After a month-long consultation process, the B.C. government has decided to ban the province's controversial grizzly hunt.
"The ban on resident and non-resident hunters takes effect immediately," said B.C.'s Minister of Natural Resources Doug Donaldson during a press conference on Monday, Dec. 18.
"It's abundantly clear that most British Columbians do not support the killing of grizzly bears," he said.
Under the new rules, First Nations will still be able to hunt grizzlies for ceremonial, social and food purposes.
The announcement came as welcome news to opponents of the hunt, who have called for the ban for years and actively lobbied the province during the consultation period.
It also comes as an about-face. In August, the province's newly elected NDP government vowed to end trophy hunting of grizzly bears, but retained a so-called "meat hunt," meaning grizzlies could be killed so long as it was for their meat.
For many environmental groups, the partial ban was seen as a half measure.
"What they had didn't make any sense in terms of its ability to enforce or meet policy objectives," explained Rachel Forbes, executive director of the Grizzly Bear Foundation. "We've always said this was the easy step — banning the hunt. Now we're continuing to focus on our work around research and education, to work at issues such as habitat loss, food supply, and human-grizzly co-existence."
According to the province, it received almost 4,200 written responses during the consultation process, with 78 per cent of them calling for the government to close the meat-hunt loophole.
The province also re-committed to enacting calls to action outlined in an October report by B.C.'s auditor general on grizzly bear management, which revealed that, after two separate government-commissioned reports directing them to do so, the previous BC Liberal government failed to establish a comprehensive grizzly bear management plan.
Johnny Mikes, field director for the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative, welcomes the commitment, but underscored the need for the government to take action right away.
Several grizzly bear subpopulations in the province's grizzly bears are listed as threatened, and three have been assessed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — all three are located in southwest B.C.
"We know there are certain actions that need to be done in the short term," said Mikes.
These include identifying remote areas where there is human-grizzly conflict and then educating the public about measures that can be taken to avoid habituating bears.
Mikes also calls for "sensible access management" plans that will rein in the proliferation of logging roads or close them at certain periods.
According to the auditor general's report, there are some 600,000 kilometres of resource roads in B.C. — with an estimated 10,000 km added each year. Mikes also wants to see grizzlies introduced into tenuous populations, like the Stein-Nahatlach, which is bounded by the Fraser River, Lillooet and Harrison lakes, and has an estimated population of only 20 grizzlies.
"New genetic stock needs to be brought in to make sure that population doesn't have massive problems with inbreeding," said Mikes. "It's critical for some populations that we act now."
The hunting ban represents a major blow to the guide outfitting industry. Michael Schneider, president of the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia, believes the overall grizzly population can sustain a controlled hunt and the ban is based on emotion, not science.
"We expect our government to make informed decisions for wildlife conservation based on the best facts and best available science," said Schneider in a release.
The statement went on to say that around 100 outfitting businesses will be negatively affected by the ban and that many will not be able to survive the financial loss.
Earlier this month, Pique ran a first-person account of the controversial trophy hunt. Tyler Stepp — an American hunter who was featured in the story — said he was disappointed by the decision, saying it is likely to be reversed once grizzlies begin to overpopulate specific areas and devastate other game, like moose.
Stepp also expressed remorse for Vince Cocciolo, the owner of the guide outfitting operation he hunted with. "It sucks for him," said Stepp, noting that Cocciolo fetched $25,000 for each grizzly hunt and held two tags this year.
Cocciolo was not available for comment by press time.
"The Last Hunt," a firsthand account of one of the last trophy hunts in B.C., can be found at www.piquenewsmagazine.com.