Premier Ujjal Dosanjh has decided to impose a three-year moratorium on the hunting of grizzly bears effective today.
(A grizzly bear)
The government wants to give outside experts time to assess the bears' numbers.
Dosanjh and Environment Minister Ian Waddell will make the announcement at a press conference at their Vancouver cabinet office this afternoon.
The decision was hailed by conservationists and wildlife biologists as being in the best interests of grizzlies and British Columbians.
"Wow!" said Barry Gilbert, a Canadian wildlife scientist and grizzly bear expert at Utah State University. "This is very good news. It's also in line with professional scientific recommendations. B.C. doesn't know enough about its grizzly populations to warrant a hunt."
But the people who make a living from the grizzly hunt are infuriated by the move. All of them complained that the decision is driven by social and political goals, and not on science.
And they all said the moratorium will hurt their ability to make a living.
Mike McDonough, who has been guiding hunters near Williams Lake for the past 25 years, said he has a quota of two grizzly bears every five years. He had planned to use that quota this May, when two hunters from Texas were to fly in for a 12-day grizzly hunt.
The hunt has been booked for three years, McDonough said. According to his Web site, each one is worth US $8,000, plus a $2,000 trophy fee.
Now McDonough will have to refund the money, he said.
"It certainly is going to impact my revenue."
Marilyn Hooper, who with her husband Jack has run the Tukii Lodge near Smithers for 22 years, said their operation has sold two grizzly hunts for next year.
Although they run hunts for other animals and have a fishing operation, the grizzly hunt is a "calling card," Hooper said, and it helps pay the bills.
Hooper said the province's urban dwellers don't understand just how many bears there are in the north.
Ray Collingwood, who with his brother Reg runs the Collingwood Brothers Guides and Outfitters operation around the Babine River, echoed Hooper's assessment of urbanites' attitudes and understandings about the North.
"We've got grizzlies coming out of our ears along the Babine River," he said. He expects the moratorium to add to that problem.
Collingwood said one of his clients has been coming from the U.S. since 1969, and in recent years has brought his children and grandchildren along, as well. This year, Collingwood said, the hunter had planned to spend $37,000 there.
How many grizzlies there are in B.C. has been the subject of disagreement for years. The provincial Wildlife Branch maintains there may be anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 bears, but conservationists and other scientists say it's 4,000 to 6,000.
Grizzlies are listed as one of 365 species at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
The moratorium is intended to provide scientists time to establish a definitive count of grizzlies in B.C.
Until today's announcement, grizzlies customarily were hunted between April and June, and September and November. About 400 bears were killed legally each year.
Guide outfitters are to receive short-term compensation for any loss of revenue they may sustain during the moratorium, and hunters who applied to take part in the spring hunt will receive free applications for permits for any other fall hunt.
But the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia has been running alarming radio advertisements across B.C. recently in opposition to cries for the moratorium.
The advertisements have said an end to the bear hunt could put humans at risk.
"If you value your safety and the safety of your family, call your MLA today," one advert says. "Because some foreign-based anti-hunting group has no business putting your life at risk."
Murray Coell, the opposition Liberals' environment critic, said in an interview Wednesday that his party supports the recommendations of provincial government biologists -- that grizzly bears are neither threatened or endangered in the province.
"If you're going to have professional, hired scientists and biologists, you need to follow their advice," Coell said.
He called the moratorium decision a victory of politics over science.
But conservationists were ecstatic over news of the moratorium.
"[This moratorium] is an historic decision, because this will be the first time in over a century when grizzly bears will wake up from their dens, and not be killed for sport or out of ignorance," said Ian McAllister of the Raincoast Conservation Society, which has put up billboards against the hunt throughout the Lower Mainland.
"What the premier has done is taken a precautionary approach to wildlife management, and that's all we've been asking for. We appreciate his leadership on this," McAllister said.
Rick Smith, a wildlife biologist and the national director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, called it "a great announcement."
"The government has stood up for good science and good conservation with this announcement. As both a scientist and a conservationist, I applaud them for this decision."
Brian Horesje, a Calgary zoologist who has studied grizzlies for the past 27 years, called the move "positive for grizzlies."
He also expressed hope that any studies that take place in the future will involve scientists from all over the world as well as the public.
Gilbert, who is also a hunter, said the B.C. government doesn't have enough staff in its wildlife branch either to estimate the number of grizzlies correctly or to enforce existing hunting laws.
He believes there has been an "open season" on poaching in the province for years, but says Dosanjh's decision will put an end to that.
"It means that the history of B.C's inadequate monitoring and research has been exposed," Gilbert said. "It also will give us an opportunity to see for sure where the bears are in trouble."
First Nations representatives also applauded the decision.
Harvey Humchitt, a hereditary chief of the Heiltsuk nation in Bella Bella, said grizzlies are significant in many aboriginal cultures because certain stories say they are close to human beings.
"When I was a young man, I was taught that whatever I shot was to be used for consumption," Humchitt said. "I agree with the moratorium. I know that the grizzlies are a species that is hunted quite heavily, and now they may have a chance to come back again."
A 1996 Angus Reid poll, the most recent done on the issue, showed that 91 per cent of British Columbians oppose hunting bears for sport, and that 77 per cent want it banned altogether.
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THE BEAR FACTS IN B.C.
Annual value of the grizzly hunt: $200 million
Number killed by tourists in '99: 108
Number killed by local hunters: 130
Cost of a 10-day hunt at the Tukii Lodge, on Babine Lake, B.C.: $14,000
Provincial biologists' estimate of B.C.'s grizzly population: 10,000 to 13,000
Hunt opponents' estimate of the grizzly population: 4,000 to 6,000
- According to a 1996 Angus Reid poll, the most recent available, 91 per cent of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting of bears, and 77 per cent want it banned altogether.
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