Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/The history and divergent views on grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia, Canada

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Over the past decades, trophy hunting of grizzly bears remains a controversial topic in British Columbia. In 2018, the government of BC declared a trophy hunting ban for all non-First Nations on grizzly bears due to their threatened status in the province. This led to controversy in the province, as some stakeholders, such as local hunters and hunting guides, did not agree with the ban. Other stakeholders however supported the trophy hunting ban, such as environmentalists, First Nations, and the general public. In order to acknowledge each stakeholder and their views or needs, the government must increase its inclusive policies and provide more education to the general public on trophy hunting.


Tenure and administrative arrangements in British Columbia


Today, 95% of the land in British Columbia is publicly owned, which accounts for 55 million hectares of diverse forests. Since the 1890s, the provincial government has issued licences to log; Under the revised Forests Act of 1996, long and short-term tenure agreements have been issued to a wider range of companies, communities, individuals, or First Nations. Before licencees may harvest wood, they first require a license, which requires them to follow regulations and do not have negative impacts on wildlife, biodiversity, and cultural heritage. Within the public lands, 14.1 million hectares make up parks and protected areas, which accounts for 14.8% of the land in BC [1].

Legal framework

Legal frameworks for conserving protected areas include the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act, Ecological Reserve Act, Environment and Land Use Act, Park Act, and the Park, Conservancy and Recreation Area Regulation [2]. Firstly, the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act ensures that the boundaries of the protected areas remain unmodified, unless by an Act of the Legislature. Secondly, the Ecological Reserve Act manages ecological reserves, and identifies inappropriate activities that should not occur on the land. This Act correlates with the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act in order to establish boundaries and management within a reserve. Thirdly, the Environment and Land Use Act ensures preservation of the protected areas and assesses the impacts of land use and resource development. Lastly, the Park Act establishes, classifies, and manages parks, and conservation and recreation areas, and correlates with the Park, Conservancy and Recreation Area Regulations. The Park, Conservancy and Recreation Area Regulation establishes the requirements for several permits such as use of firearms for hunting and fishing, as well as setting fines for offenders [3]. With these five acts and regulations, ecological reserves within British Columbia are well defined and managed.

Another important Act in terms of wildlife protection includes the Wildlife Act, established in 1985, which aims to preserve habitats important for wildlife and migratory birds, specifically those at risk. Preservation includes creation, management, and protection of wildlife areas. Federally, harmful activities, such as trophy hunting, are prohibited unless a permit is acquired. This also includes activities such as hiking, canoeing, and photography [4]. The provincial Wildlife Act for British Columbia only legally lists four species as endangered or threatened; the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis), the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), the sea otter (Enhydra lutris), and the American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). Although listed as a species of major concern in British Columbia, the grizzly bears have still not been legally listed as a species at risk under the provincial Wildlife Act [5]

Wildlife Management Areas

Map of British Columbia showing all 31 wildlife management areas (WMAs) [6]

Section 4 of the Wildlife Act mentions the designation of Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) under minister's administration, and these differ from a park, conservancy, or recreation area. WMAs were emplaced with the intentions of benefiting regionally to internationally significant species and their habitats. The aims of these areas include providing habitats for endangered, threatened, and vulnerable species, as well as species at a critical phase of their life-cycle such as spawning or denning. WMAs also aim to provide areas for migration routes, areas that promote species richness, and valued land for consumptive or non-consumptive human uses such as recreation. WMAs may be on public lands or privately-owned lands that have been leased to the Ministry. The main goals of a WMA include conservation and management of wildlife and their habitats. however other land uses, such as resource-based activities, may also occur in these areas. Any new activities that involve land use must first be approved by the government or Minister. Consultation between the Ministry, First Nations, other affected stakeholders, and the public occurs when developing a new WMA. First Nations are also consulted when new management plans develop within a WMA. Currently in 2019, British Columbia has a total of 31 WMAs spread across the province from as low as 17 hectares in Coquitlam River to 122,787 hectares in Todagin [6].

Hunting Laws

For a resident hunter, in order to legally hunt in British Columbia, they require one of three licenses; a hunting license, initiation hunting license, or a youth hunting license. With a valid license, hunters must also acquire an appropriate species license depending on which animal they want to hunt. A species license provides the hunter with a personal limit to harvesting. In terms of equipment, in order for legal possession, a hunter also requires a federal firearms license. For lending a firearm, the licensed owner must possess the federal firearm license and closely supervise the lender. Youths aged from 10 to 17 with the correct license may use firearms but must be accompanied by an adult with a valid hunting license [7].

Non-resident hunters must acquire a Fish & Wildlife ID (FWID), residency credentials, hunting credentials, non-resident hunting licenses, and species licenses. Furthermore, unlike resident hunters, non-resident hunters either must hire a guide outfitter or be listed on a Permit to Accompany, which allows them to accompany hunters or youths who do not own a firearm license [7].

In terms of hunting legalities, Section 26 of the Wildlife Act states that it is an offense to hunt or trap the following wildlife[5]:

  1. Endangered or threatened species
  2. Species habituated in a wildlife sanctuary
  3. Outside open season
  4. With a firearm or a bow during the prohibited hours
  5. With the use of a light or illuminating device
  6. With poison
  7. With a set gun
  8. With a pump, repeating or auto-loading shotgun unless the magazine contains a plug incapable of removal except by disassembling the gun

Furthermore, as of November 30th, 2017, due to their vulnerable populations, trophy hunting, or hunting for sport, of grizzly bears became illegal, and all hunting of bears was no longer allowed in the Great Bear Rainforest, which makes up 6.4 million hectares of British Columbia [6].

Grizzly bears

Natural history

Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos)

The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), an iconic keystone species to North America, has a unique natural history unlike any other mammal. They are omnivorous and feed on grasses and sedges, forbs, berries, mammals and fish [8]. In early summer, the bears mainly prey on elk calves with occasional predation on male ungulates in late summer and fall [8]. The bear predation on ungulates help control the populations of moose, elk and deer in many areas where they are overabundant [9]. When grizzly bears aren't feeding on ungulates, they are feeding on vegetation, and in turn contribute to plant reproduction through seed dispersal[8][9]. With a decline in grizzly bears in Canada many other species will be negatively affected, making the management of this species especially important.

Current population

Currently in Canada, grizzly bears are listed as a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife, with an estimated 15,000 bears remaining in British Columbia with up to an 80% decline since before the European settlers arrived in North America [10][11]. In some areas, such as the prairies and boreal plains in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the bears have been completely extirpated. Species are at most concern in southern Canada, more specifically British Columbia [12]. Two major impacts contributing to the recent decline of grizzly bears include habitat loss and excessive human-caused mortality [12].  Although the United States has recovered their populations, due to the inadequate protection of the grizzly bears in Canada, recovery has not been as effective in British Columbia.

History of trophy hunting

Prior to trophy hunting ban

Map of grizzly bear population units (GBPUs) in British Columbia as of 2012 [13]

The grizzly bears in the United States began to bounce back from the previously low populations, unlike the Canadian species that remains threatened due to lack of protection and proper management. Contrary to the United Sates, prior to the trophy hunting ban in 2017, 65% of British Columbia could be used for hunting, with an allowance of 682 bears hunted per year [14]. Although these rules were emplaced, a study done by Artelle et al. (2013) showed that mortality exceeded that figure in some years, with no repercussions by the government [10]. The British Columbia government stated that "it is extremely rare for mortality rates over a five-year period to be in excess of the allowable mortality". however Artelle et al. (2013) found that in 26 Grizzly Bear Population Units (GBPU) the total mortality allocated was reached or exceeded between 2001 and 2011 [10][14]. The government claimed that action had been taken. however these results suggested otherwise and therefore a change needed to be made [14].


Trophy hunting ban

In an effort to help recover threatened grizzly bear populations in British Columbia, on August 14th, 2017, the government of British Columbia announced that trophy hunting would be banned in the province as of November 30th, 2017. Furthermore, the government also announced that they would be working on new management strategies towards supporting sustainable hunting in an effort to continue grizzly bear population recovery. Although the trophy hunting ban of grizzly bears in British Columbia prohibits the possession of "trophy parts", hunting of grizzly bears for sustenance for residents and non-residents remains legal, including First Nations. New regulations, which were discussed with First Nations and stakeholder groups, require taxidermists and tanners to report any grizzly bears brought to them within 10 days or face a fine of 230$. This excludes any grizzlies brought to them prior to the trophy hunt ban or from outside British Columbia. The government also consulted with the general public and in conclusion two policy documents were drawn up based on inputs on banning trophy hunting, possession of trophy parts, grizzly bear trafficking, and requirements for taxidermists [15].

Successes and Failures

A study done in 2019 showed how prohibiting trophy hunting impacted grizzly bear populations in British Columbia by looking at both small and large populations. Results showed that larger populations benefited from the ban, and that populations were growing. However, results also showed that smaller populations continued to decline. These results show the relationship between survival and recruitment, in that a lower recruitment in a smaller population limits population growth, in turn leading to lower survival rates. This suggest that only banning trophy hunting cannot recover populations and that other factors, such as poor habitat quality and high infanticide rates, may impact populations. Therefore, the trophy hunt ban was a success for larger populations, but remained a failure for smaller populations [16].

Other conflicts: Illegal hunting

In 2012, the Province of British Columbia reported that at least eight grizzly bears are killed illegally each year [13]. There have even been instances of hunters illegally hunting after being forbidden from hunting due to past offenses, and despite their previous arrests, seizures, and fines. One hunter in British Columbia even lied about the animal they hunted, claiming they had the license for a black bear when in fact they shot a grizzly. Furthermore, this hunter did not claim female animal moralities [what does this mean?], which can be extra detrimental to suffering populations. Other offenses included lying about where the hide remains were located, as well as having novice hunters join and do the illegal harvesting for him [17]. This story shows only one example of the issue of illegal hunting in British Columbia, and more of the same may be occurring throughout the province.


Diverging views, main objectives, and relative power


Prior to the trophy hunting ban, the government, an interested stakeholder, claimed they were doing their best to help manage and recover grizzly bear populations. Although the government helped increase scientific knowledge of grizzlies, they lacked management capacity to counter human-caused mortality and in conserving bear habitat [18]. The government decided to increase management measures by banning trophy hunting after receiving a positive response from the public. Minister of Environment George Heyman acknowledged the importance of the grizzly bears and told a news conference that “Protecting this iconic species is simply the right thing to do.” [reference?] Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson also added that “We have listened to what British Columbians have to say on this issue and it is abundantly clear that the grizzly hunt is not in line with their values.” [insert reference]. Since 2018, the government promised to improve grizzly bear management, while also aiding ecotourism stakeholders by encouraging grizzly bear viewing [19]. Overall the government has moved to a more ecological opinion when considering grizzly bears and banning trophy hunting, similar to the views of environmentalists and the general public.

Environmentalists and the general public

Leading up to the trophy hunting ban, the government drew up two policy intent papers, after several meetings with First Nations and other key stakeholders. The government also reached out to the general public on the issue, and received 4,180 emails, with 78% of respondents agreeing with the trophy hunt ban in all parts of the province. The government also involved interested wildlife stakeholders and grizzly bear non-government organizations who agreed with the majority of the public. Conservationists, such as those who are a part of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, claimed they have been trying to end trophy hunting of grizzly bears for nearly two decades [20].

Many environmentalists over the years have researched and monitored grizzly bear populations in British Columbia. Gailus (2013) made a report concluding that although bear populations remain stable worldwide, in southern Alberta and British Columbia they continued to decline. Furthermore, they reproduce slowly, making them extra sensitive to habitat alterations and mortality risks associated with human activity. Poaching contributed to 34 to 51% of all mortalities, leading environmentalists to consider trophy hunting unsustainable, and therefore to strongly agree with making it illegal [21][22]. Although they believe that banning trophy hunting is a step in the right direction, many feel as though a lot of improvement must still be made, including increasing fines [20]. Other improvements that must be made to protect the smaller and more sensitive populations includes reducing habitat fragmentation and habitat loss [16].

First Nations

In their cultures, the First Nations, an affected stakeholder, recognize the grizzly bear as a powerful animal worthy of fear and respect, and they ritualize the species as well as hunt it for resources and ritual significance [21]. Today First Nations continue to use hunting as a means for food with an emphasis on sustainable hunting. Different tribes have different traditions when it comes to hunting, such as the Secwepemc nation where families hunt for other families who are not allowed to hunt for a year due to losing a member of the family [23]. Although First Nations may continue to trophy hunt, grizzly bear population will not be heavily impacted as only few members actually hunt bears [24].

During the establishment of the ban, the government not only sent emails to the general public, but also to more than 200 First Nations, including 41 individuals that overlapped with the Great Bear Rainforest. The government also set up meetings with the First Nations and kept them involved in all the decisions. It was agreed that First Nations were an exception to the trophy hunting ban, and that they could continue to harvest grizzly bears [20]. In terms of making trophy hunting illegal, the First Nations mostly agreed as they were not included in the ban. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, an Okanagan First Nations leader and President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, believes that trophy hunting is barbaric and he too supports the ban [24].

Local hunters

Local hunters, also affected stakeholders, strongly disagree with the trophy hunting ban, as they are negatively impacted by the new policy. Over the years, there has been an increase in social media coverage on hunting, leading hunters to believe they are being portrayed with a negative stereotypical image. Contrary to what controversial conservation stories entail, local hunters claim that killing is not their main motivation for hunting, and that they are more interested in visiting secluded areas of the country and acquiring naturally organic meat. Furthermore, they believe they play an important role in the provincial economy as hunting has been on the rise by 20% in the last decade. Hunters claim they also contribute to the environment by protecting and conserving hunting resources, as well as having great knowledge about the land [23]. Therefore, hunters believe that the trophy hunting ban will not only personally impact them, but also impact the environment and economy of British Columbia.

Hunting guides

Guide outfitters and hunting guides, interested stakeholders, hold one of the stronger and more negative views on making trophy hunting illegal, and believe that the ban drastically harms up to 245 businesses and over 2,000 employees. In late 2018, an operator of a guide outfitting company even filed a class-action lawsuit against the government of British Columbia on the issue. By December 2018 the defense had still not been filed and none of the allegations was proven. The lawsuit also claimed that the government neglected to consult with guide outfitting companies, and in turn they demand a financial compensation. Although the government believes there is more revenue in grizzly bear viewing than hunting, guide outfitters disagree. Some damages to companies included the loss of deposits from hunters having to cancel confirmed bookings, with some losses being up to $25,000 USD [25]. Therefore, overall hunting guides remain one of the few stakeholders who strongly disagree with making trophy hunting illegal as they have lost a great deal of revenue from the ban.


Some recommendations for avoiding illegal trophy hunting of grizzly bears include increasing the value and occurrence of fines, which may discourage illegal activities and allow for bear populations to recover in British Columbia. This solution may also benefit the economy with more possible income from detecting illegal hunters. More specifically, there is a need for stronger repercussions on illegal hunting of female grizzly bears and on the exceeding of allowed mortalities. Should hunters be caught illegally hunting the threatened bears, high fines and even possible jail time on a case-by-case basis should take place. Additionally, more patrol officers should be hired in these GBPUs to help decrease the amount of illegal trophy hunting occurring. Having less illegal trophy hunting, due to the discouragement of hunters through increased permits and fines, can contribute to the recovery of the grizzly bear populations. Furthermore, in order to satisfy the views of environmentalists and wildlife biologists, there must be improvements in the British Columbia Wildlife Act, and grizzly bears should be legally listed as a species at risk.

Today grizzly bear populations remain threatened, therefore there should be a focus on continuing their recovery before allowing trophy hunters to hunt again. This may be conflicting with local hunters’ views, however we must first recover the species in British Columbia before the discussion on lifting the trophy hunting ban should be discussed. We should continue to accommodate the First Nations and their views on hunting grizzlies for sustainability, as it is an important component of their culture. Although difficult to satisfy every stakeholders need's, declining grizzly bear populations remain the most important issue that must first be resolved, and unfortunately for some this means trophy hunting should remain illegal in British Columbia. In order to move forward with a policy on trophy hunting that everyone agrees with, all stakeholders must be included in the decision-making, the needs of stakeholders must be balanced, and there must be an increase in public awareness and education on hunting.


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  2. Sustainable Forest Management in Canada (2016). "Canada's Legal Forest Products: Province of British Columbia".
  3. BC Parks (2019). "Legislation, Acts and Regulations".
  4. Environment Canada (2019). "About the Canada Wildlife Act".
  5. 5.0 5.1 Province of British Columbia (2019). "Wildlife Act".
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Government of B.C. (2019). "Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)".
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  15. Government of B.C. (2017). "New Grizzly Bear Regulations – Results".
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  18. Gailus, Jeff (2014). "Failing B.C.'s Grizzlies: Report Card and Recommendations for Ensuring a Future for British Columbia's Grizzly Bears". David Suzuki Foundation: 17–22.
  19. Pynn, Larry (March 19th, 2018). "NDP government does 'right thing' and kills food hunt of B.C. grizzly bears". Vancouver Sun. Check date values in: |date= (help)
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  24. 24.0 24.1 Bailey, Ian (December 18th, 2017). "First Nations hunters to be exempt from B.C. grizzly ban". The Globe And Mail. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  25. The Canadian Press (December 19th, 2018). "Hunting guide files lawsuit against province over B.C. grizzly hunt ban". CBC News. Check date values in: |date= (help)

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