A Park for Killing

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This past long weekend I traveled by speedboat up Burke Inlet to the Kwatna River–The Kwatna watershed is a powerhouse in the world of grizzly bear strongholds with its vast sedge-filled estuary and Sitka spruce floodplain forest surrounded by snow-capped granite mountains.

The lower portion of the valley was recently celebrated as one of the newly protected conservancies in the Great Bear Rainforest.  By all accounts it should be the perfect place to view wildlife in a wild setting.

Upon entering the inlet I am met out in the bay by Jason Moody, one of the Nuxalk Bear Patrol Watchmen from Bella Coola.  Son of the late Nuxalk Chief Qwatsinas, Jason is one of a core group of First Nations who are involved in stewardship and monitoring throughout the Great Bear Rainforest.  Jason informs me that two groups of trophy hunters have just been dropped off and as I scan the estuary I can see the fully camouflaged hunters working their way up the river.

Jason’s presence here uncovers what appears to be the illegal transportation of one of the groups of hunters.   It is illegal under the Wildlife Act for resident hunters to pay for transportation from someone without a valid transporting license.   This law ensures that only licensed guide outfitters, or those with a valid transport license, can legally move hunters in BC.

The hunters upriver have just come from the mainland community of Bella Coola and while the remote town has made progress in recent years transitioning from a resource liquidation economy to one that values natural capital I am reminded that it still suffers from the reputation of being the bear killing capital of B.C.

Some things have changed though.  A newly constructed bear viewing platform just upriver of Bella Coola, overlooking the Atnarko river, is offering people a close-up viewing experience of coastal grizzlies as they feed for salmon.  Each year more and more businesses and guides are developing wildlife viewing businesses that contributes millions of dollars to the local economy, and it is estimated to triple in value in the coming years.

Saying goodbye to Jason, I travel with the rising tide up the estuary.   The joy of being in a river system like this in the peak of spring has been replaced by the painful anticipation of rifle shots and dead wildlife.  Scanning the estuary I find two white faces peering out of the dark edge of the rainforest.  They are in a blind with a commanding view of the bears’ favourite sedge meadows.  I can see the stainless barrels and hi-powered scopes poking through the spruce and cedar boughs.    What should be a simple call to the local Conservation Officer Service in Williams Lake reporting poachers in a park turns to frustration.   Because here, in the middle of the Great Bear Rainforest, in a fully legislated Conservancy area (that is meant to be managed as a Class A Provincial park), it is perfectly legal to hunt wolves, bears and other carnivores.

A bear emerges from the estuary between my boat and the hidden hunters.  I am in a good location anchored in the middle of the estuary and I can access almost all parts of it with my flat-bottomed boat.   A mom and her large three-year old cub with heads down, appear to begin grazing on sedge further down from me.   I can see the hunters nervously glancing from me to the bears and I wonder if they would risk a shot with me so close.   Another lone female appears briefly.  It is not illegal to kill a female grizzly bear and although frowned upon by government, it is estimated that over 30% of bears killed on the coast are female.   Another estimate that gets thrown about and should be of concern to anyone traveling in parks where trophy hunting is allowed, is that 20% of bears shot at and hit are never recovered.  This dramatically increases human safety concerns as there is a good chance that a bear in a park may be wounded.

I consider chasing the bears off but I worry that it might put them closer to the rifles instead of further apart.   Daylight slowly fades and I stay anchored in the middle of the estuary for the night.

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First light has two wolves coming from up-river; each one takes a bank of a side channel, hoping for a Sitka black-tailed deer or a sleepy Canada goose.   The human hunters are back in their hidden blind.  Perhaps they never left.  They have the advantage of being downwind of the wolves  I start the engine and move up a side channel to push the wolves to the opposite side of the river.   Their reddish coats contrast against the bright luminescent sedge fields.  Again I see nervous glances coming from the forest edge between the wolves and me.   Wolves, such as these are considered a bonus for trophy hunters, a species that can be killed with no special permit or mandatory reporting requirements.  Basically they are classified as vermin to the B.C. government.  Even a goose, duck or deer hunter has to buy a special permit to kill any of those species, but for wolves no special permits are required.  Today, at least these two wolves will see another sun rise.

Herding wolves and bears away from trophy hunters in a park is absurd and I wonder why it should have to happen at all.   What exactly are these so called “protected areas” actually protecting?   Parks, such as this, are places that the majority of British Columbians and countless people abroad, believe offer a certain basic level of protection for wildlife.

We were told a few years back by the Provincial government that the trophy hunt, even in protected areas, is too important economically to rural economies to shut down.  Even though bear viewing as a growth industry generates more revenue and employs more British Columbians – by far – than bear killing.

Nevertheless we rose to the occasion and the local guide-outfitting license here in the Bella Coola area was purchased and the guide outfitter was fairly compensated and the commercial incentive to continue the hunt was ostensibly taken off the table.  The follow up  meeting with the Minister of Environment to explain that the commercial incentive was now  eliminated (at least for part of the coast) and that a new economy based on wildlife viewing could be actively supported.   But the previous Minister of Environment, Barry Penner didn’t blink when he said that the bear hunt will continue, even in parks, because  it is “scientifically managed”.   No mention of jobs, no mention of where this so called peer-reviewed science to support the hunt came from.  No mention of the ethical considerations of killing animals for sport in parks.  No mention of the opposition to this anachronistic practice by the majority of British Columbians including a significant number of subsistence hunters.

Of course government science in B.C. for the most part, includes tallying the trophy hunter comment cards at the end of each season that apparently indicate how many bears are roaming the wilds of our province.    Like the recent dismantling of the Forest Act and other protective measures that once safeguarded our ancient forests, our forests and wildlife are now managed under a “results-based code.” 

The recently protected conservancies in the Great Bear remain “paper parks” while trophy hunters are allowed to kill bears and other wildlife for sport.

The 2012 coastal trophy hunt continues through June and starts up again in September.   We will continue to witness, document and confront along with the Guardian Watchmen, the Coastal Grizzly Patrol and others.    Please make your voice heard so we can see celebrate the day that coastal wildlife are afforded true sanctuary.

Ian McAllister

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  1. #1 by Stacey Gaiga on May 30, 2012 - 1:20 am

    I haven’t read any updates here for a very, very long time and once again, my heart is pulled to down to hell on earth.
    I can’t believe there isn’t an army of people doing something to stop this insanity. What kind of person hunts carnivores? Bears and Wolves? Worse, what kind of insane government do we have in Canada that condones such behaviour? I always knew Barry Penner was an idiot but, this is beyond anything I’ve heard of about this pathetic excuse for a human being.
    Thank God for you Ian, and for all those who continue to be a true guardian for these sentient beings.
    Stacey

  2. #2 by John E Marriott on May 30, 2012 - 2:07 pm

    Ian, a sad commentary on the state of affairs on the coast this spring (and every spring). Not a good scene here in Alberta either, where our provincial gov’t continues to believe their own brand of ‘science’ and allow road-building and logging in critical core habitat areas in the SW part of the province while our grizzlies go the way of the dodo bird. Thanks again for all the hard work you do.

  3. #3 by jan on June 6, 2012 - 10:14 pm

    What an anxious time for you. June 15th can’t come any too quick. Maybe set up some trailcams to see where the hunters are. After all hunters use them. I live in northern b.c. and have had an opportunity to see these magnificent creatures. Luckily for me there is no hunt in our region. I have decided to get to know the enemy, the rules and regulations around hunts so I can be ears and eyes for our conservation officer. I try and get ‘out back’ as often as I can and be nosy. I have reported 2 dead black bears that were tossed so far this year. So what I’ve learned in the hunting guide is that it is asked of hunters to NOT take a female with cubs. To leave families alone. So they have no right to stalk a female with cubs. As far as the illegal transport of hunters, I hope this was pursued. Until we ban the hunt we can’t legally do anything to stop them but perhaps sometimes we can use the law to our advantage.

  4. #4 by leah Mitchell on June 8, 2012 - 7:59 am

    Thank you for documenting this

  5. #5 by Emillie on July 4, 2012 - 8:51 am

    I think all trophy hunters should get stuffed!! It is a crime to be killing off any creature of nature. There is no safe place for wildlife these days, not even in “protected areas”.
    BC has more beauty and natural resources than most anywhere and should be protected for the future and economy of BC, not raped and pillaged for monetary gain of a bunch of crooks who live somewhere else.
    Changes to the Forest Act is disheartening. Killing and logging, oil pipelines and Japan’s floating debris are all issues of destruction. Knowing that there are people like Ian out there keeping trophy hunters at bay, if only for a day, is one positive.

  6. #6 by Maya Tatuch on July 23, 2012 - 12:40 pm

    Thank you for this! I am ashamed to live in Canada when I hear stuff like this. People have to get together and we have to start doing something about this.

  7. #7 by Cook on August 30, 2012 - 8:00 am

    I admire your devotion to the grizzly bears, But Your wasting your time.
    Do you really think that grizzly tours are going to generate income? Especially in a town that has been slowly DEGRESSING for years?
    We went to bella coola a few weeks ago not ONE single grizzly bear tour was available. Every single one we asked was broken, Mostly to due with the towns income.

    also how many people do you tihnk are going to want to drive that far to go view bears? When they can do it in much much closer areas. Not to mention i doubt very many people will pay to FLY in just for a grizzly tour,

    The fishing industry is not big enough there either to bring in fishing customers that could potentially be bear customers as well,

    So your dream/idea of bear viewing as an idustry will never fly,

    Since we are currently looking at this from an economic stand point consider this,
    every hunter has to purchase a license, tags ( usually 2 deer 1 moose 1 bear) wich is usually 100-150$ a person just from tags alone (times how ever many hunters in bc there are) All of that money goes back into the wildlife funds for the bc government, Its used to pay for the scientific studys done to manage our wildlife, (FYI they do a lot more then just collect tags/surveys)

    Now let’s think about how much expensive shit hunters buy and pay tax on just to be able to hunt, let’s factor in vehicles costs,,,,gas….bullets…etc etc etc….So who payes more taxes and earns more profit? …….think about that one really long and hard. Me personaly with a quick estimate am already 5000$ into this years hunting costs, 12% of that plus all my hunting tags, ive already contributed more money then several bear viewing trips and i havent even been hunting yet.

    lets say the average person is charged 1500$ for a bear tour, even at 10% directly tot he government its 150$ a person, (wich is what a hunter pays for tags) I can also promis you there will ALWAYS be more hunters then bear viewers lol,

    Take a look at how many years people have been hunting bears, and take a look at the bear populations numbers and tell me that our government is not managing it correctly. Acording to what ive seen in MOST area’s in bc grizzly bear populations are on the climb.

    So if populations are on the rise why are you so bent out of shape?

    if we were all bleeding hearts like you, canada would be like china and over populated and probably have birthing laws. possible genocides would follow,

    anyways, our hunting group has been drawn for this years grizzly hunt, I will wave if I see you, We plan on taking 1 bear, for its HIDE and its MEAT. yes we keep the meat, and what ever else we are aloud to carry out. Some bear parts are ilegal to transport/keep

    If you wanna have a chat, Im willing to listen but if you pull one of these stunts to us like I read above, I will gladly come to shore and have a face to face chat with you. Im going to print this website off, And carry it with me and I will show local authoritys what your out to do.

    I admire your bravery tho, I sure hells wouldnt want to piss off people in the remote wilderness carrying long range rifles…..lol pretty balzy.

    • #8 by greatbearblog on September 12, 2012 - 10:30 pm

      Thanks for the feedback and it is surprising to hear that grizzly bear tours were not available in the Bella Coola Valley. It may be that bear viewing companies are not open to providing bear viewing opportunities for individuals that are returning to hunt those same bears later in the season. Clearly bear viewing and bear trophy hunting should not be occurring in the same locations but this is standard management practice for the BC government. Killing bears for sport is wrong but killing bears for sport that have become human habituated by commercial bear viewing is disgusting.

      As for the economics of trophy hunting vs bear viewing on the BC coast. Bear viewing as a direct revenue source outpaced bear hunting over ten years ago and since this time government statistics show hunting participation continues to decrease annually while wildlife viewing (bear viewing in particular) is expanding exponentially. One only has to look at the new businesses such as Klemtu Tourism that has expanded with a new full service lodge, four extra crew boats and full bookings for this season to truly appreciate the important economic opportunities that bear viewing is generating for small coastal communities.

      But besides the economics we strongly believe it is unethical to kill an animal for trophy, sport or pleasure. Our society has banned the killing of whales, dolphins and other marine mammals because of evolving ethical values and it is only logical that grizzly bears, the second slowest reproducing mammal in North America, one that is extremely susceptible to the impact of hunting overkill would be provided the same level of protection and respect.

      We will continue to be a presence in conservancies and wild rivers where trophy hunting is damaging local bear populations and I look forward to that chat on the river.

      Another update: Coastal First Nations issued a press release today effectively banning trophy hunting on the Central and North Coast. “We will protect bears from cruel and unsustainable trophy hunts by any and all means,” said Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation Chief Doug Neasloss. See the full release here: http://www.coastalfirstnations.ca/news-release/september-12-2012-831am

      To take action on Trophy Hunting in the Great Bear, visit http://pacificwild.org/site/take_action/trophy-hunt-campaign.html

  8. #9 by Cook on September 14, 2012 - 3:37 pm

    When we were in town first to, We dressed in normal cloths and had NO signs of anythingthat would make people think we were hunters, my friend had his wife and kids along to, Still no tours, The place KLEMTU you speak of, is not even in bellacoola and would be VERY costly to get a tour in tht area. How can you be surprised that boats and tours were not working in bella coola. My neighbor was born thier and has family STILL thier and even his family will tell you bella coola is DEGRESSING.
    SO with the bc government only alowing a 6% toll on grizzlys and thier populations on the rise, Why are you STILL against them?
    Can you get me official stats and numbers on everything you have quoted?
    You do realise that for management unit 5/08 Zone A there is only 10 tags given out right?
    Now when filling out a tag you get a first and second choice, I bet you EVERYONES first choice is zone B witch is closer to town and you do not need a boat. Now if they do not draw you for that they draw your second choice, Zone A by the estuary you will need two boats. one to get you there
    and one to get up the Kwatna River, Now We only could make it about 3 km up the river until it gets shallow. So im going to say Smaller River jet boats will be essential.
    when people realise this and realise the fact there is no where to camp along the way since 95% of the shores lines are rocks. Chances are Not many of the 10 people are going to make it are they.
    Let`s also remeber the fact that not every hunt is going to be succesful, so out of the 10 how many do you really think are going to get a bear. We spent 5 days there and didnt even SEE a grizz, A weak salmon run probably was not in our favour.

    WHat population numbers do you hope for, what are you going to do whent here numbers get to big, All im seeing from you here is “don`t kill bears“ what is your goal out of all of this, your point is really unclear, anyone knows that we have to help manage animals now becuase back in the day when we were MUCH more ignorant we had NO sense of proper management at all,

    as for your economics speal, I would REALLY like to see numbers and statistics and links to ALL of that information you claim, I dont think you are realising how much money hunters spend. Not to mention we have ALREADY been contribution since the 50`s, When did bear viewing even make enough money to be realise, within 10 years…..lol untill I see real numbers I am going to have to disagree with you.

    Could you also send links to hunting participation numbers.

    Compairing banning of killing whales and dolphins is not even relavent to this conversation and not a fair comparison, In that paragraph you say “evolving ethical values“….So wiat a min,, Our ethics are evolving, that must mean for everything in general to right….kinda shot your self in the foot.(again brings us back to the 6% death toll aloud) it took them MANY years to come up with this number. ) and if populations are still rising, then the problem here is……

    anyways, Im surprised you were not on the river for opening day of hunting, might as well shown up late for your first day of work as well, (that is unless you were off somewhere else saving animals)
    I was really looking forward to having a chat and swaping bear storys, Yes I kill them, Yes I eat them ( i only want to kill one grizzly in my life ) But I still respect the bush and animals more then most people, I carry out truck loads of garbage each year from the woods, I use the meat, I use the fur I even use the bones for my dogs. all left over meat and guts gets taken back into the woods so some scavenger animals can get a head start of fatting up for the fall, heck when I kill an animal I sit with it till it dies if it`s not already dead with my hand on it`s sid, I love animals with all my heart, But I also understand we are hunters and need to eat. Just like a bear kills calf moose and fish and even it`s own kind.

    I try and live my life as this, If all the animals died, we would die, If all the people died, the animals would still survive.
    I know it kinda counter acts me wanting to kill a grizz but I justify it like this, Im only going to kill one, its not going to go to waste, and there population is on the rise, If it was on decline, I would not want to kill one.

    PS, You should focus your efforts on the natives bands out there killing 100`s of animals and selling there fish in zellers parking lots like here in kelowna bc. some of them are the real issue,
    (nothing against natives, just the shitty ones that sell fish and come down gravel roads with trucks loads of moose and deer)

  9. #10 by Rhandy on October 1, 2012 - 11:40 pm

    You have no right to be there really , and killing animals shows your not much of person . So leave animals alone and work on making something of your own species if thats possible .

  10. #11 by ed ivanisko on January 11, 2014 - 1:33 pm

    I agree …kill if you need to eat

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