On Thin Ice

December 18, 2017—The British Columbia government, at the behest of reportedly 78 percent of its residents, ended all grizzly bear hunting for residents and non-resident sportsmen.

“Through consultations this past fall, we have listened to what British Columbians have to say on this issue and it is abundantly clear that the grizzly hunt is not in line with their values,” said Doug Donaldson, minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

If you let this news sink in for a moment there is but one conclusion to be drawn, hunting is not as secure as it once was or we thought. British Columbia—what many considered a sportsmen’s paradise of wilderness offering 19 species of North American big game, a go-to destination for some of the most epic outdoor adventures on this continent, and what we thought was a predominantly rural province that embraces hunting—is now somehow different.

This was not a sudden move. It had been brewing for quite some time, and it did not happen without a fight. All the rational agreements were brought to the fore. The grizzly bear population, the most closely managed species in British Columbia, is not threatened. There are an estimated 15,000 bears. The annual hunter harvest of 2 percent of this population is well below a scientifically proven sustainable level of 6 percent. The conservation values and economic benefits to rural economies of having a grizzly hunt were calculated, published and re-published. None of this mattered. The people of British Columbia spoke, and their government, admitting this decision had nothing to do with the scientific evidence, responded.

In August, Minister Donaldson said, “It’s not about the numbers. It’s a matter of society has come to the point in BC where they are no longer in favor of the grizzly bear trophy hunt.” Similarly, in the auditor general’s report, Carol Bellringer stated, “The greatest threat to grizzly bears is not hunting, but rather, human activities that degrade grizzly habitat.”

Why are we talking about this on a website dedicated to fair chase and hunting ethics? Unfortunately, it’s not because our ethics would have necessarily saved grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia. This would have been too little, too late. It’s because far too many within our ranks still think hunting is secure, therefore why worry? “Hunting is my right; what other people think doesn’t matter; or they’re just misinformed and emotional,” are common reactions. The prevailing response from these same people is; “Hunt how you want to hunt; if it’s legal, then go for it, and don’t tell me otherwise.” However, with regard to British Columbia, this public “no more grizzly hunting” vote was fueled and inflamed by images and videos that hunters posted online, particularly bear kill-shot videos and field photos—that which used to be harmless proof of success we shared with each other.

The loss of grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia is not the first, nor sadly will it likely be the last—it’s certainly not the last attempt. California banned all mountain lion hunting; a voter ballot initiative in Washington and Oregon ended baiting bears and using hounds for bear and mountain lion hunting. A ballot initiative in Maine to stop all bear hunting in that state nearly passed, and a ballot initiative is underway right now in Arizona to ban mountain lion hunting there. We’ve already seen the battle over a state’s ability to manage wolves, which would include regulated hunting, and the battle to de-list the grizzly in a portion the Lower 48 states is just now set for the long haul.

One could say the pattern here is obvious—and would be right: folks are going after bear and cat hunting one state or province at a time. One could also say the low public approval rating for the notion of trophy hunting is making this all possible. Right again. One could also conclude this is all the doing of animals rights and anti-hunting groups. Here you would be half right. One could say, what’s happening in British Columbia or another state or in Africa doesn’t affect me—“I don’t hunt there, I don’t hunt grizzly bears, and they’ll never be successful in doing away with deer, or elk, or sheep or moose.” Here you would be wrong.

What’s missing, and the point of this article is, no matter what our traditions or heritage; no matter how much sportsmen have done for wildlife conservation and the fact that hunting is an irreplaceable mechanism for conservation; and no matter what science says, the game has changed, and it has changed on our watch. What we are now facing is a public morality/political science issue, and hunters are the minority vote. How do we keep these waves from crashing on our shore is a tough question, but one we must answer.

A good place to start is, “The best way to solve a problem is admitting you have one.”