Stephen Hume: 'Brutish' Columbia's trophy bear hunt puts us on display

Article from the Vancouver Sun by Stephen Hume

In another couple of weeks, from the Kootenays to the coast and the Spatsizi to the Okanagan, the spring bear hunt gets underway.

This opening occurs just as mother bears emerge from winter dens with their recently-born cubs.

Whoa! What better time for sporting types to grab high-powered weapons — non-resident trophy hunters are also required to hire a professional guide to lead them to the unsuspecting victims — and get out into the great outdoors to blast hungry grizzlies as they shake off the torpor of hibernation and start foraging for limited food supplies in easily identified areas.

Government regulators ask hunters to “please avoid harvesting female grizzly bears.” But while pumping bullets into a bear in a family group may be against the rules, blasting momma bear is OK — provided the rest of the family isn’t in the immediate picture.

A study published last winter found that almost a third of the 3,500 grizzlies shot by trophy hunters across British Columbia from 2001 to 2011 were females. Shooting a fertile female is the same as shooting all the cubs she might have borne, of course, which is presumably why the lead scientist on the study likened the practice to playing biological Russian roulette with species survival.

In other places, spring bear hunts are denounced as unethical because of the risk of shooting a mother bear when still-tiny cubs are hiding and can’t be seen, thus condemning them to a lingering death by starvation or, hopefully, a quick death from some other predator.

In 1999, Ontario suspended its spring hunt for black bears when it discovered that a shocking 274 cubs had been orphaned when their mothers were shot by hunters who were too quick on the trigger.

Suggest that this barbarous practice has outlived any economic rationale and government ministers froth cheerily about the $350 million that hunting contributes to the provincial economy every year and how vitally important trophy hunting is in preserving tradition.

That was the line that environment minister Steve Thomson took last September. He was quoted citing that figure by The Canadian Press. But last week, caught in the headlights of a legislative committee examining budget estimates, he sang a different song, one that had a lot fewer zerosin it.

How much direct revenue does the province actually earn from allowing trophy hunters to go out and kill grizzlies for the pleasure of posing with their corpses for photos?

Why, it’s $414,000, not $350 million.

Considered another way, the trophy hunt for grizzlies contributes about half as much to the economy as the government apportions to 19 cabinet ministers and their deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers as an executive car allowance.

And put even more succinctly, the province’s payback from trophy hunting among vulnerable grizzly bear populations amounts to 0.001 per cent of total provincial revenue.

By way of contrast, another recent study argues that the small and still relatively undeveloped bear-watching sector of nature tourism in the province already generates more than 12 times the revenue in visitor spending and 50 times the number of jobs generated by letting people kill grizzlies for fun.

Simple common sense observes that you only get to kill a bear once for your vanity photo with the corpse. t with a live bear, you can grab vanity selfies year after year for as long as its natural lifespan permits it to return to the viewing platform.