Opinion: Bullets all feel the same to the bears

Controversy over resident or non-resident hunters is just a sideshow


The recent controversy surrounding the tug of war between the B.C. Wildlife Federation and the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. over the allocation of wildlife is a lurid sideshow, distracting from the real issues around trophy hunting in the province.

This debate has centered on a new policy to allocate wildlife for recreational killing, focusing on who is allowed to kill the wildlife, while ignoring whether there is justification for the killing or whether this policy benefits wildlife.

A complex issue is being reduced to a ridiculously simple and false dichotomy; i.e., resident hunters versus non-resident hunters.

The policy applies only to “allocated wildlife,” those animals whose population is at such a low level they could not tolerate an open-season style hunt. A specific number of individual permits are given out to kill these animals. They include species normally considered game species, such as moose and elk, and others considered trophy species, such as grizzly bears and wild sheep. The permits have always been divided between hunters who reside in B.C. and guide outfitter businesses.

Whether either of these groups should even be allowed to hunt so-called trophy species such as grizzlies, wolves, black bears, and other large carnivores is a debate that is separate from this allocation policy, and one that we have engaged in vigorously.

If you accept recreational hunting on any level, this policy resides in the framework of managing that activity as effectively as possible. The previous policy was instituted in 2007 and has failed because the competition between these two user groups has played out on the ground as a race to the bottom, with damaging results for wildlife in B.C. Provincial officials have termed the resultant negative impact to wildlife an “unintended consequence” of the old policy.

Two years of negotiations involving government managers, facilitators and consultants failed to reach an agreement between the user groups. Recognizing that wildlife populations could be at risk if the previous policy was not replaced with a non-competitive scheme, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson made a decision, announcing the province would replace the movable allocation policy with a fixed allocation process.

This policy change was urgently needed. Thomson was required to strike a balance between the demands of two powerful lobby groups that represent trophy hunters, while keeping in mind the effect of the policy on vulnerable wildlife populations.

Cynically playing the xenophobia card, the BCWF has invoked the spectre of the foreign hunter to try to garner an increase in its wildlife allocation. Using disingenuous arguments, the BCWF has refocused the attention on the allocation percentages and away from the most salient issues, which are the policy itself and the impact on wildlife.

Complaining about having enough wildlife to kill compared with non-resident hunters has been prominent in the BCWF’s calculated messaging. In contrast, provincial mortality statistics show that from 1978-2011, resident hunters killed 5,900 grizzlies while non-resident hunters killed 4,100. To those 10,000 bears it is no consolation whether the bullets ripping through their bodies, causing immeasurable pain and suffering, were fired from the guns of resident or non-resident hunters.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation has advocated for two decades for an end to trophy hunting of large carnivores in B.C. and will continue to do so. We hope the province will eventually listen to the will of the overwhelming majority of the B.C. public who want an end to the recreational killing of grizzly bears.

In the interim, Raincoast has purchased two hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest to gain control of the commercial trophy hunt in a 28,000-square-km area. These acquisitions support our research objectives and respect the direction of Coastal First Nations that oppose trophy hunting in their territories. Under the scenario advocated by the BCWF, Raincoast’s grizzly bear quota would be re-allocated to the resident hunt, eliminating our ability to continue managing these tenures in a manner that has benefited wildlife and ecotourism in the region.

Thomson has made a difficult decision. The fact both trophy hunting user groups are not entirely happy about it does not mean he “didn’t get it quite right.” The animosity between the BCWF and GOABC is part of a long-running battle, and as the current acrimonious debate illustrates, truth and relevance have been the casualties of their most recent bickering.

Brian Falconer is Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s guide outfitter co-ordinator. Chris Genovali is Raincoast’s executive director.

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Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.