Barry Coulter/With files from Black Press
B.C. NDP leader John Horgan has created a political broohaha, after vowing to ban the trophy hunting of grizzly bears in B.C. if the party forms government after next May’s provincial election.
Horgan said B.C.’s iconic grizzlies are worth more to the province alive than dead.
“We can look after our natural environment, respect the outdoor traditions of our province and grow the economy if we make the right choices,” Horgan said. “That should start now with a change in how we treat the iconic grizzly bears of B.C.”
But the proposal has caused considerable consternation in the riding of Kootenay East, where hunting looms large as recreation and industry.
Liberal candidate Tom Shypitka says he supports “science-based decisions when it comes to wildlife issues,” and cites a provincial government publication of a thorough study of grizzly bear populations (dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0082757) that says grizzly populations are healthy in many regions, including the Kootenays.
“As long as populations can support a hunt, politicians should stay out of it,” Shypitka said in an email to the Townsman. “I know fathers and grandfathers who want to take a son or grandson out for a bear hunt. As long as we have healthy populations, the grizzly bear hunt should continue.”
Shypitka added that the grizzly population must be managed to control numbers, and “our choice is a hunt or to have Conservation Officers remove excess bears. I think the choice is clear.”
Shypitka criticized the NDP for the proposed ban, and said the NDP is “actually writing off rural B.C.”
On the other side of the Kootenay East political spectrum, NDP candidate Randal Macnair is also saying science is behind the proposed ban, and that the Liberal government’s “results based” environmental management system has failed.
“I’ve always supported science-based wildlife management,” Macnair told the Townsman, also by email. “The larger issue is habitat conservation and the fact that B.C. is one of the most poorly funded jurisdictions in North America. British Columbia needs dedicated funding for wildlife habitat and conservation.”
Macnair said he understands why a ban has been proposed. “It is in large part a result of the appalling mismanagement of wildlife and habitat by the BC Liberals.”
Macnair cited research saying that “from 2006-2014 only 38 per cent of the human-caused grizzly mortalities in the Southern Rockies grizzly population were hunting kills. Animal control, rail and highway corridors and illegal kills resulted in the deaths of almost twice as many grizzlies as hunting.”
Macnair added that he has encountered a wide range of opinions with respect to the ban, “but the common thread is the need to for habitat conservation. The government isn’t out there doing the critical research to help better understand and protect the health of wildlife populations.”
Shypitka said the ban demonstrates the NDP’s rural-urban divide.
“They know the grizzly bear hunt is generally supported in rural B.C. and they know the evidence supports a hunt,” Shypitka said. “With their decision to oppose hunting for political reasons, they are revealing their urban bias.”
Forests Minister Steve Thomson said the B.C. Liberal government is moving to retire guide-outfitter licenses in the Great Bear Rainforest as territories are sold to bear-watching companies. About a third of the province is off limits to grizzly hunting for wildlife management reasons.
But the rest is subject to a managed hunt for resident and non-resident guided hunters that has been been validated by independent experts and makes a significant contribution to the provincial economy, he said.
“It clearly will not resonate well in rural communities,” Thomson said.
A recent report on the B.C. grizzly bear management system gave the province good marks, but also recommended setting objectives to accommodate both hunting and viewing of grizzly bears, and investigate whether conflicts exist.
The B.C. government has felt blowback from resident B.C. hunters in recent years after a controversial 2014 decision to increase big-game hunt allocations for guide outfitters at the expense of unguided locals.
There are more than 15,000 grizzly bears in B.C., which accounts for more than half of grizzlies in Canada.
B.C. Wildlife Federation strategic initiatives director Alan Martin told Black Press that the federation doesn’t object to the NDP commitment.
“We think that if you’re hunting wildlife that you should utilize the whole animal and that’s been part our policy and is consistent with this announcement,” he said.
Martin said the federation is more concerned about the sustainability of grizzly habitat.
“I think there are larger issues about grizzly bears in terms of the habitat that is required to sustain them,” Martin said. “We’re seeing lots of impacts because of accelerated forest harvesting and changes in salmon populations. Those are probably much more important to deal with than the issue of trophy hunting.”
With files from Tom Fletcher and Jeff Nagel