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Bear Witness: Film takes aim at Grizzly Hunt by Damien Gillis

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PostedSeptember 5, 2013 by Damien Gillis in BC

A new, 22-min documentary film released earlier this week by Coastal First Nations – a coalition of aboriginal bands which has led the campaign against the proposed Enbridge pipeline and tankers – aims to kill the grizzly trophy hunt on BC’s central coast.

“Bear Witness” tells the story of “Cheeky”, a grizzly well-liked by locals who was killed by hunters in the Great Bear Rainforest, his carcass abandoned to rot in Kwatna Estuary. The film also features a photo of BC-born NHL player Clayton Stoner posing with the paws and head of the dead bear.

Hockey star-hunter targeted

While the province had issued Stoner a legal permit, the coastal First Nations on whose territory the hunt occurred have banned the practice on their lands.

“I applied for and received a grizzly bear hunting licence through a British Columbia limited-entry lottery last winter and shot a grizzly bear with my licence while hunting with my father, uncle and a friend in May,” Stoner told media, in response to the controversy generated by the film.

I love to hunt and fish and will continue to do so with my family and friends in British Columbia.

The provocative film was designed to spearhead the First Nations’ campaign to pressure the government into respecting their trophy hunting ban. Its release has generated considerable media attention, putting Stoner and the controversial practice in the spotlight.

Chief Bob Chamberlin, Vice-President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs had strong words for trophy hunting after viewing the film. “It is atrocious to see such waste, and to see such a majestic creature just taken for its fur,” he told The Tyee. “I thought we as a society were moving past our barbaric ways, and were starting to look at things from an ecosystem approach to everything.”

Science unclear

The minister responsible for regulating the trophy hunt, Steve Thomson, showed little intention of complying with Coastal First Nations’ wishes when reached for comment this week:

As we did last fall, we would ask that [Coastal First Nations] respect the province’s authority over the harvest. It’s a harvest that is based on best available science…We believe we have a good management regime in place and we would ask that they respect that.

Provincial estimates peg grizzly populations at 15,000 – far below the 120,000-160,000 for black bears. Yet the methodology for arriving at these figures has been questioned.

A 2012 statement co-authored by four of BC’s top bear biologists – Wayne McCrory, Dr. Paul Paquet, Dr. Lance Craighead and Erica Mallam – declared:

We are now among the many scientists who say no grizzlies should be killed in BC by sport hunters because some BC grizzly populations are already at great risk of extinction. The ‘precautionary principle’ that all biologists should adhere to also dictates that the grizzly hunt should end.

The statement goes on to explain how experts retained by the government to assess the risks of the trophy hunt were later dismissed when their findings didn’t jive the the ministry’s wishes:

For four years, several of us were members of the former grizzly advisory panel, charged with the task of implementing the provincial government’s grizzly bear conservation strategy. Our hard work and recommendations were largely ignored. Not liking what we had to say, the provincial government disbanded our panel and formed a new one, perhaps in the hope of getting more “acceptable” recommendations.

The grizzly trophy hunt has been attacked for years, yet little has changed in terms of government policy. But with the media attention now surrounding this new film and campaign – not to mention the movement’s discovery of an inadvertent “poster child” in Stoner – it’s conceivable that the controversial hunt may be on its last legs. Especially considering the formidable campaign many of these same First Nations have led against Enbridge.

If they can stop Big Oil, the trophy hunt should be a cinch.

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