First Nations' Bear-Hunt Ban Pits Aboriginals Against British Columbia Government


Ten First Nations from British Columbia’s coast have formed a coalition and banned trophy bear hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest, though the province does not seem inclined to enforce it.

The ban's area comprises lands twice the size of Vancouver Island, The Globe and Mail reported. Although unenforceable by the First Nations, the ban made enough of a statement to perturb provincial authorities and hunting guides, The Globe and Mail said.

The rainforest, 27,000 square miles of wilderness, is home to the grizzly and black bears, among other species. The rainforest is kept in stewardship by Heiltsuk First Nation, which watches over the bears, according to the Nature Conservancy.

“Because we have not ceded any of this land to anybody, we feel that we have a voice and should have a voice in how these lands are managed and this includes the bear hunt,” said William Housty, a spokesman for the coalition, to the Canadian Press.

Scott Ellis, executive director of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C., told The Globe and Mail that his group was not comfortable with the ban, even knowing that the province is not likely to support it.

“Our concern is that people without jurisdiction are unilaterally deciding something like this,” he said. “Hunting has been going on, on the north and central coast, for more than 100 years, and the bear populations are healthy.”

But it’s not just about the bear population numbers, Housty said.

"It goes against our cultural beliefs and values of management of our territories and bears in particular, and because we have an increasing presence on our land with research projects, with our people reconnecting to the land, it doesn't make sense to have hunters in the same area," he told the Canadian Press.

Bear-watching guides and First Nations leaders said they have been lobbying the British Columbia government for years to stop the hunt.

“Despite years of effort by the Coastal First Nations to find a resolution to this issue with the province this senseless and brutal trophy hunt continues,” said bear watching guide and Chief Doug Neasloss, of the Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation, in a statement. “We will now assume the authority to monitor and enforce a closure of this senseless trophy hunt.”

Provincial officials said that although they are open to dialogue with First Nations, the government does not support the ban. Trophy bear hunting brings $350 million annually to the province, said B.C. Minister of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson to the Canadian Press. He also pointed out that more than 58 percent of First Nations territory on the coast is off-limits for hunting grizzlies and that the permitted hunting elsewhere is managed with ecological sensitivity.

"We believe that the current hunt is sustainable and is managed based on sound science," he told the Canadian Press.

However, the fact that trophy hunters tend to leave bear carcasses in the woods does not help the tribes’ efforts to boost eco-tourism, Housty pointed out to The Globe and Mail.

“Our people on the coast are leaning towards ecotourism and we don’t see this as a good fit,” he told the newspaper. “A lot of bears are shot in estuaries, in the fall when the salmon are running … the skin and head and claws are taken, but the carcasses are just left there. It’s gruesome.”