Experts and TRU researchers weigh in on end of grizzly hunt

Though hunt will end Nov. 30, resource extraction and habitat loss still biggest threat to bears

TRU tourism professor and Canada research chair Courtney Mason and Kelsey Boule, one of Mason’s students who is doing her master’s thesis on the end of the hunt. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

As we get closer to the Nov. 30 deadline for the NDP government’s regulation banning grizzly bear trophy hunting, guide outfitters, ecologists and other B.C. residents have been weighing in on the debate.

While the end to trophy hunting grizzly bears is in sight, it is less certain whether or not the bears can be hunted for food. Activists have long since argued that only a complete ban on grizzly hunting in the province will keep the bears from being killed.

On the other side, hunters want to be able to take home mementos of their kills and they argue that bringing conservation officers bear parts afterwards is critical to furthering research on the animals.

One thing is clear, however. Voices on both sides believe the most damage done to grizzlies stems from resource extraction and habitat loss.

B.C. auditor general Carol Bellringer specifically called out the expansion of B.C.’s oil and gas industry as the number one detriment to bears in the province.

“We found the greatest threat to grizzly bears is not hunting, rather it’s the human activities that degrade grizzly-bear habitat,” Bellringer said at a news conference last Tuesday.

A similar sentiment is echoed by Mark Worthing, conservation and climate campaigner for the B.C. Sierra Club. Though Worthing is by no means a supporter of trophy hunting, he believes hunters have taken the brunt of the backlash as compared to heavy industry.

“I’m of the opinion that bears, grizzly bears in particular, are struggling from death from a thousand cuts, and amongst those thousand cuts there are quite a few bullets as well,” Worthing said.

“I think the hunt question is an interesting one because it’s so viscerally moral. But what I think is far more insidious, is the impact of logging, mining and fracking.”

Despite the adverse effects resource extraction has on bear habitats, Worthing believes that hunting the bears isn’t sustainable either. Though the NDP have since said that the grizzly population in B.C. is sustainable for the time being, other than Alaska and the Yukon, nearly everywhere else in North America considers the bears to be endangered.

To Courtney Mason, a TRU tourism professor, part of the blame lies on the B.C. Liberals gutting conservation in the province when they were in power.

“Conservation in B.C. is pathetic,” Mason said. “There is a real connection between the Liberal gutting of conservation and also the basic free-for-all growth in resource extraction economies. To me those things are not disconnected.”

Mason, like Worthing, isn’t a supporter of the hunt either, but understands the impact that its end may have on rural economies that rely on guide outfitting businesses. While he believes that many rural outfitters may lose their livelihoods, the end of the hunt is a chance for bear viewing operations to grow.

“We are seeing in the great bear rainforest [that] affluent people are paying a lot of money to view and take pictures of grizzly bears and be a part of these new eco-tourism businesses,” Mason said.

“We have a long history in this province of outfitters being entitled to land and to animals, which are not theirs to own. No one owns those resources, they are publicly owned resources.”

Kelsey Boule, a student of Mason’s who is doing her master’s thesis on the topic, has a slightly different opinion. She believes that hunting can be sustainable, yet requires more dialogue between hunters and activists.

“I think that is the key with this, bridging this gap between the rural and urban understanding of what hunting is and where it can be good,” Boule said. “There is a lack of communication that is happening.”