enforce a moratorium. Surveys show almost 90 per cent of the province’s citizens want the hunt stopped. Yet this year government increased grizzly tags issued through its trophy lottery.
“It is alarming that purported scientific management often proceeds without the hallmarks of science — transparency, intelligibility, and rigorous evidence,” write Kyle Artelle, John Reynolds, Paul Paquet and Chris Darimont. The scientists are from Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
“We propose that wildlife managers be held to the same level of scrutiny as research scientists through independent oversight similar to the peer-review process,” the scientists write in a letter published Friday under the headline When Science-Based Management Isn’t. “This would incorporate science into management, ensure that the best available evidence is used in management decisions and improved accountability to the public for whom wildlife are ostensibly managed.”
The four scientists recently published research that found that between 2001 and 2011, in half of all the hunted bear populations, human-caused death of grizzlies exceeded mortality rates deemed sustainable by government biologists.
“In addition,” the scientists write, “failure to properly account for uncertainty in estimates of population sizes, poaching rates, and population growth parameters meant that hunting targets might have been too high. Surprisingly, despite the ensuing media attention, the government reopened hunting in previously over-hunted populations.”
They make particular objection to the government’s apparent misrepresentation of actual research findings in publicly justifying its hunting policy.
The scientists say the province “borrowed” the language in their research to justify expanding the hunt although that decision ran counter to the researchers’ conclusions. Furthermore, they say, government claimed that another recent study confirmed the hunting policy’s sustainability when, in fact, the paper made no such claims.
“This decision raises doubts about the rigour of wildlife management and government policy in the region,” the scientists write.
“Such outcomes reflect a wider problem that often arises when scientific evidence exposes flaws in preferred government policies. Governments can make ‘science-based’ claims without being held to the same standard of transparency and scrutiny expected from scientific researchers.”
In the journal Nature, an article about the controversy notes that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora now bans import of any products from B.C. grizzly hunts.
The ban follows B.C.’s failure to implement a grizzly bear strategy promised in 2003 based on better population assessments, it says.
Nature quotes Paquet, a researcher with the University of Victoria and the Rainforest Conservation Foundation:
“Wildlife management wraps itself in science and presents itself as being scientific, but really, when you examine it, it isn’t true.”