The Great Bear Rainforest on Canada’s West Coast is one of the most pristine, spectacular and ecologically important areas of the world – home to a remarkable diversity of life.
Stretching up the coastal mainland of B.C. to the Alaska Panhandle, the Great Bear Rainforest has also been home to some of the longest running environmental debates this province and country has ever seen. But most recently – and perhaps most notably – it has become a battleground to save its namesake, the Great Bear.
In this rainforest, there are, in fact, two Great Bears. The vast tract of coastline is home to grizzly bears, as well as the genetically unique subspecies of black bear known as the Kermode or “spirit bear.” One out of every 10 black Kermode bears gives birth to a white bear. And today there are fewer than 400 – possibly as few as 200 – of these white bears remaining.
THE SPIRIT BEAR REMAINS THREATENED
To save the spirit bear is to protect a large and intact ecosystem in order to safeguard the bear’s unique gene pool. Today, two-thirds of this critical 250,000 hectare habitat is conserved from development. While more work remains to protect the final third of this ecosystem, the goodwill that has been created by the progress so far is threatened to be undone, in part, because the B.C. government continues to support the trophy hunting of grizzly and black Kermode bears on the BC coast.
The Spirit Bear Youth Coalition is not anti-hunting, especially when it comes to sustenance. In fact, hunters are often the environment’s best friend. That said, we strongly believe that the trophy hunting of bears in this one area is not economically sound, is bad bear management and runs against the grain of public opinion.
Many have outlined the case for stopping the grizzly bear hunt on the BC coast (www.pacific wild.org), but here’s one more reason. Most of the time, grizzly bears and Kermode bears – black or white – don’t reside in the same habitat, but this is starting to change. Combined with the catastrophic collapse of salmon runs last year and habitat loss, trophy hunting appears to have become the final breaking point for many grizzlies and is forcing the bears to move into Kermode habitat.
Aside from the new competition for salmon, white Kermode bears – who previously had no natural enemies – are increasingly being killed by grizzlies who are targeting the distinct-looking animals as both a nuisance and as prey.
BLACK BEARS NEED PROTECTION TOO
The hunting of black bears in this region is even more dubious. While it is illegal to shoot the rare, white Kermode or spirit bear, it is not illegal to hunt the black Kermode bear, even though it is part of the same family and produces the unique gene that creates the white spirit bear.
Put another way, you can’t save the white bear without the black bear and this oxymoronic policy – which applies to 98 per cent of the range of the Kermode subspecies, even in most protected areas, too (kermode-map-21-02-10-1-) – undermines any attempt to safeguard the gene pool of the bear that is the Official Mammal of British Columbia and what was one of the three mascots for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
If the sport hunting of bears was a significant economic generator for coastal communities, the government’s position might make more sense. But that is not the case. One single eco-tourism lodge in one inlet alone generated $3 million in direct revenue from bear viewing last year, with over $12 million in spin-off money staying in the region. That’s more than the entire sport hunting industry generated on the entire coast last year.
For this reason, many guide outfitters have been willing to sell their hunting licenses for their territories to environmental groups and First Nations, which means that if there were to be a bear hunt ban along the coast, only five remaining outfitters would be affected.
Now, environmental groups and First Nations could continue to buy up the licenses. But the problem is that the B.C. government enforces kill quotas. That means that even if the hunting rights to a particular territory are purchased in full by an environmental organization, if a predetermined number of bears aren’t killed that season then the government can, without compensation, award the license to someone else.
NO SUPPORT FOR HUNT
Public opinion is decidedly on the side of stopping the trophy hunt. In a recent poll in the Vancouver Sun, commissioned by Pacific Wild and the Humane Society International/Canada, 78 per cent of British Columbians opposed trophy hunting for bears in the Great Bear Rainforest. Coastal First Nations are also strongly opposed to bear trophy hunting because it is inconsistent with their values and jeopardizes the sustainable bear viewing operations they are working to support.
The B.C. government has staked considerable political capital on accommodating First Nations on land-use issues like this one, in the hopes of creating what it has trumpeted as a “New Relationship.”
The fact that Coastal First Nations have never been consulted in the past when the government set bear-hunt quotas or been asked permission to grant hunting licenses in their traditional territories is nothing short of shocking.
By not stopping the hunt in this one area, the Campbell government is running the real risk of hurting its signature policy, aboriginal recognition and reconciliation, before it is even officially tabled.
So, why is the BC government allowing the hunt to continue?
That is a question we all need to ask.
After all, everyone has invested in the protection of this region and we all deserve better, most especially the bears.
PLEASE MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD TODAY!
2) SMS text “NOTROPHYHUNT” to 21-21-21
4) Ask your friends and family to act now to save the spirit bear by making their voice heard
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