Is there a future for B.C. Grizzly Bears?
“As a paradigm shift in thinking, feeling and acting … we must be bold, proactive, positive, passionate and persistent.” ~ Mark Beckoff 2015 ~
Teetering on the edge of provincial politics, economy, ecology and ethics, the B.C. grizzly hunt holds a mirror to British Columbians’ values.
Retiring MLA, Bill Bennett observes: “Grizzly bears are dangerous. They’re dangerous animals, and we have a whole bunch of them where I live — we actually have too many of them. The idea of killing a beautiful wild animal is extremely difficult if you don’t have any traditions in that regard. But the fact of the matter is the populations in some parts of the province are growing so fast that animals are going to have to be removed. So we’re either going to have conservation officers going out and assassinating bears. Or you’re going to have a regulated hunt where we actually generate some revenue and allow us to go out and keep that population in check.”
Through his lens on the world, Grizzly Bears are a dangerous, threatening competitor species to be controlled and dominated.
Charlie Russell has lived with and studied Grizzly Bears for most of his life. He says: “I have never believed that bears are harmless and that people should be turned loose on them. That would be terrible. Rather, I believed there needed to be protocols for the meeting of the two species, and I was trying to gather evidence upon which those protocols could be based. I began to believe that human fear was the true obstacle to coexistence. What was more obviously true and important was that, in the absence of fear on both sides, life in close association between bears and humans was better for both. It was all about manners, and my conviction that bears treated with kindness will respond in kind.”
Through his lens on the world, the grizzly is an individualistic fellow creature that can be trusted if approached respectfully.
What does this mean for the future of B.C. Grizzly Bears?
Conflicting world views are playing out through the voices of people who speak about grizzlies. Grizzly advocates look at the bears and see individuals of intelligence and feeling; creative problem solvers with distinct personalities and varied expressions of life experience. It is a biocentric paradigm; a point of view that extends inherent value to all living things. Grizzly hunters look at these bears and see a homogeneous big game species; a natural resource, there for extraction and gain no different than oil, gas, lumber and minerals. It is an anthropocentric paradigm that views human beings as the most significant entity of the universe and interprets the world in terms of human values and experience. Each group holds a vision of “the way the world really is”.
One has only to look at the pattern of the recent past to see that a paradigm shift has to happen for there to be any future for B.C. grizzlies at all.
As recently as 1979, Grizzly Bears were considered Not at Risk in Canada, with both Prairie and Northwestern populations. By 1991, only a Northwestern population remained and by 2012, nine sub-populations of Northwestern grizzlies in Southern B.C. were designated “threatened”. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) repeatedly advises that “their poor condition in some parts of the range, combined with their naturally low reproductive rates and increasing pressures of resource extraction and cumulative impacts in currently intact parts of the range, heighten concern for this species if such pressures are not successfully reversed.”
Why would anything change if the paradigm stays the same?
The trajectory for grizzlies is painfully clear. While government watches with “best available science”, grizzly populations in Southern B.C. are threatened, with no plan for recovery, and the remainder continue to retreat into remote mountain ranges.
Killing grizzlies for sport, because they are viewed as “surplus”, or for trophy, because they are viewed as prize “specimens”, or for expediency, because they are in the way of human enterprise, amounts to ecological roulette that will spell doom for grizzly culture if government attitude does not change. We don’t even know what we are losing by killing the most virile members of a keystone species. Grizzlies are under siege from climate change, forest decline, food collapse and conflict with human settlements, in addition to being killed for sport and trophy. A government that legally sanctions killing these bears, based on uncertain science, cannot in good conscience claim to be concerned with conservation. Even the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia questions: “In the midst of so many landscape pressures, should we allow trophy hunting to continue?”
Good models for human-grizzly coexistence already exist, such as the study in Meadow Creek, B.C. Better value questions from Compassionate Conservation can guide the way, as can sites to educate about grizzlies, such as prepared by Dr. Melanie Clapham, Conservation Biologist. And the experience of Charlie Russell’s life with grizzlies is proof that these bears respond cooperatively to respectful treatment.
B.C. Grizzly Bears are a “who”, not a “what”; and therein lies the paradigm shift that will ensure their future.
Thinking differently is the call of our time. Earth is facing biodiversity loss no longer within safe limits, the time of peak wilderness is past, and world population is expected to reach almost 10 billion in 2050. We have entered the geological age of the Anthropocene, in which humans are the dominant pressure on all earth systems. In this bottleneck of increasing human population, disappearing species and dwindling resources, policy decisions about the future must be made. For the sake of all life, we need better stories and better questions.
The future for BC grizzlies will not change if policy, and multifaceted challenges to their survival, remain the same as they have been. Their consistent pattern of retrenchment, in only the last 37 years, tells the story. But with just one swipe of a pen, the trophy hunt is one significant layer of lethal challenge that can be ended for B.C. Grizzly Bears. On May 9 2017, B.C. voters have an opportunity to challenge the paradigm of government by making the grizzly trophy hunt an election issue that ends the hunt.