British Columbia Implements Grizzly Bear Hunting Ban

Josh Wright

10 Jan 2018

What does the recent decision mean for British Columbia's residents - both bear and human?

Grizzly bears are one of North America’s most iconic mammals, and now for the first time a Canadian province has placed a ban on the hunting of Ursus arctos horribilis in a bid to protect the species. The government of British Columbia made the decision based on consultations with the public, in which 78% of respondents expressed the desire for a full hunting ban. Since a news release was issued by the B.C. government on December 18th, 2017, the hunting of grizzly bears for both food and trophies has been illegal for all those within B.C.’s borders with the exception of Canada’s indigenous First Nations peoples, who are still permitted to hunt the bears for food, social and ceremonial purposes, and in accordance with treaty rights.

The full ban comes four years after the Coastal First Nations banned the hunting of grizzlies for sport in the 12,000-square-mile Great Bear Rainforest, which occupies a significant portion of British Columbia’s coastline. The B.C. government extended this ban to the whole of the province in August 2017, which meant non-First Nations hunters were only allowed to hunt grizzlies if they intended to harvest them for food; however, this iteration of the ban lasted just four months before the full ban was put in place.

An estimated 250 grizzly bears have been killed each year in British Columbia since trophy hunting was reinstated by the then Liberal government when they came to power in 2001, a move which, says Joe Foy of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, has “wiped out [grizzlies] in the centre of the province.” Although wildlife activists and conservationists like Foy have welcomed news of the ban, hunters and guide outfitters have been less enthused.

Scott Ellis, executive director of the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia (GOABC), has drawn attention to the impact on B.C.’s hunting and guiding industries, and criticised the government’s use of polls and website consultations. “Wildlife management is complex,” Ellis said, “and when emotions get involved, lots of times we don’t make the best decisions.” Ellis makes the case that grizzly bear hunts make up the majority of outfitters’ revenue. However, B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman contends that bear viewing is of greater economic benefit than bear hunting, both in terms of revenue and job creation. The B.C. government has also promised transition assistance to outfitters in an attempt to assuage the economic impact on their businesses as they move from leading hunting trips to bear viewing trips.

The case for the ban affecting the livelihood of those in the hunting and guiding industries is understandably credible, and some also contend that hunting does not represent the greatest threat to B.C.’s grizzlies. The GOABC have stated that the annual kill rate of the bears has been about 2% since stricter hunting regulations were introduced in 1976, well below the established sustainable rate of 6%. And in October 2017, a report from B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer found that habitat loss, not hunting, was what posed the greatest danger to grizzlies. In addition, 10,000 km of resource roads are built each year in B.C., allowing visitors greater access to the wilderness that the bears call home.

Regardless of the economic impact, the ethical considerations of trophy hunting cannot be ignored. This issue was brought up in a recent release from the Born Free Foundation to coincide with the upcoming airing of Trophy, a documentary which examines whether big game hunting can be justified by the contributions it makes to conservation efforts. Although the grizzly bear is listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN, making it considerably better off than endangered animals like lions and rhinos, the ethical issue still stands. Even if trophy hunting does contribute to conservation – evidence against this has been compiled here by Born Free’s Programmes Manager Mark Jones - why must the killing of animals for “sport” be a socially acceptable activity that humans wish to engage in?

For those disconnected entirely from the ways of life of our ancestors, for whom hunting was not only a way to survive but an act imbued with social and spiritual significance, it can be difficult to understand the motivations behind killing an animal for the sheer thrill of it. (This is taking trophy hunting as a different case entirely from the killing of wild animals for food, which itself is arguably unnecessary in many developed societies around the world in 2018.) The subjectivity of personal experience also plays a part: is the hunting of grizzly bears by First Nations peoples truly more justified than the hunting of grizzly bears by those British Columbians of European descent who have their own history of hunting? Is it right for those not living in B.C. to pass judgment on what its residents can do? And where should the line be drawn between the management of a species in a local region and their place in the global ecosystem?

The answers to these questions are hard to grasp, but the implementation of B.C.’s ban on grizzly bear hunting makes the answers – for now at least, and only in regard to grizzlies – academic. Fewer grizzlies being killed is, without a doubt, a good thing for grizzlies. If personal beliefs and individuals’ conceptions of their connection to the animals that we share our planet with are to change, perhaps a new law – even one that pleases part of the population and disenfranchises others – is the first step towards this.

This ban may be seen by some as heavy-handed, and its status as headline news may detract from the bigger picture, i.e. the threat of habitat loss and human encroachment to B.C.’s grizzly bears. But what the ban will undoubtedly bring is more bears to British Columbia, and more bears means a healthier ecosystem. Chris Servheen, Adjunct Research Associate Professor of Wildlife Conservation at the University of Montana, believes that – at least in a conservation context – grizzly bears are a keystone species: “If you manage for this species, it carries others with it. If you protect grizzlies, you protect other animals.” This is the biggest success of the B.C. ban. It benefits not only grizzly bears, but British Columbia’s flora and fauna as a whole, and shows that people truly care about the natural world that they are themselves a part of.

The images in this article were taken as stated at British Columbia’s T’a Ish Adventures Lodge and Bear Cave Mountain Camp in the Yukon. Wildlife photographer and expert guide Phil Timpany leads our Ice Grizzlies safari. Click below to talk to one of our Destination Specialists and start planning your own grizzly bear safari.

BOOK YOUR CANADA SAFARI

Contact our destination specialist to start planning your journey.

Contact Us

Add your comment

You are being redirected. Click here if this takes longer than a few seconds.