Sharing the Land Base
By the late 1800s the world’s hunting fraternity had learned that British Columbia (BC) harboured one of North America’s most magnificent big game populations. Local hunters started guiding services to meet the demand for quality big game hunts. Guiding licences were first issued in 1913 and guiding territories started being established in the late 1940s.
With investment in their guide territories, guide outfitters developed an understanding of the wildlife and habitat within their guiding territory. This ownership increased the sense of responsibility and was the beginning of wildlife stewardship.
The Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia (GOABC) has reviewed position paper from the Center for Responsible Travel and Stanford University entitled Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia (2013). From our perspective, the question of whether or not overlapping tenures on the coast can co-exist is blurred by the emotional arguments surrounding hunting.
The guide outfitting industry has been operating in BC’s backcountry for over 100 years. BC’s wildlife viewing industry has grown well over the past 20 years, despite hunting in the same areas. Guide outfitting and wildlife viewing have co-existed for two decades and can continue to do so. Disagreements between operators are dealt with individually, and there are several business-to-business agreements currently in place.
Guided hunting and wildlife viewing are two of the many overlapping business activities that operate on Crown land. A multitude of adventure tourism and resource extraction tenures – forestry, heli-skiing/snowmobiling, mining, and more – currently share the land base. The reality is that tenure holders must find a way to share Crown land and cooperate with others operating within their areas. Impacts to businesses can be typically be avoided by dividing operators by time and space. This perceived conflict between bear viewing and bear hunting on the coast is between a few guide outfitters and a couple of wildlife viewing operations that offer bear viewing trips. It is reasonable to believe that there is sufficient space to address any concerns within this 32,000 km2 area.
Healthy Grizzly Bear Populations
BC’s grizzly bear populations are healthy and their range is expanding throughout the province as a result of strong science-based management. Recent studies from the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations provided a conservative population estimate of approximately 14,000-16,000 grizzly bears in BC.
BC’s management of grizzly bears is consistent with the recommendations from the federal government’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, which originally designated the western grizzly bear as a species of “Special Concern” in 1991, which indicates that grizzly bears are neither threatened nor endangered, but are sensitive to changes in habitat and their habits often bring them into direct conflict with humans. This status was confirmed in again in 2002 and 2012. BC’s grizzly bear population is not endangered or threatened.
Grizzly bears have only been extirpated from 11% of their historical range in BC, which corresponds with concentrations of private land, high road densities, and human population centers. As stated in a 2008 report for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, “The largest factor in maintaining grizzly bear survival is ensuring stability of their environment – the availability of food and habitat. This is particularly relevant as industrial development expands into areas of the province that were historically untouched.”
BC has a long history of sustainably hunting grizzly bears. The Ministry has dedicated significant funding to learning about and understanding this iconic and economically valuable species. Today, this hunt is the most tightly controlled hunt on the planet. In 2004, government commissioned an Independent Panel comprised of some of North America’s top wildlife scientists to review BC’s management of grizzly bears. The Panel made some recommendations for improvement, but overall, they were pleased with the province’s approach to managing grizzly bears.
The goal of wildlife management for all species it to keep populations within a healthy range, based on what the available habitat can handle. Only the surplus above this range can be hunted. For grizzly bears, the maximum human-caused mortality is 6% of the population each year. Currently, hunters take approximately 300 to 350 bears per year province-wide, which constitutes 2% of the population. The grizzly bear hunt only targets mature boars that have already served their role in propagating the species. An overabundance of older male bears can be a limiting factor for bear populations, as they are known to prey on their own young.
The vast BC coast is home to many populations of grizzly bears. The harvest in this area is marginal and distributed over a land base of approximately 32,000 km2.
We understand that people have a variety of feelings towards hunting, but it is important that we separate the emotion from the science. The extensive science on BC’s grizzly bear populations has demonstrated that the populations support a small and sustainable harvest.
The paper from the Center for Responsible Travel provides a summary of previous reports and an opinion on future steps for the guide outfitters and bear viewing companies operating on BC’s coast. The reality is that this perceived “conflict” affects relatively few operators on the coast.
Thousands of Crown land tenures holders have been able to find ways of cooperating and co-existing with other tenure holders in BC. Sharing the land base is part of operating a business on Crown land and, in the vast majority of cases, competing interests can be addressed by separating operators by time and space. It is reasonable to believe that this expansive coastal area, which is roughly the size of Vancouver Island, has sufficient space to continue to support both industries concurrently, as it has been doing for the past 20 years.