Grizzly bears have been hunted in B.C. as trophy kills for over 16 years — and for almost as long people have been asking for it to stop.
Indeed, this past February an Insights West poll found 94 per cent of British Columbians said they opposed hunting animals for sport. Since the trophy hunt restarted, about 250 grizzly bears a year have been shot dead for the fun of it.
This week, the freshly minted NDP government announced that it would ban trophy hunting in B.C. starting this November — sadly, the announcement comes too late for grizzly bears this fall as the hunting season opened Aug. 15.
It's tempting to break out the champagne, but as with all things coming from any level of government the small print needs to be examined.
In this case, the detail not to be overlooked is that hunters can still kill grizzly bears for food — except in the Great Bear Rain Forest, where hunting is to be totally banned.
That's all well and good — most people don't have a problem with people hunting for food.
During the election campaign, the NDP promised to stop the trophy hunt if put in power. Voters were told the plan included a provision that would still allow grizzly bear hunting but only for meat. Hunters would have to turn over any parts of the bear that could be considered trophies — so the hide, the head, paws and so on — to conservation.
At that time, the Green Party went even further saying the meat would have to be butchered and packaged and sent to the hunter's home no matter which country that was in — the hope was that this would act as a deterrent.
This week, however, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver slammed the NDP grizzly hunting-ban announcement.
"Today's announcement will not end grizzly bear hunting in B.C., as many environmental groups have advocated for," stated a Green Party media release.
"In addition, this announcement will create a system in which not all of the animal will be harvested — resident hunters will no longer be allowed to possess the hair, head and hide of grizzlies; this will be viewed as wasteful by the resident-hunting community.
"...Foreign hunters will still be able to shoot grizzlies in British Columbia, take a picture of themselves standing over the dead beast, and head back home without harvesting any of the animal."
The Green Party's concerns really stem from the fact that there has been no announcement about how the hunting-grizzlies-for-food plan is going to be managed and enforced. Is someone going to check to make sure that tourist hunters are flying home with their bear meat? Doubtful.
What British Columbians want is meaningful action. Is the NDP announcement welcomed? Of course it is, but voters don't want platitudes, they want action on wildlife preservation and endangered species legislation — not window dressing.
Let's remember that 30 per cent of the grizzlies killed by hunters are female — common sense tells you that in a population of 15,000 in B.C., that is too high a number.
Added to the ongoing threat our own grizzlies face are the changes south of the border thanks to U.S. President Donald Trump.
The trophy hunting industry has successfully lobbied the U.S. administration to take away federal protections on grizzlies.
In an abhorrent move Trump also recently signed into law rules allowing trophy hunters to kill grizzly bears around lures put out to attract them, to target them from aircraft, and to kill grizzly mothers and their cubs in Alaska's national wildlife refuges, where they've always been protected.
And it goes without saying that grizzly bears, like so many other species, are simply facing challenges surviving due to human encroachment on their territory and climate change impacting their environment.
The NDP announcement is welcome but more needs to be done. Let's not forget that grizzly bear viewing brings in millions of dollars in tourism — the Commercial Bear Viewing Association says that bear-viewing has become a major ecotourism revenue generator, bringing in about 10 times more than grizzly-bear hunting.
Let's hope the NDP consultation promised over the next few months produces a plan the grizzlies can live with.