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The Fight To Stop Canada's Annual Grizzly Bear Hunting Season

An estimated 300 grizzly bears are killed in British Columbia through regulated hunts every year. The provincial government says there are a total of 15,000 grizzlies that live there, but that number has been widely disputed.

by Rachel Browne
Sep 9 2015, 10:45pm

Imagen vía Flickr

As hunters descend along the north and central coasts of British Columbia for the start of the fall grizzly bear hunting season, so too will members of the First Nations communities in the region who are doing everything in their power to stop them.

In 2012, The Coastal First Nations, a coalition of First Nations communities in British Columbia, announced their own ban against grizzly hunting on their territory, despite the fact that it's sanctioned by the provincial government, which continues to issue trophy-hunting permits.

Men and women with the Coastal Guardians Watchmen will patrol the land by foot and boat to help enforce the ban by telling the hunters to stop and make their prey harder to shoot by scaring them away.

"We're going to get out there and assert our authority," Doug Neasloss, resource director at the Guardian Watchmen and chief of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais Nation, told VICE News. "We've been brought up to have respect for these animals and it's really unfortunate when people just come here and shoot these animals for sport."

"We like business to come to our territory," he added. "But there's some industries that are not accepted and not welcome, and trophy hunting is one of them."

In Canada, the longstanding practice of regulated hunts gives rise every year to concern about species conservation and the ethics of hobby hunting, but it's nowhere near the worldwide outrage that followed the slaughter of a Zimbabwean lion named Cecil.

An estimated 300 grizzly bears in BC are killed through regulated hunts every year. The provincial government says there are a total of 15,000 grizzlies that live there, but that number has been widely disputed.

Alberta suspended its grizzly hunt in 2006 and later declared it a threatened species. Canada's Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada considers grizzlies a "special concern" because they are "particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events."

Neasloss says the First Nations' unofficial ban has somewhat curbed the number of bears that are hunted each year, and many hunters have turned over their permits to them out of respect.

But it's unlikely the big business of bear hunting in the province will die down anytime soon. One BC company, Covert Outfitting, offers grizzly bear excursions that cost as much as $19,000.

Kiff Covert, one of the guides there, told VICE earlier this summer that the naysayers aren't considerate of their perspective. According to Covert Outfitting, the number of grizzly bears they hunt stays within the limit set by the province required to sustain the population.

Related: The Dentist Who Killed Cecil the Lion Says He's Heading Back to Work

"Why do we personify an animal because it has a name and people take pictures of it?" said Covert. "With grizzly bears, it's because they're beautiful and people think they're amazing, but if they were ugly and had no hair and killed people every day, everyone would want us to shoot them."

"A lot of people think it's total insanity, but it's not," he added. "Maybe it's insanity living in the top of a skyscraper in downtown Vancouver, and having no idea what nature is or where our food comes from."

When grizzlies are trophy hunted, their heads are usually removed and their dead corpses are skinned. Whatever hunters don't want is left behind.

This March, an MLA with the Green Party in BC tabled a private member's bill that sought to discourage trophy hunting by requiring the hunters to bring home the meat of their kill.

Neasloss is confident their fight will be successful, and says he finds support from other British Columbians, the majority of whom oppose trophy hunting.

"I'm very hopeful that we're going to stop it. And I think the province needs to listen to us, to start listening to the people," he said. 

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne

Photo by Mike Chernucha

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