Trophy bear hunting is hard to talk about. It evokes really powerful emotions and quite frankly I would avoid it if I could. But I made a promise to the bears that I will take a stand on their behalf. So this is where I stand: Killing bears for the sole purpose of taking body parts to display as “trophy” is a social justice issue that is just plain wrong. It needs to end everywhere in BC and by anyone in BC.
The Liberal government spends a lot of money trying to count bears in each of the province’s 56 Grizzly Bear Population Units (GBPU). It spends a further amount managing the annual hunts. It’s easy to think that numbers, statistics and modeling projections tell the truth; they look so clean and reliable. What isn’t so apparent are the value assumptions that lay beneath the numbers and what those views are saying to citizens of this province.
Bear viewing and bear killing obviously cannot happen in the same locations at the same time. Even more so, they are antithetical because they are grounded in differing views about the way the world is. Generally speaking, people who go bear viewing are in small cooperative groups whose values are grounded in curiosity, wonder, trust, peace and human-animal coexistence. Bear trophy hunting acts on a different set of values. People who kill bears for sport make different assumptions from a worldview of certainty, defense, contest, dominance and human-animal conflict. It’s up to ordinary citizens to decide which way of viewing the world most speaks to how they see themselves and their communities.
Population estimates of grizzlies reveal nothing about bear personalities, which anyone who knows bears is intriqued to study. Like which bears have learned to skillfully fish off the lip of a fast-moving waterfall, or swim underwater, or steal fish from other bears. Numbers say nothing about which bear lost an ear over the winter or which mothers have learned, from painful experience, to raise their cubs to maturity. Government officials and guide outfitters will say that such details have no place in serious, “scientific” discussions about bears. In my view, these very details have an essential place because each bear is a unique individual, in much the same way as each human is a unique individual.
Nobody knows for certain how many grizzlies there are in BC. They can’t be counted. Grizzlies have among the slowest reproduction rate of any mammal in North America and mortality rates are thought to be much higher than reported. A female grizzly might replace herself only once in her lifetime. Nobody knows how quickly a bear population is replacing itself year to year, or how low a population can go before its members experience rapid, irreversible decline. Sub-adult cubs remain close to their mother’s range before moving farther afield, so dispersal of bear populations is slow. Male grizzlies need a home range of up to ~500 square miles of connected habitats in order to forage and find females of breeding readiness. They work hard just to live. Killing the largest bears damages genetic information in the species. Roads being built for human recreation, industry and habitation are constantly fragmenting grizzly home ranges. And once a population is recognized as threatened, recovery efforts move at a glacial pace.
Population estimates don’t tell any authentic stories of Grizzly Bears and no number of bears is high enough to justify killing them for sport. Justice for BC grizzlies means to stop killing them and to support education for understanding bears and living around them safely.