Bear watching benefits BC economy more than trophy hunting: new study

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A grizzly cub in British Columbia. (Wikipedia)
A grizzly cub in British Columbia. (Wikipedia)

Vancouver – Last September, BC-born hockey player Clayton Stoner stirred up plenty of controversy when a picture was circulated of him holding the severed head of the trophy grizzly bear he had killed along the province’s central coast.

First Nations communities were outraged by the news — especially since many people who lived in the area were already aware of the young, male grizzly. They had even nicknamed him “Cheeky.”

When Stoner killed the bear — cutting off his head while leaving the rest of the body to rot — he likely wasn’t thinking much about the economics of the situation.

But believe it or not, a US-based research institute has analyzed whether these bears are worth more money to BC’s tourism industry dead or alive.

The study, authored by the Center for Responsible Travel, at Stanford University in Washington, DC, calculated that bear viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest generates more than 10 times the employment, tourist spending and government revenue compared to hunting in the same area.

In September 2012, Coastal First Nations, which represents nine First Nations in the area, announced a ban on trophy hunting for bears in the region. However the BC government continues to issue kill tags, claiming jurisdiction over bear management.

“This study reinforces what First Nations in the area have been saying for years,” said Kitasoo/Xai’xais councillor Doug Neasloss. “Bears are worth more alive than they are dead. That goes for our communities, the ecosystems on the coast, and now we find out it’s true for the BC government too.”

A poll released by McAllister Opinion Research in September 2013 showed 87% of British Columbians support an end to bear hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest.

A subsequent study by a separate firm, Insights West, found that 88% of BC residents oppose trophy hunting. 95% of hunters surveyed by McAllister agreed that “you should not be hunting if you are not prepared to eat what you kill.”

“This latest study raises an important question for BC’s minister responsible for hunting, Steve Thomson,” said Heiltsuk tribal councillor Jessie Housty. “Last fall, we learned the science used to justify the bear hunt is deeply flawed. Now we see the economics are completely backward. So will Thomson do the right thing and bring BC government policy in line with First Nations law? Or will he let trophy hunters take more money out of taxpayers’ pockets?”