Trophy hunting of grizzly bears is one of the most controversial issues in British Columbia and has been a thorn in the side of the BC Ministry of Environment for many years. Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of British Columbians want the practice discontinued; Environment Ministry officials as well as biologists are often vehemently divided. Although some of BC’s grizzly populations are healthy, many are not. Is the trophy hunt really sustainable or should we err on the side of caution and bring it to an end?
North American grizzlies, also called brown bears, are related to brown bears that are found throughout Europe and Asia. Because of human encroachment, their habitat has been diminished worldwide at an alarming rate. Over the last century, the North American grizzly population has been reduced by half; roughly 1,000 grizzlies remain in the lower 48 states.
Pictured, Author Jill Bisaro is a second year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife student at Selkirk College in Castlegar.
Grizzly bears are red-listed according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, meaning they are in danger of being wiped out. Still, the organization believes there are enough bears worldwide and that, with the proper hunting regulations, the species should do fine. Unfortunately, not all bear researchers in British Columbia, or elsewhere, agree. The disturbing case of Dionys DeLeew, a BC Ministry of Environment bear biologist, comes to mind. In 2000 he was suspended without pay and given a gag order for distributing an internal report questioning population estimates and suggesting that the yearly kill rate in BC was not sustainable.
Since 1977, the province of British Columbia has awarded grizzly hunting tags using a lottery system and has based the potential ‘take’ in management zones on population estimates. In the past, because grizzly bears are notoriously difficult and expensive to count, population estimates may not have been accurate. Over the last decade or so, studies using DNA from hair samples have made counting bears easier and more accurate. Using these techniques, Michael Proctor, a Kootenay bear biologist, found that two of the four management units he was studying contained only half of the originally estimated bear populations.
The BC ministry of Environment and the BC Guide Outfitters Association maintain that the number of bears taken in the bi-annual hunts is well managed and sustainable. A recent study, however, found great uncertainty in population estimates, mortality numbers and recovery levels. The uncertainty is further exacerbated by the potential of climate change, changing food sources, forestry and development, as well as unpredictable factors such as bears getting struck by vehicles or unreported kills by ranchers. Researchers have found that in the last decade, the province’s own allowable harvest numbers were surpassed at least once in each of the 50 grizzly bear populations open to trophy hunting. They feel that in order to reduce the risk of grizzly bear overkill, hunting should be eliminated in at least one-third of BC’s management units.
The killing of grizzlies or any other large animal, for reasons other than sustenance, is increasingly perceived by the public as immoral and the science supporting a hunt seems to be questionable at best.
Grizzly bears in BC are a priceless resource that should not be put at risk for finance, foreign hunters or the pleasure of the minority. It would seem to be most prudent to halt it now until the real numbers are in.
Ed. note: The preceding statements and opinions are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Castlegar News or Black Press.