Working with our Coastal First Nations partners, our goal is to permanently end commercial trophy hunting of all large carnivores in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Our ultimate goal is to eliminate the commercial trophy hunting of all carnivores in this region, which will sustain a naturally functioning ecosystem with natural prey/predator relationships on an enormous landscape scale. This will facilitate vital scientific research on coastal carnivores and provide sustainable economic opportunities in nature based tourism, especially for local and indigenous communities.
From the mid-1990’s onward, Raincoast Conservation Foundation (a registered charitable foundation in Canada and a 501c3 registered charity in the US) has advocated for habitat protection within the area referred to as the Great Bear Rainforest. Much of that effort has focused on protection for grizzly bears, the most important umbrella species in this vast coastal region. This work has included scientific studies, public outreach, and government relations components. Raincoast has also advocated for a secure sustainable food supply (salmon allocations) for grizzly bears, wolves, and black bears through representation on the Integrated Harvest Management Committee of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. At the same time, Raincoast has advocated for an end to the trophy hunting of grizzly bears in the Great Bear Rainforest. Public campaigns, along with scientific and economic studies produced by Raincoast, as well as our precedent setting legal actions, have highlighted the ecological, economic, and ethical incongruity of this activity in the Great Bear Rainforest.
A short-lived ban
In 2001, the Raincoast-led campaign resulted in a three-year province wide moratorium on grizzly killing. It was short-lived, however. With a change in government, the province immediately reversed the moratorium in the summer of 2001 after being in effect for one spring hunting season. Recognizing that the incoming government had no interest in ending trophy hunting in British Columbia, Raincoast looked to a different strategy; the purchase of the commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest.
The provincial government banned grizzly bear hunting in 2017, but trophy hunting for other species including wolves, black bears, cougars and wolverines is still allowed.
The tenure system and trophy hunting
Like a few other jurisdictions in North America, BC adopted a tenure system to manage commercial trophy hunting. When it was set up in the mid 1900s, the principle was that if a hunter from outside of BC wished to hunt big game in BC, they were required to hire, and be accompanied by, a BC guide. The tenure conferred exclusive rights to guide foreigners (non-BC residents) to kill 61 species within these (often very large) specified areas or territories. This allocation of wildlife was intended to support BC businesses. They were initially granted for a nominal licence fee.
These tenures became extremely valuable as trophy hunting opportunities, particularly for large carnivores, and especially grizzly bears, became rarer and therefore more expensive. Foreign hunters, willing to pay upwards of $35,000 to kill grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, cougars, and other carnivores, and more than $10,000 for ungulates like mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and moose, dramatically increased the value of these tenures. The ability to amalgamate and transfer these tenures, created a market for them and depending on size, productivity of habitat for certain species, and accessibility, some reached values in the millions of dollars. While some remained family businesses through a couple of generations, others were bought by clubs of foreigners, essentially becoming private hunting reserves.
Raincoast’s history of tenure acquisitions
In an unprecedented move in 2005, Raincoast, with our Coastal First Nations partners and supporters, purchased a 25,000 km2 hunting license. This purchase ended commercial trophy hunting over a huge region of BC’s Great Bear Rainforest.
In 2012, we secured a second hunting license, the Spirit Bear tenure, supporting the Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Gitga’at First Nations. Covering 3,500 km2 this tenure includes virtually all the habitat of the iconic Spirit bear. Despite a province-wide restriction on killing white-coated Spirit bears, killing black bears – that carry the recessive gene that causes the white coat – is allowed.
In 2016, we secured a third tenure in the Upper Klinaklini watershed. It covers 2,500 km2 and contains some of BC’s most productive, intact, coastal and interior transition habitat for grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and moose.
In 2018, we secured the Nadeea tenure, 2,350 km2 covering some of the most iconic watersheds in the Great Bear Rainforest.
In 2020, we secured the 5300 km2 Kitlope tenure in Haisla territory. This included all of the Kitlope Nuyem Jees Conservancy, the largest expanse of intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world as well as several adjacent watersheds.
The Southern Great Bear Rainforest Tenure
Sitting on the coast of British Columbia, Canada, the Southern Great Bear tenure covers 18,239 km2, more than a quarter of the Great Bear Rainforest. Purchasing this tenure protects dozens of species from being commercially trophy hunted because it gives us the exclusive rights to commercially guide trophy hunters.
The Southern tenure contains significant populations of grizzlies, black bears, cougars, wolves, and Roosevelt elk left in BC and contains six major coastal inlets, over 10 major river systems with critical estuaries and countless smaller named and unnamed watersheds that support healthy ecosystems – from Smith Inlet to Toba Inlet. This purchase also exemplifies the new economy as there are more than 19 ecotourism companies who rely on respectful wildlife viewing.
The current provincial ban
In 2001, we helped achieve a three-year moratorium on the provincial grizzly hunt, only to have it overturned when a new government came to power later in the year. Clearly, we needed a different strategy that wasn’t subject to the vagaries of political opportunism. As the only permanent solution to stopping the trophy hunt appeared to be literally buying out hunting licenses, Raincoast began purchasing commercial hunting tenures in 2005. We also continued our work to end the resident grizzly bear trophy hunt.
In 2017, the provincial government finally banned grizzly hunting, effectively protecting grizzly bears., but still leaving black bears, wolves, cougars, and wolverines and other species to be legally hunted for trophies.
Business case – Rationale for the purchase
Raincoast based the decision to continue to buy the commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest on these considerations:
- The single species ban on grizzly hunting could always be vulnerable to political reversal.
- By removing the need for governments to compensate tenure holders, we remove a major disincentive to restricting trophy hunting of other species.
- While grizzly bears are a critical umbrella species, purchasing the remaining tenures ensures protection for 60 other species, including all large carnivores.
- As opportunities continue to be limited worldwide, these tenures will continue to increase in value, making them more difficult to acquire.
Supporting a new economic model
The purchase of these tenures supports a new economy. It provides rare, sustainable economic opportunities in remote coastal communities. First Nations communities, like in Klemtu, have made substantial investments in bear-viewing based tourism. This was directly made possible by our tenure purchase ending trophy hunting there. We consider not just current ownership and levels of hunting, but also the potential for much more aggressive owner groups, and increased levels of exploitation.
We are so excited to share our annual report – Tracking Raincoast Into 2023 – with you! Tracking gives you highlights from the year, our science, flagship projects, as well as a peek at what’s in store for the coming year.
Dive into Tracking and learn more about our work safeguarding coastal carnivores in the Southern Great Bear Rainforest tenure. We are currently raising funds to stop commercial trophy hunting in more than a quarter of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Now is a good time to sign up and stay connected to our community of researchers and change-makers.