Conservation groups ask B.C. government to ban trophy bear hunt

By: Dene Moore, THE CANADIAN PRESS Tue, 2009-03-17 18:52

VANCOUVER, B.C. - A coalition of conservationists and First Nations wants the B.C. government to ban bear hunting in a region know as the Great Bear Rainforest.

With the spring bear hunt set to open on April 1, the groups led by the Humane Society International launched a campaign Tuesday to pressure the province to end the trophy hunt of all species of bear in the region.

Ian McAllister, of the conservation group Pacific Wild, said the hunt is unethical and threatens the survival of all species of bear.

"We're concerned about their survival. We're concerned about bear management. We're finding areas that are completely hunted out and this is a species that is very slow to recover once they've been hunted out,"
McAllister said in an interview.

The groups say 370 grizzly bears were killed by trophy hunters in 2007 - a record. Combine that figure with poaching of bears for their valuable gall bladders, and they say the hunt not sustainable.

The Great Bear Rainforest stretches more than 400 kilometres along the coast of British Columbia, from just north of Vancouver to the Alaska border, including the islands offshore.

Three years ago, the province agreed to protect the region, instituting new rules for logging and focusing on conservation.

The region is home to grizzly and brown or black bear, as well as the Kermode, or "spirit bear," a genetically unique species of brown bear with white fur.

Percy Starr, chief of the Kitasoo-Xaixais nation, and Guujaaw, a Haida leader and spokesman for the Coastal First Nations, lent their support to the ban.

"We've spent years to ensure our lands are protected, only to learn that trophy hunters can continue to come on our lands and kill bears for sport,"
Starr said in a statement.

Environment Minister Barry Penner said the provincial government has taken steps to ensure there is a sustainable population of bear.

He said the province has already set aside 1.9 million hectares of area that is off limits to hunting on the north and central coast, and another 170,000 hectares will be closed to black bear hunting and another 70,000 hectares to grizzly hunting as of June.

Penner said there is evidence the grizzly population in British Columbia is stable or even growing, and the province is not considering a ban on bear hunting.

"I understand there's a range of views. There are some First Nations that don't want to see a ban on black bear hunting, or other kinds of hunting, and many British Columbians have enjoyed traditionally hunting," Penner said. "It's an issue where we're working hard to strike the appropriate balance."

Kermode bears are a protected species and it is illegal to hunt the white bears. Permits are required to hunt grizzly and brown or black bear.

The campaign began Tuesday with full-page newspaper ads and McAllister said the groups will take it to Europe and the United States, as well as across Canada.

Much like the Humane Society International has done with its long-standing campaign to end the seal hunt in Atlantic Canada, the groups say they will take advantage of the international attention on British Columbia as a result of the upcoming Olympic Games.

"We've got a provincial election coming up; we've got the Olympics coming up. We see this an opportunity to tell the world what British Columbia is continuing," McAllister said.

There are differing opinions on the health of bear populations in British Columbia and throughout Canada.

Grizzlies used to roam the Prairies, but had largely disappeared by the 19th century.

Alberta placed a moratorium on grizzly bear hunting in 2006 over conservation concerns, but the province's minister of natural resources mused earlier this year that the moratorium could be revisited.

The Manitoba government recently added grizzly bears to a list of species protected under the provincial wildlife act.

Grizzly bears have been extinct from Manitoba for a century but migrant bears from Nunavut have been spotted, raising hopes the species will make a permanent return.

All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
Pacific Wild
PO Box 26, Denny Island, BC Canada, V0T 1B0
Email: • Phone: 250 957 2480
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