British Columbia·Analysis

'It's so much more than the kill': hunters decry ban on grizzly trophy hunt

A ban on hunting grizzlies for trophies was announced this week in B.C., but some experts say the move won’t protect the iconic bears.

Push to ban all grizzly hunting is driven by emotion, not science, they say

"Society has come to the point in B.C. where they are no longer in favour of a grizzly bear trophy hunt," said B.C.'s Natural Resources Minister Doug Donaldson. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

Some B.C. hunters say the province's move this week to ban trophy grizzly hunting is 'wasteful' and misinformed — with one hunter saying he received death threats for admitting he shot a grizzly.

Prince George hunter Steve Hamilton shot his only grizzly four years ago and described the "rush of emotion" when he killed the bear — only to be labelled a "wildlife murderer" and face online death threats for defending hunting and questioning the ban.

"People find it perfectly acceptable to wish murder on me and my family," said Hamilton, president of the Spruce City Wildlife Association. His four-year-old daughter's favourite food is organic bear sausage.

Hamilton is one of many hunters who believe the push to ban all grizzly hunting is driven by emotion, not science.

NDP says society 'no longer in favour'

The grizzly hunt has long been a controversial hot-button in the province, and during the announcement of the ban this week, the NDP government suggested society as a whole no longer approved of hunting the giant predator for sport.

Juvenile grizzly photographed on the Central Coast of British Columbia. (Jeremy Koreski)

"It's not a matter of numbers. Society has come to the point in B.C. where they are no longer in favour of a grizzly bear trophy hunt," Natural Resources Minister Doug Donaldson told reporters Tuesday in a conference call.

Bear scientists agree that the estimated 15,000-grizzly population in the province is in no real danger because the number of bears killed each year — 250 — is controlled in a carefully managed lottery.

"It's easy to point at hunting, but hunting is not the problem," says Andrew Derocher, a University of Alberta bear expert, who says grizzly bears can be hunted in a sustainable manner in the province. Derocher said loss of habitat is a much bigger threat.

Under the new rules, it will be illegal after Nov. 30 to hunt grizzlies for sport — in which the animal is killed for its parts, a head, paws or hide, not its meat. Hunting grizzlies for their meat is still permitted.

A young male grizzly bear forages along a railway track for grain that's spilled from the hopper cars in Alberta. (Niels de Nijs)

But the trophy ban is causing backcountry backlash, as it did when then-premier Ujjal Dosajh brought in a three-year moratorium on hunting the iconic predator in 2001, only to see it quickly overturned when the B.C. Liberals took power that same year.

Outfitters say the new ban hits the hunting and outfitting industry, which brings an estimated $370 million each year into the provincial economy — $540,000 of that from licensing fees for grizzly hunts.

But provincial officials also note that B.C.'s grizzlies generate revenue by staying alive. They say bear watching is potentially a big business in B.C.

The Wilderness Tourism Association estimates that banning hunting along the famed Great Bear Rainforest, a popular destination for adventure tourists, would bring an estimated $1.5 billion into B.C.

A grizzly bear crosses the highway in Kootenay National Park, where officials try to discourage people from stopping to stare to cut down bear-human interactions and traffic hazards. (Brian Spreadbury/Parks Canada)

Some conservationists say new regulations don't not go far enough, pushing for a province-wide hunting ban, with no loophole for meat hunters.

Ian McAllister, executive director of Pacific Wild, says few people hunt grizzlies for meat. "Hundreds of bears will still die this fall. We'd love to celebrate … but clearly we are not quite there yet," McAllister said. 

But Prince George hunter Dustin Snyder disagrees.

Snyder, 30, sees it as a waste to not to use all of any animal killed, or pass on the parts to First Nations artisans.

Many hunters raise toddlers on organic wild game that fills their freezers, said the father of two.

A menu from a local Prince George game meat feast held earlier this year, featuring grizzly bear. (Steve Hamilton/Facebook)

Syder said bear meat is comparable to pork and was popular at a wild game banquet held this year in Prince George where grizzly bear sliders were dubbed "delicious" by the local NDP candidate.

Snyder has shot black bears and has a bearskin rug in his home, but says hunting is about more than killing.

"It's so much more than the kill. So much more is the adventure. A lot of hunters would draw the tag, put in the time experience the bush and maybe never pull the trigger on one."

He dreams of winning the lottery to take a shot at a grizzly — trophy ban or not.

Hinton veterinarian and wildlife photographer Gary Gulash photographed this grizzly bear just days before it was allegedly shot by a poacher near Edson, Alberta. (Gary Gulash)

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. @ybrend


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