GRIZZLY BEARS NEED MORE PROTECTION, NOT MORE HUNTING
Hunting organizations dismiss grizzly bear deaths by saying that habitat loss is the greatest threat to grizzly bears. This viewpoint omits that habitat loss is mainly caused by roads and development, and their effect is to bring humans into contact with the bears, which results in dead bears. Most of the deaths occur near roads, as the result of hunting, poaching, and human conflicts. Before licensed hunting of grizzlies was closed in BC in 2017, hunters were killing 250-300 bears a year. Between 1978 and 2002, 7,594 grizzllies were killed by trophy hunters.
Grizzly bears have one of the lowest reproductive rates of all terrestrial mammals in North America. About half of cubs die during the first years, so replenishment of a population is very slow. It is almost impossible, without spending large amounts of money, to accurately determine population levels and impacts of hunting and other pressures on grizzly bears.
Very few hunters are seeking to shoot grizzly bears, and some hunters supported banning the grizzly bear hunt. However, a guide-outfitter can get at least $20,000 for guiding a rich hunter to a grizzly bear, while the dead bear’s head and hide decorate someone’s wall.
Indigenous people are allowed to hunt grizzly bears in BC for food and ceremonial needs. No one is objecting to that. But large hunting organizations are urging their members to use the public process for the Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework to support the return of trophy hunting.
GRIZZLY BEARS NEED MORE PROTECTED AREAS, NOT MORE COMMITTEES
Grizzly bears are a species that can use some disturbed habitat, such as clearcuts that open areas for berry bushes. But today the province is in a state of severe fragmentation by excessive logging and roading. This is not good for bears, or even moose, elk and deer.Humans are also taking over high elevation grizzly bear habitat with ATVs and/or mountain bikes. Heli-hiking and heli-biking displace grizzlies from critical habitat. Their high country habitats, including winter dens, are being targetted for backcountry lodges, ski development and motorized recreation.
Critical habitat for grizzly bears is roadless wilderness with distance and cover from people, and high food availabiity. A number of grizzly bear scientific panels and independent experts have concluded that, in order to maintain grizzly bears over a long term, BC needs to fully protect 50% of its landbase. The province has promised to protect 30%, which would be a significant step forward. At present, most of the province has only 12-17% protected. The Grizzly Bear Framework mentions the promised 30%, but does not make any goal, objective or commitment to protect habitat.
The draft Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework tells the public that old-growth forest has very low value to grizzly bears. This is Ministry of Forests’ pro-logging misinformation. From much research, Valhalla Wilderness Society biologists know that older-aged forest provides important habitat for grizzly bears, including den trees, connectivity, thermal cover and important plant foods. Older forest on the coast provides some of the best grizzly habitat.
BC already has a provincial level Ministers’ Wildlife Advisory Council. After the licensed grizzly bear hunt was closed, the government set up a provincial level Wildlife Advisory Council. That was reasonable, but why was it not enough? The Ministry of Forests’ (MOF) and the Ministry of Environment (MOE) also met with over 50 stakeholder groups and 122 indigenous communities across the province. Why was that not enough citizen input? In addition, the government says that it will maintain confidential government-to-government negotiations with First Nations. That is very important, but why is that not enough?
Why are we now presented with a draft Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework that doesn’t mention conservation of grizzly bears in its goals, and doesn’t commit to definitive conservation measures?
The draft Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework state that climate change and severe weather is estimated to be negligible or low for grizzly bears. That estimation to be shocking, For instance, fish farms, climate change, logging and landslides from roads have caused a drastic decline of salmon across BC. Salmon are a major part of the diet of grizzlies on the coast. Several years ago starving grizzlies began to show up on the south coast. Malnourished bears are unable to reproduce successfully; starving bears will not survive hibernation. Advice that the bears can eat more berries to make up for salmon loss, or that the monster fires caused by climate change will make more berry bushes, ignores the fact that climate change is increasingly bringing drought that leads to berry crop failures.
The Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework says that grizzly bears need local and regional committees to recommend how to manage them because “one size doesn’t fit all”. That’s more malarky. The Ministries of Forests and Environment have long had a structure of regional, professional managers and biologists to deal with regional differences.
SCIENCE VERSUS EMOTIONS
Hunting organizations have attacked the whole basis for the government’s 2017 decision to close the hunt. They say it was not based on science, but on the emotions of the public. The Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework says the closure was not in response to a conservation concern, but a reflection of BC citizen’s ethical or moral opposition towards grizzly bear hunting. These statements are misleading and evasive due to omitted context. The government at the time knew that science-based conservation concern about the bears had existed for decades, but didn’t want to admit it.
What Grizzly Bear Science Really Says
Grizzly bears were blue-listed in BC in 1999, and designated Special Concern by Canada’s top authority on the conservation status of wildlife, COSEWIC, in 2012. In 2017 the federal government listed them as such under the Species at Risk Act. There were two decades of hot controversy between government biologists and independent biologists over concerns that the data used by government scientists to regulate the hunt was unreliable. The European Union banned the import of grizzly bear parts.
In 2017, just weeks before the government closed the hunt, BC’s Auditor General released a report that portrayed the science behind the hunt as flawed and inadequate, its conclusions uncertain. The report said the government’s calculations had no reliable basis because it hadn’t been able to accurately inventory Grizzly Bear numbers. Today the Stewardship Framework admits that the accuracy of their data is still uncertain.
The Moral and Ethical Principles of British Columbians Should Not Be Mocked
As these events were swirling in 2017, two hunters shared a video of themselves shooting a grizzly bear multiple times, showing its bloody, agonized death throes, and themselves enjoying their triumph. It went viral and caused widespread outrage and revulsion, embarrassing BC all over North America and Europe. This is why hunting organizations claim the hunting closure was based on “emotions”. But the human moral nature works through both the mind and emotions. Science without emotions is science without conscience, which many British Columbians, including some hunters, will not tolerate.
1. The ban on hunting, including trophy hunting, should continue, while still allowing the exception of First Nations hunting grizzly bears for food and ceremonial purposes.
2. Grizzly bears need more protected areas, not more committees. This means protecting our last remaining intact wild areas, including old forest. This will protect habitat for many other species, and help humans by protecting forests that absorb and store the carbon that is causing climate change that threatens us all.
3. The provincial Minister’s Wildlife Advisory Council is enough. Creating additional multi-sector wildlife advisory committees will concentrate more influence over wildlife in the hands of hunting, industrial and political interests that exploit grizzly bears and their habitat.
4. When we cannot even save some human lives and homes from climate change disasters, we should know that our wild species are also in serious danger, especially when they are already special at risk like grizzly bears.
5. The biodiversity crisis urgently requires a shift in government wildlife management culture, from mis-managing wildlife for the short-term profit of hunters, trappers and industry, to managing for the survival of species and the health of ecosystems.
6. BC wildlife belongs to ALL British Columbians. Many BC residents value our wildlife alive and we are aware of their ecological functions. The government has catered to hunters and trappers too long. It’s time to recognize all British Columbians as equal stakeholders in how wildlife is managed.
7. What’s needed is action on the ground. The draft Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework is another paper exercise for more talk-and-log. It offers no commitment to action on the ground to help the bears.
8. The government has contributed to harming our planet irreparably by favouring unsustainable rates of logging that have contributed greatly to the climate change.
9. Moral and ethical concerns must not be mocked and dismissed. Science without emotions is science without conscience, which many British Columbians, including some hunters, will not tolerate. Moral and compassionate emotions are vital to the character of our society and its citizens.