Northern B.C. First Nations call for reversal of grizzly bear hunting ban

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First Nations in the northwestern most corner of B.C. want to see the grizzly bear hunt restored within their territory.

Chad Day is the president of the Tahltan Central Government which serves as the administrative governing body of the remote Tahltan Nation.

He said it is important for people to understand that not all areas of the province have conservation concerns about grizzlies, which can kill up to 40 ungulate calves each month, according to studies in Alaska and other parts of the United States.

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“They are the apex predators in our country,” Day said. “They are extremely dangerous to not just other wildlife but to people and the conservation efforts of other (prey) species that we hold dear as Canadians, British Columbians and Indigenous people.”

Since the B.C. government ended all grizzly bear hunting across the province in December 2017, Day said the population in Tahltan territory, which covers an area larger than Portugal, has surged.

While members have luckily avoided being involved in an attack, it is only a matter of time, he said.

“They’ve been inside their camps more than normal,” he said. “Our people who go out hunting are pretty well-versed in the wilderness, obviously, so they’ve been able to avoid any serious issues with grizzly bears, but the feedback that we’ve received from everybody out on the land is that there are more grizzly bears than ever, that they’re becoming more aggressive than ever and that the’yre not fearing humans as much as they normally would.”

Tahltan people are certainly being more and more careful, he added.

The ban on grizzly bear hunting followed consultations with First Nations, stakeholder groups and the public, in which 78 per cent of respondents recommended the hunt be stopped entirely, noted the B.C. Government in a news release in December 2017.

Day, however, said the Tahltan people and Tahltan governments have always been of the mindset that predators, specifically grizzly bears and wolves, need to be properly managed through science and Indigenous-based decisions.

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“The Tahltan people for hundreds, probably thousands of years, controlled predator populations to make sure that we had abundant wildlife populations especially with ungulates,” he said. “If we’re going to only kill ungulates as people and we’re going to protect apex predators like the grizzly bear it’s just common sense that over time you’re going to have more and more grizzlies and you’re going to have less and less ungulates and fish.”

A spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said they are aware of the position of the Tahltan Central Government on grizzly bear hunting, however, have no plan to change the ban.

Grizzly bear research projects and habitat assessments continue, the spokesperson added.

“Proposals to implement management tools to implement habitat protections are underway in multiple areas of the province.”

An independent audit of grizzly bear management by Carol Bellringer in October 2017 found the B.C. Government did not fulfill many of their commitments including identifying and securing key grizzly bear habitats, creating a grizzly bear management plan and implementing a recovery plan for the North Cascades grizzly bear populations.

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Bellringer made a total of ten recommendations to the province and wrote “the greatest threat to grizzly bears is not hunting, but rather, human activities that degrade grizzly bear habitat.”

The ministry spokesperson said Bellringer’s comment is reflective that hunting was managed in a manner as to not impact grizzly populations.

“The Province is continuing to advance the recommendations and reports annual to the Public Accounts Committee. There have been some delays this year due to challenges related to COVID-19.”

According to government figures there are about 15,000 grizzly bear in the province, which is about a quarter of the entire North American population.

The hunting ban upset many B.C. guide-outfitters who alleged the ‘bad form’ ban had nothing do with science and financially harmed them.

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Approximately 25 per cent of guide-fitters eligible for transition support had applied and were approved, the ministry spokesperson said.

As the ban does not apply to First Nations who are still able to harvest grizzly bears for food, social or ceremonial purposes under their Aboriginal or treaty rights, Day is preparing to participate in his first grizzly hunt at the end of next month.

He said the Tahltan Central Government will be working towards creating its own predator management program for the Tahltan Nation.

“We just want to make sure that we make balanced decisions that are based in science and Indigenous knowledge rather than based in emotions from whatever the most popular opinion is in B.C. because we know that the average British Columbian doesn’t live amongst grizzly bears and understand those apex predators like we do.”

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