After years of urging the government to ban so-called trophy hunting for bears in their territory, 10 First Nations on B.C.'s north and central coasts have declared their own moratorium, but it is not clear if they will be able to enforce it.
Coalition spokesman William Housty admits that enforcing the ban won't be easy because the provincial government is showing no indication that it was willing to go along with a ban
"That's an issue that we're facing — how we're going to be able to deal with that without the province supporting us," said Housty of the Heiltsuk First Nation.
Housty says the First Nations don't have the authority to impose the ban, but they do want to stop hunters and poachers who leave bear carcasses lying around and have ignored signs urging them to stop the practice.
"That's really a problem. We can't walk up to these hunters and say, `You can't hunt here.' We can't write a ticket."
Housty said hunting threatens the First Nations' lucrative ecotourism opportunities, but the province has ignored such concerns.
"Because we have not ceded any of this land to anybody, we feel that we have a voice and should have a voice in how these lands are managed and this includes the bear hunt."
Current hunt 'sustainable,' minister says
B.C. Minister of Forests Steve Thomson says the province sets hunting limits and First Nations need to respect that.
"Given estimates for the fall hunt, there were 32 authorizations given out to hunters. Based on the success rates over the past five years, we expect these authorizations to result in one or two bears harvested this fall," Thomson said.
Thomson said he was disappointed by the announcement, saying the government has always been open to talks with First Nations.
Thomson, also responsible for lands and natural resource operations, said the hunting industry contributes about $350 million to the province annually and is an important part of the economy and the B.C.'s heritage.
More than 58 per cent of the traditional territory of the coastal First Nations is closed to grizzly bear hunting he added, noting the government has also put in place eco-system based management.
"We believe that the current hunt is sustainable and is managed based on sound science."
When asked if the provincial government sees a difference between trophy hunting and hunting for food purposes, Thomson said, "That's part of what we need to engage First Nations on."
Housty said coastal First Nations are working on marine- and land-use plans to manage resources in their territory and are also considering the salmon run and how it affects birds, bears and the evolving ecosystem.
"It goes against our cultural beliefs and values of management of our territories and bears in particular, and because we have an increasing presence on our land with research projects, with our people reconnecting to the land, it doesn't make sense to have hunters in the same area."