Grizzly Bears Under the Gun – Again

By Staff Writers

A government-sanctioned trophy hunt for grizzly bears in the province of BC commenced September 1st, despite growing evidence that the hunt is unsustainable and growing opposition from the public.

On July 16, 2001, just one month after he was sworn in, Premier Gordon Campbell, overturned a three year province-wide moratorium on the sport hunt of grizzly bears announced by the previous NDP government in February 2001.

In its place, the Liberal government announced a number of regional moratoriums and the formation of a scientific review panel established under the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection (MWLAP). In the press release of the day, the Liberal government announced that MLWAP biologists confirmed the existence of “at least 13,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia.”

The Grizzly Bear Scientific Panel is charged with reviewing methods currently used to estimate grizzly bar populations as well as issues relevant to grizzly bear conservation such as clear cut logging. The panel will make its final report to government by December 31, 2002.

Just last month, a July 2002, an internal discussion paper entitled Atrophy in British Columbia Bear Management was leaked to The Vancouver Sun, in which a MWLAP biologist from Terrace, BC, warned that the BC Liberal government could be jeopardizing all wildlife management in the province by continuing to support the annual grizzly bear hunt.

MWLAP biologist Dionys de Leeuw, said that the negative impact of grizzly hunting has on all hunting in the province could damage genuine public support for all wildlife conservation.

de Leeuw, warned that because the government ignored widespread public opposition against the grizzly hunt, the public may become cynical and ignore all government initiatives on behalf of wildlife, no matter how well-intentioned.

“In North America, the purpose of wildlife management has traditionally been to provide game for hunters and BC is no exception. In the case of grizzly bears, any management of this species will be increasingly regarded by the vast majority as only providing animals for a miniscule number of hunters to participate in a contemptible sport.

“Viewed in this way, continuation of the trophy hunt may have the unfortunate consequence of grizzly management atrophying. Why should anyone support a wildlife management regime that encourages an activity the vast majority find repugnant?

“At a time when government spending is at an all-time low, any further decrease in public support will spell doom for all wildlife management, including management and protection of grizzlies.” wrote de Leeuw.

Inconclusive data
In an earlier paper, de Leeuw, cites inconsistencies in government data that estimates grizzly bear populations at 5,000 to 8,000 in 1972, to 6,000 to 7,000 in 1979, and 10,000 to 13,000 in 1995, without any credible scientific explanation to support the population estimates.

In his latest report, de Leeuw, said that by defending the grizzly hunt, the government and hunters are “actively working against all hunting” and tarnishing British Columbia’s international reputation.
“All the BC public … will be held in contempt ‘by association’ for participating in a society that continues to allow this hunt.

It is like supporting bear or tiger baiting, dog or bull fights, and other abusive animal entertainments.

“We will be viewed as a culture that both condones reprehensible abuse of animals, and is unable to accommodate the interests of the majority who justifiably want to change that abuse.”

A grizzly controversy

A 2001 Compas poll found that 76 per cent of all British Columbians, including 78 per cent of Liberal voters, support a moratorium on grizzly sport hunting.

The hunt, which commenced last fall, kills about 300 bears per year.
It’s quite the little controversy.

On December 3, 2001, after an 18-month inquiry, Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis, ordered that MWLAP, the BC biodiversity ministry, must release precise grizzly kill location data to Raincoast Conservation Society.

Loukidelis ruled that MWLAP had not established that releasing the data “could reasonably be expected to damage grizzly bears or interfere with their conservation.”

Going beyond simply ordering the information released the Commissioner commented on the ministry’s underlying motivation to object “to disclosure on the basis that the disputed information will be used to publicly criticize the work of the Ministry.”

Raincoast wants to submit the data to a panel of independent scientists so they could use it to review the hunt on what Raincoast said would be an impartial manner.

Raincoast, a non profit organization promoting research and public information with the goal of protecting the Great Bear Rainforest to ensure the long-term survival of coastal ecosystems and their dependant life forms such as grizzly bears and wild salmon.

Raincoast has been fighting the provincial government for years over precise location kill data for years, arguing that government data is inconclusive and real estimates of the grizzly bear population range from 4,000 to13,000 bears.

On November 29, 2001, days before Commissioner Loukidelis ordered MWLAP to release the data to Raincoast, the European Union (EU) banned the import of grizzly bear hunt trophies from BC, citing that the hunt was unsustainable.

The fifteen EU countries leading wildlife experts had been reviewing BC grizzly management regime and found that the hunt was unsustainable as a species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES).

Over 50 per cent grizzlies killed in BC are shot by foreign hunters with 35 per cent of European origin and the species is officially classed “at risk” throughout its dwindling range in Canada.

Then on January 15, 2002, the BC Liberal government, judicially challenged the Commissioner’s order for the release of the grizzly kill data, on the heels of the provincial Finance Committee recommendation that the budget of the over-stretched Commissioner’s Office be slashed by 35 per cent.

The government was joined by the Guide-Outfitters Association of BC, in the Supreme Court in May to keep exact kill locations. The Liberal government argues that it wants to keep the information secret to:
- keep anti-hunt activists from disrupting a legal hunt
- encourage hunters to continue to provide information on hunting sites to the ministry
- prevent poachers from going to sites where bears have reportedly been killed

But in his ruling, Loukidelis wrote that, “It is entirely appropriate for an applicant – and especially public interest groups – to exercise the right of access under the [Freedom of Information] Act in order to obtain information for the purpose of assessing and criticizing the performance of government.”

Raincoast director Chris Genovell commented: “I think clearly the government have something to hide and they have gone to extra lengths to keep this information suppressed and secret.

“They are spending taxpayers’ dollars on challenging [Loukidelis'] order and that’s hypocritical given what the Liberals said during the election that they would be the most open and transparent government in Canada.”

Raincoast lawyer Randy Christensen said he believes the involvement of the guide-outfitters is a delaying tactic to keep the data secret for as long as possible.

“Our concern is the longer this information is delayed, the less likely it is that the scientific panel will see it.”