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Killing Grizzlies for Fun

Vancouver, British Columbia

Having emerged from their winter hibernation, the province’s grizzly bears should find spring to be a time of renewal.

Instead, these icons of B.C. wilderness will be subject once again to being shot for “sport.”

Since the Liberal government overturned the grizzly hunting moratorium in 2001, approximately 1,000 grizzlies have been killed, with close to 75 per cent having been shot to death by trophy hunters. The direct result of the Liberal government’s pandering to the trophy hunting lobby is that more than 700 grizzly bears have been killed for trophies since the hunt resumed in the fall of 2001.

The “recreational” killing of grizzly bears throughout most of B.C.’s central and north coasts begins today. The province’s pending announcement on the fate of this area’s forest cover will do next to nothing to address the trophy hunting of grizzlies and other large carnivores.

In fact, proposed land use plans for the central and north coasts would institutionalize grizzly hunting across the landscape, as well as trophy hunting within parks and protected areas. Equally troubling is that the kill quotas are based on Victoria’s wildly inflated grizzly population estimates in which virtual bears predominate and statistical uncertainty is conveniently ignored.

Given that the land use plans will likely leave more than 70 per cent of grizzly habitat in the central and north coasts unprotected from logging and other industrial activity, the lack of protection for the bears themselves from the unnatural mortality represented by trophy hunting becomes even more problematic. Habitat protection and species protection are inextricably linked; artificially separating these issues is an old school approach to conservation that is scientifically outdated and ignores the ecological impacts associated with the direct killing of top predators.

The trophy hunting of coastal grizzlies is not much of a sport, as it consists of blowing away bears primarily at their two main feeding grounds: Estuaries in the spring, and salmon spawning streams in the fall.

In the spring, grizzlies are often in full view on the estuaries where they will be shot from boats and blinds.

According to wildlife scientists Brian Horejsi, Barrie Gilbert and Lance Craighead, the coastal grizzly hunt resembles a “search and destroy mission” with trophy hunters employing aircraft, electronic aids and motorized transport along rivers and logging roads.

The excessive government secrecy and paranoia surrounding the grizzly hunt is evidenced by the struggle the Raincoast Conservation Society has had with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection over grizzly kill location data.

Raincoast originally filed a freedom of information request in the spring of 2000 for the data; the ministry refused to hand it over, citing a number of specious arguments in an attempt to justify its intransigence.

After a five-year legal battle, which included rulings in Raincoast’s favour by the information and privacy commissioner, the Supreme Court of B.C. and the Appeals Court of B.C., the issue is now going back to the information and privacy commissioner, as an inquiry has been launched to probe the government’s refusal to provide the kill location data in electronic format.

Raincoast’s lawyers at the Sierra Legal Defence Fund will argue that the ministry is in violation of freedom of information legislation by not handing over user-friendly digital files on the number and locations of grizzlies killed in B.C. Although the government keeps the information in an electronic database, the ministry will provide only a paper printout, rendering the data extremely difficult to use.

We know for a fact that the ministry has given out the information in electronic format to other parties. This is data compiled with B.C. taxpayer dollars on an activity that takes place almost exclusively on Crown land, yet the province is doing absolutely everything in its power to obstruct citizen scrutiny of the grizzly hunt.

Apparently, the Liberal’s “New Era” promise of creating the most open and accountable government in Canada doesn’t apply to killing grizzlies.

CHRIS GENOVALI is executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Society.