Today I had an OPED appear in the Times Colonist. I reproduce it below with several hyperlinks added.
In the grizzly hunting debate, the BC legislature appears to be the last stronghold protecting the trophy hunting industry in our province.
Economic, scientific, and social justifications for the practice don’t add up. Ecotourism and bear viewing companies generate more revenue than their trigger-happy counterparts, and they are far more sustainable over the long term. There is considerable uncertainty within the scientific community about grizzly bear population numbers and notable concerns about how they will adapt to the challenges climate change will bring. Polls repeatedly put public opposition for trophy hunting in British Columbia in the 90% range, for both urban and rural populations and resident hunters who overwhelmingly oppose the practice.
This is where we must draw an important difference between trophy hunting, and hunting.
Trophy hunting is the killing of an animal for the sake of the kill, the sake of collecting a trophy often a severed head. It is a cruel, selfish, and barbaric practice that is packaged and sold as a sport. Trophy killing has little to do with the thousands of British Columbians who hunt because they enjoy spending time outdoors, respect the animals they harvest, and take great pride in sharing the meat they harvest with their loved ones. If we are going to end Trophy Hunting in British Columbia, we must first understand that it has nothing to do with hunting. As the legislation currently stands, it is illegal to waste meat when hunting in British Columbia, unless the animal you have killed is a cougar, wolf, lynx, bobcat, wolverine, or grizzly bear. The edible parts of big game must be removed from the animal and packed out to one¹s home, or importantly for non-resident hunters, to a meat cutter or a cold storage plant. These last two options provide trophy hunters with legal meat laundering opportunities, meaning that they could still hunt for the trophy but give away the meat.
In March I brought forward a Bill, supported by First Nations Summit, that would close this loophole, forcing the packing out of all meat from all animals (not just grizzly bears) hunted in British Columbia to a person’s home, whether that be in British Columbia, Texas, Australia or Germany. This was carefully written to protect the rights of First Nations and resident hunters in British Columbia, while going after the practice of trophy killing. As you might imagine, the guide outfitting industry did not support this legislation. I suspect many a trophy hunter would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pack out several hundred pounds of Trichinosis laden grizzly bear meat across international borders. As with all legislation, its success or failure relies on proper implementation and a commitment to enforcing it.
When legislating the practices of non-resident hunters, the rights and interests of First Nations and British Columbians should still be first and foremost. We need legislation that says in this province we hunt for food, not for the sake of killing – it is not okay to come here to kill our animals for a prize. Hunting should not be a corporate endeavour. Furthermore our government needs to acknowledge and act upon calls from First Nations who have enacted bans on trophy hunting in their traditional territories.
What has surprised me about this debate is how little our elected officials have had to say about it, given the almost unanimous opposition to the practice amongst British Columbians.
Both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP have refused to have an honest discussion about this issue in the legislature. The BC Liberals point to the studies that justify their inaction, all the while ignoring the growing body of academic literature that suggest action is needed.
The BC NDP on the other hand have yet to state any firm position on the issue. One hopes that this isn¹t simply avoiding taking a position on an important issue for fear that it will help their electoral prospects.
While this is certainly an emotive issue, it’s one that most British Columbians agree on. Trophy killing debases the very legitimate reasons that many British Columbians choose to hunt. It’s time we enact policy that understands the difference between the two, and finally puts an end to trophy hunting in British Columbia.
Over the last few months British Columbia’s controversial wolf cull has been the subject of substantial public dialogue. Like most MLAs, I receive ongoing communication from numerous British Columbians questioning the rationale behind the government’s approach. One of the most recent communications I received was from a young woman named Katie. She started off her email saying:
“My name is Katie, and I oppose the wolf cull. In school we learned about predator prey relationships. I know you probably won’t care, and that the government will go ahead with it anyway, but please read this…”
I found her email to be a source of inspiration. Despite her apparent cynicism towards politicians, she took the trouble to express her concerns to me (even though she is not a constituent). Her email struck a chord. I campaigned on a promise of evidence-based decision-making and giving youth in our society, the generation that will have to live the consequences of the decisions my generation is making, a voice in the legislature.
The BC NDP have not contributed anything of significance to this issue. Instead, when questioned they offer up a sense of vague disappointment and an endorsement of “long term habitat protection.” Habitat protection is vital of course, especially for herds that are still relatively healthy, but if that is the only policy we offer the threatened mountain caribou they will all be dead by the time the trees grow back.
The policies that the B.C. Liberals are putting forward are concerningly intertwined with the interests of industry and lack safeguards that would ensure other herds do not follow the South Selkirk and South Peace mountain caribou to the brink of extirpation.
As a member of the legislature it is my job to do more than outright oppose policies I don’t like. I need to be able to substantially contribute to the debate and provide feasible solutions and alternatives. So, I got my office to research the topic, and threatened species management more generally, in great detail. Our subsequent analysis derived from a literature review and many hours of discussions with scientists, including wildlife biologists who have expertise in the area.
When you start rationalizing culling one species to protect another you also introduce an ethical element that needs to be considered alongside the science. Is it ever justifiable to kill one animal in the name of saving another? Science can never answer that question.
Let one of those species become threatened and your situation becomes immensely worse. Ethically, the wolf cull is a horrible response to an ecosystem out of balance. From a management perspective, we need to focus on endangered mountain caribou and the logging practices that got them to where they are today.
Before humans began changing the North American landscape, woodland caribou’s range extended largely across Canada. While northern subpopulations of caribou once roamed in massive herds numbering in the thousands, mountain caribou have always been more sparsely distributed. Mountain caribou survive on a lichen-rich diet, especially in winter months, a food source that is intricately linked to old growth forests. As industrial development and logging activities began to fragment their old growth forest ecosystems, mountain caribou populations began to destabilize. Not only has logging demolished much of their habitat directly, the associated road networks and areas of new growth forest have also brought an influx of moose and white-tailed deer into the ecosystem. Populations of wolves then followed the moose and deer (their primary prey) and caribou (their secondary prey) are now being killed as bycatch. We are scrambling to save herds of mountain caribou on the brink of extirpation because we weakened their natural habitat and made them vulnerable to increased predation. Of this, there is no disagreement within the scientific community.
The future for these threatened caribou is not looking promising; climate change is altering food supplies and habitat conditions, industrial activities are unbalancing ecosystem composition, and human settlement is concentrating the necessity of protected wilderness.
As per requirements enforced under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, the province has protected 2.2 million hectares of forest from logging and road building where populations of caribou are classified as threatened. These areas have immeasurable value for preserving British Columbia’s biodiversity, especially in light of ongoing global warming. But these areas, a substantial fraction of which are old growth, also have substantial commercial value.
Recent Freedom of Infomation documents reveal that the B.C. Liberals met with forest industry representatives when developing plans to save endangered caribou. The Minister of Environment said it is common practice to consult all stakeholders, but I worry that industrial pressures are playing too big a role in habitat allocation. My concern, that I raised last week during Question Period in the British Columbia Legislature, is that vast tracts of forests will stop being preserved the moment the threatened caribou herds go extinct. With their death, the protection of their habitat will no longer be enforceable under the Species at Risk Act.
We need to protect as much land as possible from all human activities so remaining wildlife populations have the space and resources needed to respond to predation and food supply challenges. The cost of restricting industrial development in B.C.’s forests would be expensive in terms of lost revenue, but it would save us having to micromanage every dwindling species.
Where is our provincial government on species protection? Shockingly, we are one of only two provinces (the other being Alberta) that don’t even have any endangered species legislation. Protecting more habitat for our biological diverse ecosystems should be the goal, and creating a provincial endangered species act would be a good place to start.
At the same time, it’s crucial that critical environmental issues are not framed simplistically. There are very real consequences to allowing caribou herds to become extirpated. And one of the most profound of these will be the subsequent logging of remaining stands of British Columbia’s old growth timber.
Over the last few months British Columbia’s controversial wolf cull has been the subject of substantial public dialogue. Like most MLAs, I receive ongoing communication from numerous British Columbians questioning the rationale behind the government’s approach. These communications crescendoed when well known singer Miley Cyrus spoke out against the cull and urged her more than 23 million followers to sign a petition. One of the recent communications I received was from a young woman named Katie. She started off her email saying:
“My name is Katie, and I oppose the wolf cull. In school we learned about predator prey relationships. I know you probably won’t care, and that the government will go ahead with it anyway, but please read this…”
I found her email to be a source of inspiration. Despite her apparent cynicism towards politicians she took the trouble to express her concerns to me (even though she is not a constituent). Her email struck a chord. I campaigned on a promise of evidence-based decision-making and giving youth in our society, the generation that will have to live the consequences of the decisions my generation is making, a voice in the legislature. And so Claire Hume and I decided to look at BC’s controversial wolf cull a little more closely. What follows is an extensive analysis of the available literature. Our analysis derived from many hours of discussions with scientists, including wildlife biologists, with expertise in the area. I look forward to your comments.
I have always maintained that humans have a moral obligation to prevent endangered species from going extinct, but wildlife management conflicts in which species are pitted against one another are always challenging. For a variety of industrial, social, or budgeting excuses, they are often situations that have been allowed to escalate far past a point of simpler intervention. When you start rationalizing culling one species to protect another you also introduce an ethical element that needs to be considered alongside scientific findings. Let one – or both – of those species become threatened or endangered and your situation becomes immensely worse.
Many ecosystems have been altered so drastically that we can no longer let nature take its course. If we don’t continue to intervene with the mountain caribou crisis we are currently facing in B.C., for example, it will not be long before the remaining herds in the South Selkirk and Peace regions are extirpated. Ideally, our wildlife management system would never let things get this bad. But it happens. And when it does we have no choice but to make tough decisions.
In January I wrote to the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations to ask a number of questions regarding the rationale for the wolf cull in the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace region. In response Minister Thompson sent me the supporting data that backed up their wolf cull. I read through it and agreed that with 18 caribou left we needed to take immediate and drastic action to ensure as many caribou as possible survived through another breeding season. Since then, the issue has continued to polarize our province with both sides of the debate claiming science. And in many ways, both sides are right. There is supporting evidence that suggests, for certain situations, that culling wolves is an appropriate wildlife management tool. There are also many other studies that conclude that it is an ineffective solution, one that could make the situation even worse while causing a great deal of animal suffering in the process.
So, where do we go from here? We do a literature review of the available relevant research and we have a conversation. We explore the feasibility of other options and try to find a solution that maximizes protection for threatened species while minimizing the harm done to all other animals. Over the last few months my office has been talking to scientists and analyzing data across disciplines, across species, and across the country (across continents in one case) to learn more about endangered species management.
In the late 1990s the Vancouver Island marmot population dropped to 70 members. While clear-cut logging in marmot territory was thought to be the initial and main reason their population numbers were plummeting, the landscape changes also led to increased predation. Between 1995 and 2005 predation by wolves, cougars, and eagles accounted for 80% of marmot mortality. Much like the caribou, habitat destruction was the main catalyst for their decline and wolves moved in to take advantage of the new open landscape. I reviewed the group’s marmot recovery plan and contacted them to ask why predator control has never been a part of their strategy.
Their Executive Director, Viki Jackson, said they tried everything they could think of on Mount Washington in place of culling predators: they collared cougars and brought dogs in to scare them away, had “shepherds” stay with the marmot colonies, put dirty human clothes around to deter predators, put up fences, and used bear bangers. Having people camp with the marmots 24/7 worked well, Jackson said, but the other attempts didn’t do much. At the same time, they started to have success with their captive breeding program. Without their active intervention the Vancouver Island marmot would have likely gone extinct years ago.
When it comes to endangered species management, Jackson said, there will never be consensus but you have to do everything in your power to protect key females when animal numbers drop to extreme lows. You need to get them over the extinction hump and stable enough that other conservation efforts have a chance to help.
While the specifics of this case do not exactly translate to the needs of larger, transient animals like caribou, I found their imaginative approach to crisis species management inspiring. Threatened species in our province are facing very modern difficulties as they try adapt to new stressors and habitats changed by development. Perhaps we should be trying to combat these challenges with equally modern and innovative solutions before defaulting to predator culling, a practice that only targets one aspect of highly complex situations. With this thought I contacted Dr. Adam Ford from the University of Guelph’s Department of Integrative Biology to talk about the use of technology in wildlife research and management.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) placed on collars, Dr. Adam Ford explained, can be used to pinpoint, with high accuracy, the location of an animal at a given time. It is also possible to track animals and process data almost instantaneously. Knopff and his colleagues, for example, used GPS to track cougar predation to study predator/prey interactions with immediate data retrieval. “Real time monitoring has enormous potential in the fields of wildlife ecology and conservation, especially for at-risk wildlife,” their report states.
With these systems you can monitor the spatial relationship between an animal and a wide variety of geographical features. Data can be collected that orients an animal in relation to specific points (like feeding grounds), linear features (roads, fence lines, fishing nets, etc.) and spatially dynamic features (like a mobile herd of livestock). Given these tracking advancements, and the incredible success scientist and conservation officers have had using them in wildlife management settings, it is hard not to feel hopeful imagining the great potential for their use with woodland caribou in BC. I think it would be worth assessing, for example, the feasibility of attaching GPS’ to select members of threatened caribou herds and their neighbouring wolf packs, as suggested by Dr. Ford. You could outfit caribou and wolves with GPS collars, Dr. Ford explained, and program them with a GSM-linked messaging system that warns managers when wolves, say, are within 1 km of the caribou. The managers could then travel to the coordinates shown in the GSM message, and herd the wolves away with aversive conditioning. That way, intervention is case-specific and the helicopter time is used much more efficiently. They use this method in Kenya with elephants to keep them away from crop fields and refer to it as ‘geofencing‘.
I appreciate comparing elephants to caribou sounds dangerously like an apples-to-oranges tangent, but the success the Save the Elephants organization has had with GPS-based wildlife management is incredible and certainly worth further consideration. Their Geo-fencing program started ten years ago, in the hopes of reducing human-elephant conflicts. “Kimani was the first elephant to be collared and tested under the Geofencing [system]. He became the focus of the Ol Pejeta management due to his considerable skill in breaking expensive fences. In December 2005 he went on a crop-raiding spree that lasted 21 straight nights.”
In phase one of the project they programmed a virtual fence line (or string of coordinates) into the GPS collar worn by the elephant. If the elephant strays out of his designated range – suggesting he is heading towards farms or villages – his collar sends a text message with his exact location to the reserve managers, who can then mobilize and intervene with negative reinforcements before he does too much damage. After only a few months in his GPS collar, Kimani the elephant had stopped breaking fences. Years later, Kimani has still not returned to his crop-stomping ways.
Another breakthrough, which does not relate to caribou but highlights the brilliant potential for innovative wildlife management strategies, was their elephants and bees hypothesis. “Having found that elephants run from the sound of bees, in 2007, we set up a unique beehive fence line in the area to see if they would deter elephants from raiding crops. To test our hypotheses, we geo-fenced several known crop-raiding elephants to see if their behaviour changed once confronted with large concentration of bees. Thanks to the geo-fencing technology, we were able to witness and confirm that bees did in fact deter elephants from crop raiding.”
Elephant-caribou differences aside, the technology is transferable. “The real-time monitoring algorithms presented here for monitoring African elephants (proximity, geo-fencing, movement rate, and immobility) are widely adaptable and applicable to monitor a variety of behaviours across numerous species,” wrote Wall et al.
While there is considerable consensus within the scientific community about the effective use of technology in wildlife management, I have found concerning disagreement about the role of wolves in caribou declines and the impact of culling them. What follows is a literature review of sorts, of the relevant research that has been done on this subject.
Apps et al. studied the GPS, very high frequency (VHF), and motion sensor data collected from 541 caribou over 22 years. When the collared animals stopped moving for prolonged periods researchers tracked their location and tried to determine the caribou’s cause of death. In their cause-specific mortality analysis of mountain caribou in B.C. they found that wolves are only one of many important sources of mortality for caribou. The data, though limited, indicates that wolves are not necessarily the primary killer of mountain caribou. In fact, it is possible that bears and cougars may have a stronger impact on caribou numbers. That said, I spoke to Dr. Clayton Apps about his study and he cautioned that the data should not generalized too broadly as it pertains to specific sampling cases. The wider conclusion of his work focused on caribou vulnerability as it relates to landscape changes. Wolf predation was found to be concentrated at lower elevations and areas with a higher concentration of roads, which they used as a navigational advantage when hunting.
On a similar theme, DeCesare’s data links industrial development with increased encounters between wolves and caribou, which in turn can lead to increased predation. Supporting that notion, other studies have illustrated the considerable impact wolves can have on local ungulate populations. Kortello et al. conducted a study that analyzed the diet and spatial overlap between wolves and cougars in Banff National Park. During their research they observed a 65% decline in local elk populations following the arrival of wolves. This shift caused cougars to switch from a primarily elk winter diet to one that favoured deer and other alternative prey options.
At this point we have a fairly clear picture of a wolf – caribou relationship that has been knocked out of whack in areas that have been altered by industrial development. Wolves eat caribou, even more so when roads and cleared forests give wolves efficient access to a larger range while simultaneously limiting caribou’s own food sources. If we have too few caribou, and too many wolves, it is easy to conclude a wolf cull would be an appropriate response. Some short term studies support that assumption. Bergerud et al. for example suggested that a wolf cull in Northern B.C. and the Yukon lead to increases in ungulate populations, but many studies do not.
In an incredibly comprehensive and long term study, Wielgus et al. assessed the effects of a wolf cull on reducing livestock depredations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from 1987–2012 using a 25 year time series. The number of livestock depredated, livestock populations, wolf population estimates, number of breeding pairs, and wolves killed were calculated for the wolf-occupied area of each state for each year. Unsurprisingly, their results describe a positive association between the number of cattle in a given area, the number of cattle killed, and the number of breeding wolf pairs. In other words, as you increase the number of cows and wolves in a given area, instances of wolf-cow conflict will also rise. Incredibly, however, their data also shows a positive, not negative, association with the number of wolves culled the previous year – meaning culling wolves actually led to more livestock being killed by wolves the following year. “The odds of livestock depredations increased 4% for sheep and 5-6% for cattle with increased wolf control” (graphed in Figure 1.). Wielgus et al., hypothesized that livestock depredation increased when wolves were killed because the cull disrupted pack structures, which in turn, lead to a compensatory increase in breeding pairs, more pups, and more hunting (Figure 2.). This trend was consistent until 25% of the breeding wolf pairs had been culled, after which point livestock predations began to decline from its elevated state (graphed in Figure 3.). As the paper stresses, however, “mortality rates exceeding 25% are unsustainable over the long term.” As you can see in Figure 3., to get to the livestock mortality rate that you started with before the wolf cull elevated depredation levels, you would need to kill over 40% of the breeding wolf pairs. Ultimately, Wielgus et al. concluded that their results do not support the ‘remedial control’ hypothesis of predator mortality which predicts a drop in livestock following increased lethal control. “However,” they write, “lethal control of wolves appears to be related to increased depredation in a larger area the following year.”
Echoing their conclusion from a different research angle, Brainerd et al. analyzed pooled data from 148 territorial breeding wolves and found increased movement and dispersal of wolves when the pack’s breeding (alpha) pair was removed. In other words, when you kill the alpha wolf pair who keep the rest of the pack in line, remaining wolves are statistically likely to breed more and spread into new territories. This disruption to the ecosystem is likely to trigger other changes and lead to issues to neighbouring environments.
Similarly, Treves et al. found that the removal of carnivores generally only achieves a temporary reduction in livestock depredation before other predators move in to fill their space and eat their prey. Harper et al. also found that killing a large number of wolves in Minnesota did not reduce the following year’s livestock depredation levels. They did notice, however, that a mere increase in human activity decreased the amount of hunting wolves did in the area.
Unfortunately, there is yet another layer of concern to add to this complex analysis; caribou health. The University of Alberta’s Center for Conservation Biology began studying this issue after the government of Alberta announced plans to cull up to 80% of wolves in the oil sands in the hopes that it would slow the rate of caribou decline. They conducted dietary analyses had found that 60% of the caribou winter diet consisted of lichen. “This food source is particularly vital to pregnant caribou as it is high in glucose, which is the primary food source to the fetus,” they wrote. If female caribou do not have adequate access to lichen, they explained, it compromises their pregnancies and lowers birth rates.
“They [the government of Alberta] argue that climate change and habitat disturbance are causing deer, the preferred prey of wolves, to move north into the oil sands. Wolves are said to increase in response, increasing the risk of predation on caribou. Our work suggests that there may be better options.”
The conservation biologists suggested that reducing human and industrial activities in lichen rich feeding grounds may be a more effective mitigation strategy than killing wolves.
“Moreover,” they continued, “owing to the preference of wolves for deer, removing wolves from the population to protect caribou could actually place the ecosystem at markedly greater risk by accelerating the expansion of deer into this ecosystem.”
The Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology has picked up on this theme too. “Caribou decline may be related to too much energy spent on just trying to stay alive,” explained national park warden John Flaa. “Over the past summer, the three caribou mortalities I investigated had no body fat, which is bound to have an effect on calf production. Census results here show that the proportion of calves in the herd are below replacement level.”
Accessing an adequate food supply has been an ongoing issue for elk too, especially across the border in Wyoming. Their Game and Fish Wildlife Division, however, has managed to greatly inflate herd size over the last few decades by feeding them hay every winter. Not surprisingly, issues of disease began to increase as more elk congregated at feeding grounds. As Creech et al. explained; “High seroprevalance for Brucella abortus among elk on Wyoming feedgrounds suggests that supplemental feeding may influence parasite transmission and disease dynamics by altering the rate at which elk contact infectious materials in their environment.” Thankfully, they have also since shown that spreading out feeding areas reduces cross contamination infection rates by 70%.
This is not an ideal solution, of course, but it has been quite successful in many respects. Elk populations in Wyoming are now strong enough to support hunting, an activity that more than covers the cost of the feeding program. “Elk hunters spent $49.9 million in 2012… The program cost $558 per animal and generated $1,856 in ‘economic return’ per [elk].”
As Dr. Adam Ford wrote in his summary paper Science, Uncertainty, and Ethics in the Alberta Wolf Cull; “It is past time that we adopt a more creative view of how we can coexist with caribou and wolves in an industrialized landscape.” After reviewing the literature available on this and related issues I agree. While this is an undeniably complex situation with a lot at stake, I think we should be doing more to learn from innovative wildlife managers around the world.
We could try creating a geo-fence between wolves and threatened caribou like conservation officers do with their problem elephants in Kenya. Or get ‘caribou shepherds’ to track GPS collared herds, intervening when they are at risk of predation; much like the ‘marmot shepherds’ who saved endangered (admittedly easier to track) colonies on Vancouver Island. We could explore the feasibility of capturing, sterilizing, and re-releasing the alpha breeding pair in a pack of wolves; thereby reducing the growth of a wolf population while keeping the governing pack structure in place. Given the above concerns about food availability for caribou, as well as the effective use of feed lots elsewhere, I think we should also consider supplementing the diets of the South Selkirk and Peace region herds with a stable supply of lichen over the winter. It would be a relatively cost effective, simple, and could potentially be game-changing for our struggling caribou.
Some of these solutions may sound crazy, but when you consider we are currently spending millions of dollars to indiscriminately shoot wolves from helicopters, I would argue they potentially offer for more cheaper and less-crazy alternatives.
We are sincerely grateful to the many scientists who made time to talk to us about their work.
On Monday, March 2nd, I tabled a bill that restricts the practices of non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. to kill large game by making two specific amendments to the Wildlife Act.
The proposed changes remove grizzly bears from the list of animals exempt from meat harvesting regulations and ensure all edible portions of game animals killed in B.C. are taken directly to the hunter’s residence.
As the legislation currently stands, it is illegal to waste meat when hunting in B.C., unless the animal you have killed is a cougar, wolf, lynx, bobcat, wolverine, or grizzly bear. The edible parts of big game animals must be removed from the animal and packed out to one’s home, or importantly for non-resident hunters, to a meat cutter or a cold storage plant. These last two options provide trophy hunters with legal meat laundering opportunities. By adding “directly or through” to the clause hunters can still use meat cutters and cold storage plants to process their harvests, but it can’t end there. The meat must make it to their home address. If they want to donate that meat to charity after the fact they are welcome to do so, but they have to take it home first.
Hunters are already required to remove the edible portions from black bears, if enacted, this bill would bring meat harvesting standards for grizzly bears up to the same level.
For local sustenance hunters – the vast majority of hunters in B.C. – this bill merely echoes what they are already doing; harvesting wild game to bring the meat home to feed themselves and their families. For non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. to bag an animal for its hide, skull, or antlers this poses a larger logistical challenge of exporting large quantities of meat.
The purpose of this Bill is to provide the government with another tool to address the growing concerns about trophy hunting in our province. As with any tool the government develops, its effectiveness is entirely dependent on government’s commitment to using it as it was designed. If government were to pass this bill, but fail to enforce its provisions, or provide regulatory loopholes for guide outfitters, then its purpose will be undermined. It will be up to government to make a commitment to embracing the values that are at the heart of this Bill and using them in a meaningful manner.
This is not a perfect solution, of course, but it is an achievable step in the right direction of protecting the interests of sustenance hunters while reducing the wasteful influence of non-resident hunters who come to our province to kill our wildlife acting with disregard for its value as a food source. It is also a strong legislative move towards conserving grizzly bear populations in B.C. as it forces the government to reevaluate its outdated grizzly hunting mandate. It shows the current government that we are serious about conserving grizzly bears through working collaboratively with conservation organizations like the British Columbia Wildlife Federation, BC’s First Nations and BC’s resident hunters.
Brown bears, of which grizzlies are the North American subspecies, were once found on four continents, making them one of the most widespread mammal populations in the world. Their original range included Europe, North Africa, northern and central Asia, the Middle East, and North America. Today, they are locally extinct or endangered across the map — except in Russia, Alaska, and B.C.
According to the provincial government’s 2002 report on B.C. grizzly bears, in North America healthy grizzly bear populations once extended from northern Mexico to the Yukon, and from the West Coast to Hudson Bay. As human populations began to expand, grizzly numbers steadily declined as their habitat became fragmented, their food sources threatened, and they were killed for recreation and for getting too close to the people who were moving into their territory.
British Columbia and Alaska are the last strongholds of grizzly bear populations on the planet, though the exact numbers are contested because the bear’s solitary and roaming nature makes them difficult and expensive to study. The B.C. government estimates there are 15,000 grizzly bears in the province today, some independent scientists and First Nations groups think there could be as few as 6,000.
Precise population number aside, the global trend for brown bears is clearly one that favours extinction. The Himalayan brown bear has dwindled to two per cent of its former range and there are an estimated 49 brown bears left in Italy. Mexico’s grizzlies are now extinct and the last known Californian grizzly was shot in the 1920s. The Liberal government maintains the fate of B.C.’s grizzly bears will be different, but the government’s scientific justifications for the hunt in some regions are harshly criticized by many local and international scientists.
Like Canada’s polar bears, B.C.’s grizzly bears have been listed as a “species of special concern” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Unlike their Arctic cousins, though, grizzly bears don’t qualify for federally legislated conservation measures.
In addition to the unrelenting pressure brought by climate change, industrial expansion, and habitat destruction, this iconic species is pursued by “hunters” who come to B.C. to kill a prize bear. The importation of B.C. grizzly bear parts into the European Union has been banned for over a decade because they think the hunt is being unsustainably managed. The wealthy non-resident hunters who come to our province to buy a grizzly trophy, therefore, are predominantly from the U.S. They cut off the bear’s head, paws, and fur but leave the bodies behind to rot.
This so-called sport has been banned by nine coastal First Nations and is opposed by nearly 90 percent of British Columbians. Importantly, 95 percent of hunters surveyed in the province-wide McAllister Research poll also agreed that people should not be hunting if they are not prepared to eat what they kill.
I support sustainable, respectful sustenance hunting in British Columbia that is grounded in a science-based conservation policy. It with this in mind that I introduced the Bill today.
This bill is an attempt to bring the environmental and hunting communities together. Many urban environmentalists don’t realize that BC hunters and their supporting organizations (like BCWF, Ducks Unlimited and Fish and Wildlife organizations) are some of the most active conservationalists. At the same time, some hunters believe that most urban environmentalists are out to stop hunting. The reality is that almost everyone I have spoken with is on the same page. They support hunting for food. They don’t support hunting only for trophies. This bill supports the former and penalizes the later.
On December 10th, 2014 the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations released his decision concerning how hunting licenses would be allocated between industry and resident British Columbia hunters. After consulting with constituents and stakeholders, I released a media statement raising concerns that the interests of resident British Columbia hunters were being set aside in favour of special industry interests. A few days later, I provided a more thorough analysis of the issues involved.
On February 6, amidst widespread pressure from BC resident hunters and the BC Wildlife Federation, the government revised its decision on wildlife harvest allocations slightly. But this was not enough.
Today, BC’s resident hunters held a rally on the Legislature lawn. I had the privilege of speaking at the rally and I reproduce the text of my speech below.
I also had honour of presenting a petition from over 16,000 British Columbians on behalf of the British Columbia Wildlife Federation today. The text of the petition is reproduced here:
“We, the undersigned, representing residents of British Columbia and supporters of resident hunting in the province, state that changes to the Province’s Wildlife Harvest Allocation Policy announced in December 2014 provide an unwarranted larger share of hunting permits to BC’s professional guides and outfitters, who primarily guide non-resident trophy hunters, at the expense of BC resident hunters.
The wildlife allocation made available to Guide Outfitters Association of BC members is unprecedented in North America and there is no economic justification for these allocation changes, which will adversely affect BC’s resident hunters.
We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the provincial government repeal the changes to the Wildlife Harvest Allocation Policy announced on December 10, 2014 by the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and limit non-resident hunters and Guide Outfitters Association of BC members to the Wildlife Harvest Allocation specified in the 2007 Wildlife Allocation Policy.“
Finally, today I introduced my first Private Member’s Bill: the Wildlife Amendment Act. My introduction is reproduced below. We’ve written up a more thorough discussion of the implications of the bill elsewhere.
I’d like to begin by thanking all of you for coming to the legislature today. I know a lot of you had to travel quite far and take time off work to be here. But I am glad that you did. This issue is too important to let it quietly slip off the public radar and I commend you for being here today; for speaking up on behalf of hunters across BC; and for realizing that the February adjustment to the allocation policy was simply not good enough. It was little more than a patronizing response to your heartfelt feedback and concern for the future of hunting in BC.
The erosion of hunter’s access to BC game is yet another example of government putting the needs of special interests ahead of those of British Columbians. Hunting is a foundational part of life for many people in BC. As you all know so well, it is way to connect with nature, spend quality time with your loved ones, and provide a clean, healthy source of protein for your families. Having that connection to one’s food, knowing its true value, and appreciating where it came from means that you have a profound understanding of the importance of conservation.
It has been a great honour for me to work closely with the B.C. Wildlife Federation – the province’s largest conservation organization – as I attempted to educate myself on allocation issues over the past few months.
Hunters in B.C. have had a rich history of conservation in our province, working tirelessly to ensure animal populations are healthy, abundant, and that their habitats are protected.
Despite running on a “families first” platform, the BC Liberal government has continued to put the vested interests of a select profitable few ahead of its own residents. In the hunting sector especially, we have seen a steady erosion of your rights as they continue to be reallocated to the guide outfitting industry.
The December hunting permit amendment may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, but the BC government has been making the shift towards prioritizing the needs of industry over its own residents for the last decade.
The government’s actions have not been guided by the values of British Columbians. Nor have they been guided by independent expert advice. The numbers put forward in December weren’t even close to the allocation splits recommended by the ministry.
What troubles me is that according to the lobbyist registrar, the Guide Outfitters Association has had over 2,000 person meetings with government officials since 2011. Quite a number of them included Premier Clark.
But today and together we’re here to say to government that that’s not enough. Together we are demanding that government listen to British Colmbians, the people that they are supposed to represent.
The increased allocation of BC’s wildlife to guide outfitters is an issue that affects all of us, not just the people here today.
I look forward to tabling the BCWF petition opposing the permit allocation amendments shortly. That should help government understand just how many people care about the unfair treatment of resident BC hunters.
I will also be tabling a bill that, if enacted, would make trophy hunting for non-residents more difficult by requiring them to remove the meat from their kills and transport it back to their home address.
For local sustenance hunters – the vast majority of hunters in B.C. – this bill merely echoes what they are already doing; harvesting wild game to bring the meat home to feed themselves and their families. For non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. in search of antlers or a hide this poses a larger logistical challenge of exporting large quantities of meat.
It is not a perfect solution to our problems, of course, but it will make the government engage in a conversation about where their interests lie and emphasize the importance of supporting sustainable, respectful hunting practices in our province — practices that are embodied by BC’s resident hunters and the BC Wildlife Federation.
I move introduction of the Wildlife Amendment Act for first reading.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce this bill that, if enacted, would restrict the practices of non-resident trophy hunters who come to B.C. to kill large game by making two specific amendments to the Wildlife Act.
The proposed changes remove grizzly bears from the list of animals exempt from meat harvesting regulations and ensure that all edible portions of animals harvested in B.C. are taken directly to the hunter’s residence.
As the legislation currently stands, the edible parts of big game animals (except cougars, wolves, lynx, bobcats, wolverines, and grizzly bears) must be removed from the animal and packed out to one’s home, or importantly for non-resident hunters, to a meat cutter or a cold storage plant. These last two options provide trophy hunters with legal meat laundering opportunities. By adding “directly or through” to the clause, hunters can still use meat cutters and cold storage plants to process their harvests, but it can’t end there. The meat must make it to their home address. If they want to donate that meat to charity after the fact they are welcome to do so, but they have to take it home first.
Hunters are already required to remove the edible portions from black bears. If enacted, this bill would bring meat harvesting standards for grizzly bears up to the same standard.
British Columbians, and in particular BC resident hunters, support these change. A 2013 McAllister Research poll found that 88% of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting. In addition to that, 95% of hunters said they believe you should not be hunting if you are not prepared to eat what you kill.
For local sustenance hunters – the vast majority of hunters in B.C. – this bill merely echoes what they are already doing; harvesting wild game to bring the meat home to feed their families. For non-resident trophy hunters coming to B.C. to kill an animal only for its hide, skull, or antlers this poses a logistical challenge of exporting large quantities of meat.
I look forward to second reading of the bill.
I move that this bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House.