Sept 11, 2015
One bear is not proof of a trend; however, the sighting near Whistler of a female grizzly with cub is welcome news.
Extirpated from much of its historic range, the province’s largest terrestrial carnivore remains a species of special concern, threatened by habitat loss and human activity. So sighting a fertile female in a region where wildlife managers hope a grizzly population can regenerate is cause for cautious optimism.
That’s the good news, even if it comes with the imperative for Whistler hikers and campers to become bear-aware regarding the risks and what to do in an encounter.
The bad news is provincial authorities continue to promote the slaughter of grizzlies to satisfy the vanity of trophy hunters.
The province estimated in 2012 that B.C. had 15,075 grizzlies, fewer than 100 in the southwest region. Yet some grizzly advocates believe populations are over-estimated, deaths under-estimated and that every bear killed is one death too many. One biologist argues that rigorous grizzly population estimates have been done in only 12 per cent of B.C. Another paper published by four B.C.-based wildlife biologists in 2013 found excessive mortality levels in 19 per cent of the cases studied. It worried that excessive mortality might really occur in 70 per cent.
Such fears are amplified by reports the province has been increasing hunting effort on grizzly bears. The number of licenses issued since 2005 for grizzly hunting apparently increased by 58 per cent.
It’s no surprise that First Nations on the north central coast where grizzlies concentrate to exploit large annual salmon runs are now vowing to take whatever steps necessary to enforce bans on what they deem unethical trophy hunting in their traditional territories. They have a strong economic case, too. First Nations seek to build a sustainable, long-term tourist industry in the region based on wildlife viewing. This is a sound business plan. The Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C. says ecotourism is already worth $1.5 billion a year to the province and growing rapidly. By comparison, trophy killing grizzlies brings in about $116 million a year and is severely constrained by harvest quotas. In other words, trophy hunting is worth peanuts and has little growth potential compared with wildlife viewing.
Not long ago, an American trophy hunter revolted the world by killing Cecil, a Zimbabwean lion. One week of wildlife viewing of Cecil from a nearby lodge generated more income for Zimbabwe than the hunter who paid only once to kill the lion. The tourist revenue would have flowed for the rest of the lion’s natural life. This fact lends weight to First Nations’ arguments. They experienced a similarly wasteful loss in 2013 when a grizzly named Cheeky was killed by a trophy hunter who cut off his head and paws and left the carcass to rot.
Almost all British Columbians — 87 per cent — oppose trophy hunting grizzly bears. This seems an excellent time for government to revisit what most of the citizens it serves consider a barbaric, wasteful, morally — and economically — indefensible practice.