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British Columbia bans grizzly hunt

All-out ban angers guide outfitters

A grizzly looks up in this 2015 Alaska file photo.

Becky Bohrer/AP

A grizzly looks up in this 2015 Alaska file photo.

British Columbia has ended all grizzly bear hunting for good.

Monday's announcement comes four months after the NDP vowed it would be the last season to kill B.C.'s largest land animal for trophies — body parts or furs kept as souvenirs — although it allowed them to be hunted for meat.

Now the NDP announced it is immediately banning hunting grizzlies entirely.

"Our government promised that we would listen to the people of B.C. and that their input would be taken into account," Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, told reporters by telephone from Hazelton. "… It's abundantly clear that most British Columbians do not support the killing of grizzly bears.

"Our government continues to support hunting activity in the province, and we recognize that hunting is important to many people."

After fall consultations, he said 78 per cent of respondents across B.C. wanted a full ban. That's a similar figure to an Insights West opinion poll commissioned by anti-hunting groups in August, which found even most hunters want grizzly trophy hunting stopped.

While the NDP garnered some Indigenous and environmentalists' praise for its Aug. 14 trophy ban, others questioned why one final season of the hunt should proceed if conservation was truly their rationale.

Heiltsuk nation member Jessie Housty, on the bear working group of Coastal First Nations, commended the ban as an "important step toward reconciliation."

"Our cultures and economies are tied directly to the health of the ecosystems in our territories," she wrote in a statement. "Bears are an integral part of these ecosystems."

But the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C.'s executive director, Scott Ellis, told Metro that although they knew the NDP vowed to end the hunt during the election, his members were blind-sided by a complete ban after being consulted only on trophy versus meat hunting since August, before which they hadn't been consulted at all.

He added that 27 First Nations-owned grizzly hunting businesses are part of his organization.

"It's important that we elect a government to make the best decisions with best information available," Ellis said in a phone interview. "When that gets thrown out the window, and politics and emotions get involved, it's very difficult.

"I don't care whether we're talking about childcare, tolls, Site C, or grizzly bears — we need a government to make good decision based on the facts and best available science."

Donaldson countered that the organization should not be surprised by the direction on the hunt taken by the B.C. NDP government.

"We gave them a transition period throughout the fall until Nov. 30," he argued. "This announcement was part of our platform a year ago."

He added his government plans to speak with GOABC businesses to discuss "measures to help them deal with the end of the hunt and the impact that will have on their business," including opportunities in the "quickly increasing grizzly viewing industry."

The public opinion polling firm Insights West surveyed 817 B.C. adults online in August — commissioned by the anti-trophy hunting Lush Cosmetics and the Commercial Bear Viewing Association — and found that 74 per cent of British Columbians want a total ban on grizzly hunting, with just 19 per cent wanting the hunt to continue.

Even three-in-five self-described hunters — who make up 11 per cent of the province, Insights West found — said they support banning all grizzly bear hunting. (The margin of error was 3.5 per cent).

Ellis rejected the poll as biased by its anti-hunting funders.

There has also been dispute over how at-risk the population is in B.C., where there are an estimated 15,000 grizzly bears, according to government experts. But some have questioned the accuracy of the data, while others said more research is needed.

"We've got robust populations; they're growing in density and range and they're in places we've not seen (grizzlies) before, at least in the last couple hundred years," Ellis said. "The science around the population is as strong as it can be … But this is a departure from science."

Although many hunters oppose grizzly trophy hunting, their association — the B.C. Wildlife Federation — opposed the earlier trophy ban as "out of touch with hunters and sustainable use in B.C." that would only help "delegitimizing" hunting for other species.

The previous B.C. Liberal government promised during the election end trophy hunting of grizzlies but only in the Great Bear Rainforest region on the B.C. coast, after First Nations there expressed anger at grizzlies being killed for sport and trophy body parts.

Donaldson also vowed to heed the recommendations of the Auditor General's October report, which found a lack of planning around grizzly management by B.C. and concluded that "The greatest threat to grizzly bears is not hunting, but rather, human activities that degrade grizzly habitat."

—With files from Matt Kieltyka.

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