B.C. grizzly hunt is “difficult to defend,” warns biologist hired by the Safari Club

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2002:

VANCOUVER, B.C.–Animal rights groups, a European Union
scientific panel, and a top bear biologist hired by Safari Club
International are agreed: British Columbia grizzly bears could
disappear if hunters keep killing them at the current rate.
But, aligned with the hunting and guiding industry, the
governments of Canada and British Columbia are still determined to
keep grizzly bear hunting open.
The European Union suspended issuing import permits for B.C.
grizzly bear trophies in November 2001.


Responded Environment Canada wildlife traffic expert Bertrand
von Arx, to Kate Jaimet of the Ottawa Citizen, “I’m going to send a
reply to explain the situation and provide all the scientific
information. Then hopefully the scientific authorities in the E.U.
will change their opinion. If they don’t, we’re not talking about
science any more; we’re talking about politics.”
The European Union scientific panel concluded last year that,
“The hunt does not appear to be based on sound biological data, and
it is not clearly demonstrated that the harvest level is sustainable.”
Preparing to help defend the hunt, Safari Club International
hired Nunavut polar bear biologist Mitchell Taylor to review the
available data.
Safari Club International, based in Tucson, claims to
represent 45 million hunters worldwide. Nunavut is a Native
American-controlled Canadian territory whose economy is heavily
geared to sport hunting. Taylor is himself a “bigtime” hunter, he
told Nicholas Read of the Vancouver Sun.
But Taylor concluded that B.C. grizzly bears are indeed in
big trouble. B.C. Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection
large carnivore expert Matt Austin estimates that B.C. has 14,000 to
19,000 grizzly bears, while other investigators believe the
population is down to 4,000 or fewer.
In the early 1990s, trophy hunters killed 400 to 500 B.C.
grizzlies per year, but the toll since 1996 has reportedly falled to
an average of 95 grizzlies killed per year by foreigners and 135
killed by Canadians.
The B.C. government does not “have the financial resources to
set aside areas for conservation, or even to conduct the research
required to manage the ongoing activities,” Taylor explained to
Read. “So most of the responses to environmental concerns have been
superficial rather than substantive,” Taylor continued. “It’s
difficult to defend hunting practices, given some of the deficient
information.”
SCI conservation committee member Bruce Mincher supported
Taylor. “I think we have to acknowledge that what Mitch has come up
with is accurate,” Mincher said. “In a nutshell, grizzly bear
research has been underfunded, and is expensive.”
Said Taylor, “Elimination of grizzly bear hunting will not
save the grizzly bear. It will only slow its decline.”
Taylor and SCI did not recommend that trophy hunters should
stop killing grizzly bears in British Columbia, but Taylor did
suggest that maintaining good enough track of the grizzly population
to sustain a trophy hunting industry would require a 10-year
investment in biological research of as much as $20 million (Canadian
funds).
Reported Taylor, “There is a perception [among B.C. Forest
Service and Wildlife Branch officials] that conservation of grizzly
bears is not and will never be a high priority of government because
of conflicts with economic development and recreation (including
hunting) interests.”
British Columbia has offered the most accessible and least
expensive locale for shooting grizzly bear trophies throughout the
20th century, but by 1996 enough people had noticed that the bears
were becoming few that the Western Canada Wilderness Committee was
able to gather 90,000 signatures on a petition to put a proposed ban
on grizzly hunting on the provincial ballot. Although qualifying for
the ballot would have taken 220,000 signatures, the petition drive
put the decline of grizzly bears on the B.C. political agenda.
The Environmental Investigation Agency, of London, U.K.,
brought international attention to the issue with a September 1998
call for a moratorium on B.C. grizzly hunting. The EIA findings were
reinforced just a day later when someone within the B.C. Wildlife
Branch leaked to news media a scientific paper by senior staff
habitat biologist Dionys de Leeuw which concluded that there was “no
ecological, biological, ethical or social justification for
continuing to hunt grizzly bears.” The Wildlife Branch had tried to
restrict distribution to 91 senior wildlife managers and scientists.
By October 1998, the proposed moratorium was endorsed by 44
environmental and animal protection groups and–according to
polls–up to 76% of the B.C. electorate.
Then-B.C. environment minister Cathy McGregor in February
1999 closed spring grizzly bear hunting in eight parts of the East
Kootenay and Peace River regions, to prevent cubs from becoming
orphaned. Then-B.C. premier Glen Clark did not push stronger
measures at the time, but 10 months after passing the premiership to
fellow New Democrat Ujjal Dosanjh in August 1999, Clark
unsuccessfully introduced a private member’s bill to ban grizzly
hunting entirely.
As the EIA threatened to seek an international ban on the
export of grizzly bear trophies at the 2002 meeting of the Convention
on International Trade on Endangered Species, Environment Canada
hired independent bear biologist Wayne McCrory to assess the issue.
McCrory reported in January 2001 that, as he summarized to
Kate Jaimet of the Ottawa Citizen, “My professional opinion is that
the [foreign trophy] hunt will be, and has been, harmful to the
survival of grizzly bear populations. You add it to the resident
hunt, and you add it to the poaching, and in some instances it
appears to me that it has pushed and will continue to push grizzly
populations over the edge.”
But McCrory’s findings have also been ignored.
Near the end of his term, Dosanjh imposed a three-year
moratorium on hunting grizzlies in February 2001, but Nisga’a Nation
fish and wildlife director Harry Nyce announced immediately that his
tribe would claim aboriginal treaty rights to continue selling guided
trophy hunts, stirring other tribes to discuss doing the same, and
the Liberal Party made lifting the moratorium part of their election
platform. The moratorium was lifted soon after present B.C. prime
minister Glen Campbell succceeded Dosanjh in June 2001.

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