British Columbia

Sorry, we're closed: activists call off Grizzly hunt in Great Bear Rainforest

Sign campaign across Lower Mainland and beyond hopes to end trophy hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest while the B.C. Wildlife Federation says hunters generate up to $200,000 a year for B.C. grizzly bear conservation and research.

'This is one of the most disrespectful industries,' says Coastal First Nations as part of sign campaign

Coastal First Nations are using a sign campaign at airports to help keep grizzly bears from being hunted in the Great Bear Rainforest. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

Trophy hunting is closed in the Great Bear Rainforest, according First Nations activists campaigning against the annual grizzly bear hunt in the region.

Signs posted across the province — including the south terminal at YVR — are taking shots at the annual grizzly hunt in the coastal rainforest. They read "Trophy Hunting is Closed in the Great Bear Rainforest. Respect our Traditional Laws."

The tactic has been spearheaded by Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine First Nations along the central and north B.C. coast and Haida Gwaii, in an effort to raise awareness about the controversial practice.

"This is one of the most disrespectful industries," said Kitasoo/Xaixais chief councillor and CFN spokesperson Douglas Neasloss. "We're there to make sure, as stewards of our territories, that people are respectful."

Signs are also on the way for Bella Bella and Bella Coola airports, where Neasloss hopes they will catch the eyes of tourists destined for the Great Bear Rainforest.

"We're just looking at new ways of really trying to make sure that people understand, before they even get on a plane or decide to come up here that they understand very clearly what the position is of Coastal First Nations," said Neasloss.

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The Great Bear Rainforest is the home of the Spirit Bear - a rare subspecies of the American black bear. (© Kim Petersen/

An election issue

According to CFN, an estimated 155 grizzly bears have been killed in the Great Bear Rainforest between 2001 and 2013. In 2012, the organization declared a ban on the regional hunt citing wellbeing for bears, their importance to indigenous culture, and the value they bring to the local tourism economy.

Earlier this year, the province supported the cause by declaring that the grizzly hunt would end in the region. But some conservationists say the government has done little since the announcement as the hunting season went off as usual in the rainforest.

"I think we need to make this a campaign issue." said Neasloss. "There's an election coming up and I think that this needs to be quite high on the agenda because this is something that all the political parties have ignored for far too long."

On average, 300 grizzly bears are killed by hunters in B.C. every year. (The Associated Press)

Calls are also being made for a province-wide ban on the practice. Justice for B.C. Grizzlies, a collective of citizens concerned for the wellbeing of the province's grizzlies, is also hoping to make the hunt an election issue.

"We are galvanizing B.C. voters around the province," sad Val Murray, the organization's co-founder. "The social consciousness in the province is changing and we're going to capitalize on that between now and the election."

Murray says B.C.'s grizzly bears are under siege from hunting and highway collisions, and that the best way to protect the population is to ban the hunt altogether.

"We want it to end — forever," she said.

'A healthy population'

According to Jesse Zeman, a spokesperson for the B.C. Wildlife Federation, the grizzly hunt only targets regions where the populations are healthy and even subsidizes conservation efforts.

"We do have areas where we have bear populations that are at risk or in danger," he said, adding that licensing fees to hunt the bears actually goes towards restoring populations in those areas.

"We've put more money into grizzly bear inventory than any other jurisdiction in North America," he said

Zeman says hunters generate up to $200,000 a year for B.C. grizzly bear conservation and research.

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: British Columbians share their thoughts on the grizzly bear hunt