Martyn Brown: The grisly business of trophy hunting in Super, Natural British Columbia
"Harvest." Such a beautiful, bucolic word.
Golden fields of swaying wheat. Lush green vineyards of plump, perfect grapes. Acres of apples, all red and delicious.
Harvest: so suggestive of humans in harmony with the Earth.
So redolent of life.
So much more super and natural than, I don’t know—slaughter?—the word that more accurately describes British Columbia’s annual grizzly bear trophy hunt.
Actually, even that word isn’t quite accurate, for it connotes the killing of animals for food.
Grizzly bears—like black bears, cougars, wolves, lynxes, bobcats, and wolverines–are legally "harvested" without any expectation that their meat will be eaten by people.
They are mostly shot by trophy hunters whose twisted sense of vanity drives them to take those animals’ lives not for food, but for the perverse pride of killing something so magnificent, so fearsome, and so elusive.
As far as I am aware, we don’t seem to have a word in the English language to even accurately describe the wanton slaying of wild animals that is tantamount to the word we use to describe the premeditated taking of human life—namely, murder.
We don’t have a special word for that special form of state-sanctioned killing that is about the "sport" and the "fun" of finding those animals where they live and consciously ending their existence from a safe distance, with a high-powered rifle or hunting bow.
In our hearts, most of us know that the grisly business of trophy hunting is not right. Rather, it demeans us, as the planet’s apex species.
Indeed, a Insights West survey conducted last fall determined that 91 percent of British Columbians and 84 percent of Albertans are opposed to hunting animals for sport (i.e. trophy hunting).
It is a sentiment widely shared by so many people around the world, whom we hope will visit our province, six years after we made our Olympic appeal, "You gotta be here."
In making that pitch, we never told those potential visitors that the "here" we want them to "be" is a place that quietly embraces the recreational killing of the very iconic species we profiled with such pride in defining ourselves to the world.
The images of those lifeless carcasses that are so boastfully displayed on so many guide outfitters’ websites don’t quite jive with the picture that we want to globally project of "Super, Natural British Columbia".
You might say, they’re "off-brand". And sickening.
There is nothing super or natural about the sight of a killer, proudly kneeling over a dead nine-foot grizzly that only moments before was so majestically roaming this Earth.
You certainly won’t find those images on Destination B.C.’s home page, which currently features a striking picture of a grizzly bear alive in its natural habitat, but nowhere even references hunting in its list of activities of Things To Do in British Columbia.
You won’t even find them in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association’s main promotional brochure, one of several tourism regions that are so rightly keen to talk about their wildlife and eco-tourism, but about their grizzly hunts, not so much.
It features a gorgeous shot of a swimming grizzly on the front cover, but nary a shot of a shot grizzly, nor a specific reference to grizzly bears in its two-paragraph reference to hunting.
The business of death, celebrated as sport, is fundamentally incompatible with the celebration of life that lies at the core of British Columbia’s destination tourism identity.
Guide outfitters promote killing bears
Indeed, the grizzly trophy hunt is British Columbia’s great shame; it is a death sport that both the tourism industry and the pro-hunting B.C. government agree is best quietly encouraged without widely advertising its odious, bloody truth.
The B.C. guide outfitting industry has no such compunctions.
It proudly proclaims that it attracts more than 5,000 hunters annually, who spend more daily per capita than any other visitors. It is pleased to tell us that those guide outfitters support 2,000 jobs in B.C. and generate about $116 million in revenue each year.
The government is also quick to point out in its less visible forums that the resident and non-resident hunting industry contributes some $350 million annually to the province. It is an industry that generates over $7.3 million in license fees, including $2 million from non-resident hunters and $5.3 million from resident hunters, and a further $2.25 million in surcharges that fund conservation projects.
The total economic contribution of the grizzly bear hunt is estimated to be as much as $7.5 million. That includes $4.8 million from resident hunters and a further $2.7 million from nonresident hunters, who each typically pay one of B.C.’s 245 guide outfitters $13,000 to $27,000 to stalk and perhaps "bag" a grizzly.
That $7.5 million economic value is peanuts in the context of our $255-billion provincial economy.
A 2010 report by the David Suzuki Foundation found that of the nearly 11,000 grizzly bears killed by humans between 1977 and 2009, some 87 percent—or 9,484—were legally killed by hunters.
To hunt a grizzly bear in B.C., resident hunters must first win a lottery. They must be among the more than 3,000 applicants who are authorized each year under the Limited Entry Hunt system to shoot a grizzly.
In 2014, hunters "harvested" 267 grizzly bears, a number that has remained relatively consistent over the last 20 years, as you can read here and here.
In addition, some 40 percent of the total grizzly bear population that the province targets for trophy killing are allocated to guide outfitters.
Most of their clients are nonresidents, who are typically obliged to hire those experts in fulfilling their immortal quests to snuff out those rare and truly awesome animals’ lives.
Without trophy hunting, the defenders of that practice maintain, our entire wildlife population would soon suffer from all sorts of adverse impacts. It’s all about "conservation", don’t you know?
In essence, we must kill those animals to stop them and others from dying from starvation, or from adverse human impacts, or from over predation. Or so the argument goes.
We need more hunters, the province maintains. That is largely why it launched a hunter recruitment strategy that it boasts was successful in increasing the number of resident hunters by over 24 percent, from 82,000 "only 10 years ago" to more than than 102,000 today. Yippee.
Have no fear, the authorities assure us, it’s all carefully controlled and managed to keep species’ populations in balance, through the rigours of applied science and sound stewardship.
We will learn next spring if that’s true in respect of grizzly bears, when B.C.’s auditor general releases the results of her current review into whether or not the government is effectively managing that particular species’ population.
Government estimates come under fire
To say that the science of grizzly bear management is sketchy is an understatement, as so many scientific reviews have determined.
The province assures us that there are still about 15,000 grizzlies living in British Columbia—less than half the number that once roamed the land. Yet the fact is, it does not know what the true number of that population really is, since its estimates are based on so many fluid and assumed variables.
One study from 2013 estimated that the actual mortality of grizzly bears might be as much as 70 percent higher than the levels predicted by the province’s scientific management models.
Another study published in 2014 highlighted how grizzly bear populations are unexpectedly inhabiting so many more islands than the government had thought in one area on B.C.’s Central Coast. The population data is different, depending on how it is obtained and calculated, and it is anything but an exact science.
How can the government be so confident that its numbers are correct? It can’t. And it knows it, as I strongly suspect B.C.’s auditor general, Carol Bellringer, will find—hopefully, in advance of the provincial election.
Approximately 35 percent of British Columbia is closed to grizzly hunting. Yet some 13.4 percent of British Columbia’s grizzly bear habit falls in provincial parks and protected areas that are typically open to hunting for people’s "use and enjoyment", unlike the national park spaces where hunting is strictly prohibited. How crazy is that?
The good news is that the province’s recent Great Bear Rainforest Order has now extended the area where grizzly bears will be protected throughout most of that gigantic 6.4-million-hectare area that lies along B.C.’s north and central coast.
But the numbers of grizzlies that will be saved by that measure won’t do much to offset the hundreds more that are slaughtered each year in other regions, despite the best efforts to stop it by groups like Pacific Wild, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the David Suzuki Foundation, Western Wildlife Outreach and others.
It is a sad indictment of our public apathy about the grizzly trophy-hunt that groups like Pacific Wild now consider it a win when the government bows to their pressure not to triple that hunt in the Peace region.
In making that announcement, the government acted like it was do us all a favour, in an abundance of caution and concern for protecting that region’s grizzly bear population, even though it was also quick to assure us that it could have sustained such an increase in human-caused mortality.
I can’t help but wonder how quickly we might mobilize public pressure to end grizzly trophy hunting, as Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has proposed, if we somehow managed to press the B.C. celebrities who pitched the 2010 "You Gotta Be Here" campaign back into service.
In my experience, petitions signed by even tens of thousands of citizens make worthy and important statements, but they mostly fall on deaf ears. They are barely even reported. Which is demoralizing and discouraging, to say the least, for those who work so hard to get those petitions signed and tabled in the legislature or in Parliament.
Fact is, the grizzly bear trophy hunt will only be stopped when the politicians who now support it are sufficiently politically embarrassed into doing the right thing. Like the campaigns of yesteryear that were successful in stopping the unfettered assaults on B.C.’s old-growth forests, it will take a considerable international appeal.
There are simply too many voices at the Christy Clark cabinet table and in the B.C. Liberal caucus who are resolutely committed to drowning out the voices of reason that want to end the barbaric practice of killing grizzlies soley for the sake of seeing them dead.
There are too many vocal hunters, guide outfitters and rural voters who John Horgan dares not enrage by vowing to reimpose the moratorium on grizzly bear hunting that Ujjal Dosanjh’s NDP government had introduced on the eve of the 2001 provincial election.
Buying up guide outfitter licences with public or private funds to incrementally retire their allocated grizzly quotas can’t hurt. But it’s not the answer.
To stop the grizzly trophy hunt, British Columbians will need to do much more to mobilize public pressure on the politicians.
One potential effective strategy in that regard would be to start by mobilizing public pressure on B.C.’s tourism industry to live up to its Super, Natural British Columbia brand. It should not be allowed to sit on its hands and do nothing when it could reap so much more economic benefit from acting to protect grizzly bears.
A 2014 study, Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, determined that bear viewing in that region generates 12 times more visitor spending and 11 times more direct revenue for government than bear hunting.
It also generates almost 28 times more employment, with 60 times more people engaged in bear viewing in that region than in bear hunting.
Plus, more people than ever are coming to B.C. for its living wildlife experiences, including to see something so beautiful and precious as a grizzly bear, whereas trophy hunting is declining as a tourism draw.
If it takes giving that industry a black eye for its tacit support of a practice that it is too ashamed and embarrassed to even promote as a globally desired tourism activity, so be it.
Hope springs eternal that the likes of Michael J. Fox, Steve Nash, Ryan Reynolds, Kim Cattrall, Eric McCormack and Sarah McLachlan might once again step up to the plate, to send the world yet another timely message.
And that message is this: if you want to stop B.C.’s grizzly trophy-hunt, you gotta be here—loud and proud—to make the B.C. government bow to the wishes of the 91 percent of British Columbians who say they don’t support it.