B.C's new NDP government is ending the province's controversial grizzly bear trophy hunt, saying British Columbians can no longer stomach the killing of grizzlies as trophies.
The ban will take effect Nov. 30, 2017, throughout the province — after this year's season, which opens Tuesday in the Peace River region, and later elsewhere.
"It is time," said Natural Resources Minister Doug Donaldson on Monday.
About 250 grizzlies are killed annually by hunters in B.C., a number Donaldson said is "sustainable" for the population estimated at 15,000 bears, but he said public opinion on the practice has turned.
"It's not a matter of numbers, it's a matter of society has come to the point in B.C. where they are no longer in favour of the grizzly bear trophy hunt."
The ban will also end all grizzly bear hunting in the coastal region known as the Great Bear Rainforest.
He said the ban isn't taking effect before this season because there wasn't time to give notice after the protracted B.C. election, which took place May 9 but didn't produce a new government until mid-July.
Hunt for meat to be allowed
It's not clear how many bears would be spared from hunting as a result of the ban.
Hunting bears for meat will be allowed, outside of the Great Bear Rainforest, and neither Donaldson nor ministry staff could say how many of the 250 grizzlies killed on average per year are killed for trophies.
When asked how hunting would be policed, Donaldson said the exact regulations would be determined following consultations with guide-outfitters and others between now and Nov. 30.
"There's not going to be any loopholes," he said.
"Hunters will no longer be able to possess the hide or the head or the paws of the grizzly bear."
It's not yet clear what hunters will be expected to do with those bear parts, but they would not be leaving the province, he said.
The announcement shouldn't be a surprise for those in the industry, said Donaldson.
"They knew this commitment was in our platform and they knew we were going to act on this commitment."
Activists worry about 'loophole'
The grizzly trophy hunt has long been the target of activists and conservationists, who applauded the NDP decision to end to all grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest.
But those same voices questioned the logic of allowing hunters to kill grizzlies for meat in the rest of the province.
Those critics include housing developer and art philanthropist Michael Audain, chairman of the Grizzly Bear Foundation. In March, the foundation released an 88-page report that included a recommendation to end the trophy hunt.
"My first reaction is one of delight," Audain said Monday after the news was announced.
"At the same time, I must confess that we do have some concerns about whether the issue of packing the meat out … could become a bit of a loophole."
Those concerns were echoed by Chris Genovali, executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
"Virtually no one legitimately hunts grizzlies for food; killing these bears is strictly a trophy hunt," Genovali said in a written statement.
Hunting guides disappointed
Meanwhile, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver suggested the NDP's measures don't fully address the concerns of environmentalists or local hunters, who want to harvest all parts of the bears.
"I'm not sure how this will appease the concerns of anyone. It appears to me that the NDP were trying to play to environmental voters in the election campaign without thinking through their policies," Weaver said in a written statement.
Mark Werner of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. said he was disappointed that his group wasn't consulted extensively during development of the new regulations. He argued that the true threat to grizzly populations isn't hunting.
"If you want to do something great for grizzly bears, let's work on habitat. Shutting down small businesses in this province isn't going to help grizzly bears," Werner said.