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Stephen Hume: It’s not hunting, and a grizzly head and paws are not trophies

 By Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun September 6, 2013

Stephen Hume: It’s not hunting, and a grizzly head and paws are not trophies
 Screen capture from Bear Witness: a film by BC’s Coastal First Nations.

Photograph by: Bears Forever , …

It’s time to end the miserable, demeaning trophy hunt for grizzly bears in this otherwise splendid province.

We should thank Clayton Stoner, I suppose, for inadvertently making himself the latest celebrity poster boy on the issue and thereby reminding us why trophy hunting is such a revolting sport.

Trophy hunting is killing magnificent animals for no other purpose than to pump up some so-called hunter’s pathetic ego.

I say “so-called” because potting grizzly bears as they amble down to British Columbia’s salmon rivers during the seasonal runs to fatten themselves up for hibernation has about as much in common with hunting as driving to the nearest farm and blasting cows when they come in to the feed barn.

As for the inferiority complexes that drive trophy hunting, well, really, what else can killing grizzly bears and then decorating your house with their preserved body parts, be about? If it’s not about making the shooter overcome some deep feeling of personal inadequacy, what need would it serve?

Most people, rightly, think it’s just plain creepy.

So if Stoner’s achieved nothing else, he’s reminded us that it’s time the provincial government sucked up its courage and stopped the trophy hunt. What’s government even doing endorsing frivolous thrill-seeking by a barbarous minority?

Trophy hunters were responsible for about two-thirds of the grizzly mortalities in B.C. each year, the last time I looked at the provincial government’s disheartening statistics. Grizzly bears, by the way, are listed federally as being of special concern because of growing threats to their survival. They’re already extinct in the Ungava region, hanging by a thread in Alberta and at risk in B.C.

Even if you take the most optimistic estimates for B.C.’s grizzly population, there are troublingly few — about 15,000 concentrated in several small areas, which makes them easy to hunt. But other bear experts say the numbers could be far less because the province has a habit of overestimating to justify its trophy hunt.

In the 1990s, when one of its own key wildlife biologists — a brave man — produced a paper challenging the methodology for estimating grizzly populations, the province seized all copies and suppressed it.

Calling for the trophy hunt for grizzlies to end is not an attack on hunting. It is an attack on a morally indefensible category of hunting.

I’ve hunted and killed big game and birds in my day. I support hunting and fishing. Hunting is actually part of the natural cycle; it’s part of our evolutionary and historical makeup as human beings. That’s why the right to hunt and fish has always been a fundamental element in every treaty negotiation with First Nations across this county and it’s why it behooves us to take seriously their requests for hunting restrictions on specific species and in areas where we’ve negotiated some shared control.

Most genuine hunters I know are deeply respectful of the wildlife they kill for food. Hunters were the genesis of most conservation policies in Canada. But killing an animal just for its head or its claws and then leaving the rest of the carcass to rot is something most of us find morally repugnant.

Of course, trophy hunting, despite the misnomer, is not about hunting as genuine hunters understand it.

Trophy hunting is about needing to take the life of a powerful creature so the killers can inflate their perceptions of their own strength and importance. These folk are too insensitive and self-absorbed to notice that the rest of us think it demonstrates how pitifully small the killing and display of animal trophies renders them.

So I wasn’t surprised to read that a recent poll shows the great majority of British Columbians are repelled by the idea of trophy hunting of any bears and that almost 90 per cent of us think government-promoted trophy hunting of grizzlies is just plain wrong.

Times change and social attitudes evolve.

It was once considered hilarious public entertainment to chain a bear to a post and set packs of dogs on it. Try that today and you’d go to jail.

It was once the practice in B.C. to pay a provincial bounty for every cougar, wolf and coyote killed regardless of season, circumstances or location. That finally ended because it turned out to be an utter failure as a predator management tool.

Apologists for trophy hunting argue that it’s a tool for population management. It’s not. It actually undercuts proper wildlife management. Plenty of research shows how systematically hunting the most mature and successful specimens in an animal population — trophy hunters want the biggest and the best, remember — damages gene pool diversity.

Hunt trophy animals consistently and future generations get smaller and are less able to compete for resources in their habitat. Some researchers suggest we’re already seeing evidence in fish populations and in brown bear populations in Alaska.

And there’s more to it. Research also shows that when trophy hunters start staking out the salmon rivers for their easy kills, bears learn to avoid their best fall food source, so trophy hunts also decrease the survival chances of bears that aren’t killed by reducing their nutrition and health.

Shooting out the prime males in a population is bad for the gene pool and therefore the survivability of the species. Anyone who tells you otherwise, outfitter, trophy hunter or politician, is shovelling bunkum.

What’s even more mystifying about the government’s insistence on supporting grizzly trophy hunting is that it represents a direct attack on one of the fastest growing, most economically valuable and sustainable sectors of the economy — ecotourism.

A study by the Raincoast Conservation Society showed that by 2003, people coming to B.C. simply to watch grizzly bears generated twice the annual revenue of all the guide outfitting associated with the grizzly trophy hunt.

And this sector has been growing at the rate of eight per cent per year.

Today, nature-based tourism generates about $1.5 billion a year for 1,600 operators and directly employs about 13,000 people. A mere $350 million of that total is hunting-related.

It’s not rocket science figuring out the baseline economics here. The revenue stream is with nature tourism, not the sector that’s busy exterminating the top end of the resource.

Believe me, the trophy hunt and the pittance in provincial revenues it generates is terrible public relations. It seriously undermines an industry that’s precisely the one we want to grow because it’s so sustainable over the long term.

Back in 1999, a score of the world’s leading professional biologists petitioned the B.C. government for a moratorium on grizzly bear hunting because population numbers had consistently been overestimated using questionable methodology. A moratorium was briefly imposed but then the government changed and it was almost immediately lifted, presumably to placate trophy hunting lobbyists.

Well, we don’t need a moratorium. We need to stop this disreputable practice. Hopefully British Columbians will let the government hear that, loud and clear.

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