It’s time Canada did better by its bears

17 Aug It’s time Canada did better by its bears

The killing of a black bear by a US hunter with a spear in Alberta has caused public outrage.

What has shocked is not so much the cruelty involved – the bear survived it’s initial injuries and ran off into the forest before it died – but that the bear had been baited, and the act was totally legal.

The hunter, a fitness trainer from Ohio went on to celebrate his gory feat by posting a video of the killing on YouTube replete with self-congratulation and footage from a GoPro he had attached to the spear.

An Albertan guide outfitter was quoted as saying that he had “cojones” for being willing to approach the bear on foot, as it rummaged around a baited barrel that had been put out specifically for the purpose.

For a small minority, such a gruesome feat is something to crow about on social media.

Whether it is the trophy hunting of grizzly bears in British Columbia, or the bow-hunting of a baited black bear in Alberta, there are sites on the internet that pore over the details of the kill, boasting of the endeavour.

Increasingly, however, there is a chasm between this small minority and the rest of Canadians who see such practices as out-dated and morally repugnant.

Alberta banned the grizzly hunt more than a decade ago after the number of bears in the province fell to dangerously low numbers. But it still sanctions hunting black bears with bait.

In neighbouring British Columbia, trophy hunters still shoot upwards of 250 grizzly bears a year. Both major political parties in the province have had internal discussions about banning the hunt, but both fear losing a small clutch of rural voters that still support trophy hunting.

In BC the arguments against allowing grizzly hunting have become increasingly persuasive in recent years.

Bear-viewing, a growing industry in which tourists pay to visit specialised lodges where they can safely view wild bears, is now worth more than 10 times to the province what grizzly hunting is.

In a number of recent polls around 9 in 10 British Columbians have said they want to see grizzly hunting banned.

The government has so far stuck to its guns, so to speak. It defends the hunt by saying that it is scientifically sustainable.

But even that argument took a blow recently when official figures showed that a hunted population in the South Rockies had dropped by 40 per cent in less than decade under government management.

Poignantly some officials within the ministry that manages the hunt in British Columbia have said, unsurprisingly off the record, that the province spends more money managing the grizzly hunt than it takes in in revenues from the hunt.

If proven, that would mean that all British Columbians who pay taxes are, in effect, subsidizing grizzly hunting in their province.

As provincial elections in British Columbia near – they are due next spring – both the NDP and the Liberals have been jockeying for position with the electorate.

Meanwhile the Guide Outfitters Association, a body of commercial hunters that has deep roots in the province and a long-standing relationship with government, has been lobbying hard to keep the grizzly bear hunt alive.

In a recent press release it warned Canadians that if grizzlies were no longer hunted they would become more dangerous, an argument that flies in the face of science.

Debates over whether grizzly hunting in BC should be allowed to continue, and whether black bears in Alberta should be baited and killed with spears or bows are raging in small circles.

Environmentalists are furious with present policies and some warn that without change certain bears populations will disappear forever.

Trophy hunters fear that any erosion of their rights to shoot bears will lead to a wholesale onslaught by government on their rural lifestyles.

Wildlife managers spend days in endless meetings debating this and that minute change to hunting zones, seasons and what they term allowable harvest.

Meanwhile, however, out in the real world that is modern Canada, attitudes have changed.

Canadians were incensed last year when a US dentist shot Cecil, a prized African lion, who was lured out of a protected area and killed for its pelt.

The vast majority would certainly condone killing a bear in self-defence

Most are ready to accept culling in areas where animals overpopulate. But bears never do that because their biology means that they have less cubs in times of poor food availability.

But the concept of spearing, bow-hunting of even shooting a bear – an animal that is so iconic and one which Canada zealously promotes in its tourism marketing – just so its skin can become a rug and give its new owner something to boast about, is something most Canadians find unacceptable.

It’s time that we Canadians did better by our bears.


Julius Strauss runs a small bear-viewing operation in British Columbia. He is a member of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association which is campaigning for an end to grizzly bear hunting in the province.