I was listening to the most recent podcast from the Gritty Bowmen last night. Aron and Brian were talking about a number of cool issues like they usually do. I always learn something new about archery every time I listen to their show and I recommend following their podcasts. These guys talk their minds but always represent hunters and hunting in a responsible way. First and foremost they advocate that hunters need to be as skilled as they possibly can and to only hunt within their individual skill bubbles. As well, they advocate that hunting is about having fun and bringing home the meat. But the guys also dove into the recent announcement by the new British Columbia government to ban the grizzly hunt after November of this year. What concerned me about the podcast conversation is that the situation behind the grizzly hunting ban in British Columbia might be misunderstood by the broader hunting community. So I want to paint the picture more accurately for the entire North America hunting community and what the ban means to everyone. Don’t’ worry I’m not going to beat up the Gritty Bowmen – they are great guys!
The Cliff Notes on BC’s Grizzly Hunt Debate
Earlier this year I wrote and in-depth article on the grizzly hunt controversy in British Columbia where I looked at the different worldviews, tactics and failures of both sides of the debate. After the grizzly hunt ban was announced I published another article that addressed the wasteful issue of this new law that will prohibit hunters from keeping the head, paws and fur of a legally harvested grizzly. However, in my article today I specifically want to address the misunderstanding that British Columbians “voted” to ban grizzly hunting. 90% of British Columbians did not vote to end the grizzly hunt. There are two independent polls that published some “numbers” about trophy hunting and the grizzly hunt; however, as I will show those numbers are nothing more than alternative facts.
What is the Grizzly Hunting Ban Really About?
The grizzly hunt debate in British Columbia is about one issue. It’s not about grizzly bear conservation, it’s not about science, it’s not about the sustainability of hunting and it’s not about animal rights versus hunting. It’s about money and big business. The Wilderness Tourism Association says the banning of grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rain Forest of British Columbia could generate an estimated $1.5 billion in tourism revenue. See the picture now?
Once it was obvious that grizzly bears are cash cows for the tourism industry there needed to be “data” that justified banning the grizzly hunt. Hunting stood in the way of the bear viewing industry from tapping into this massive profit potential. Based on a 2014 report commissioned by the Bear Viewing Association of BC the anti-grizzly bear hunting campaign claimed bear viewing generates more revenue in the province than bear hunting. The study area for this economic analysis; however, only looked at the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia (a fraction of BC’s total land area). Only 11 of the 225 guide-outfitter territories in the province occur in the study area. Only 112 of the 9337 resident bear hunters hunted in the study area during 2013. Only 13 of the 53 bear viewing operators in the study area provided complete financial reports for the economic analysis. As published in the study, financial data for the remaining 40 bear viewing operators were “estimated where possible…”. This economic study was the start of a series of misleading statements made to the public to undermine the hunting community especially the families in BC that make their living from guiding non-resident hunters.
Proof is in the “Numbers”…Really?
Not everyone is convinced that decisions about how Nature is enjoyed should always be about profit. So there needed to be a better argument than the economic potential of bear viewing. There needed to be a public outcry to sway politicians to invoke laws to favour the tourism industry. If British Columbia continued to be known as a jurisdiction that allowed science-based grizzly hunting the tourism sector could not realize the full potential of the grizzly as a cash cow. So the next step was to turn the public against hunters. Enter the professional grizzly bear anti-hunting campaigners whose job it is to raise money and pull at the emotions of the general non-hunting public to sway them to anti-hunting. To show that the majority of people oppose hunting grizzly bears the campaign needed “un-biased data” to show politicians that the people of BC really wanted the grizzly hunt banned.
A poll conducted in 2015 reported that 91% of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting which was defined as “hunting animals for sport”. 75% of British Columbian’s were reported to oppose the “killing of animals for their fur”. But 81% supported hunting animals for meat. The poll was not specific to grizzly bear hunting like it is purported to be. The poll surveyed only 1,003 adult British Columbians. For a poll to claim that it represents the opinions of all British Columbians, of which there are 4.7 million of us, the poll needed a minimum of 1067 respondents by polling standards. The 2015 poll fell short. Short by only a few dozen people but short none the less. In science, if your data does not support the conclusion even after following the rules then you cannot say your results are valid. “Close enough” does not fly in the scientific community. The 2015 poll was inconclusive yet the statement that 90% of British Columbians oppose hunting grizzly bears became a statistic used as an election issue this past spring and it ended up driving a change to public wildlife policy. No elected official or public policy analyst bothered to look at the reliability of this poll and it was accepted at face value by political parties and the media. No one actually knows who commissioned the poll in the first place. Any guesses?
In March of 2017, as British Columbia’s election was ramping up, another poll surfaced which reported that 74% of Rural British Columbians oppose hunting grizzlies. Now the anti-hunting campaigners were claiming that even rural people oppose grizzly hunting and it’s not just city folks that oppose it. When I examined the integrity of this new poll I found that only 400 total voters for all 5 rural electoral districts included in the poll were surveyed (there are 85 electoral districts in BC). It was not reported whether participants were selected randomly for this poll. Since pollsters chose to report the percentages by each of the 5 electoral district they needed to have randomly polled over a 1000 people per district (total of 5000+ people) to achieve a statistically reliable poll of +/- 3% margin of error at the 95% confidence limit. The 5 districts have approximately 147,000 total voters so the survey is claiming that 296 people (74% of respondents) represent the opinions of 147,000 rural voters. Does this sound like the vast majority of rural British Columbians across the province oppose the grizzly hunt?
Between the two polls a total of 1208 people out of 4.7 million people in BC are apparently opposed to the grizzly hunt. Does this sound like the majority of British Columbia’s voted to ban grizzly hunting? The use of alternative facts to drive public policy for wildlife management is a sad state of where wildlife management is at in the British Columbia. As one political leader stated – This [grizzly hunt ban] is a populist approach to wildlife management that does not achieve anything or satisfy either side of the issue.
The professional anti-grizzly hunting campaign also used First Nations in their platform by claiming that all First Nations in BC are opposed to hunting grizzly bears. First Nations are often used by professional environmental campaigners to sway public opinion. I have always advocated that First Nations can and do speak on their behalf and that others should not use them as leverage in their own agendas. After the BC government’s announcement to end the grizzly hunt the Wildlife Stewardship Council of BC, who represents First Nation’s interests in wildlife management as well as numerous commercial guide-outfitters including First Nations owned/operated guide-outfitting businesses, released statements expressing their opposition to the way the decision to end the grizzly hunt was made.
“Politically motivated wildlife policies have led to management decisions that are not in the best interest of all wildlife and the people of B.C. The citizens of B.C. should be aware that the decision to end the grizzly hunt was made without benefit of scientific rationale or broad First Nation’s consultation. Some First Nations in B.C. have long engaged in guide outfitting as a way of life. Many others are now acquiring guide licenses to increase economic opportunities and management within traditional territories” – Wildlife Stewardship Council
“A most recent example is the proposed regulation change to the grizzly hunt that will require hunters to retrieve the meat, a change which the Wildlife Stewardship Council fully supports and has advocated for years. However, the citizens of B.C should also be aware that this same proposal will also force hunters to leave the hide, skull and claws behind, thus preventing the use of all parts of the animal. Substituting the retrieval of one part of a harvested animal for another part makes no sense. The WSC believes that any regulation requiring the wasting of any animal part is wrong.” – Wildlife Stewardship Council
What’s the Bigger Issue Here?
While I kicked off this article describing how I wanted to go on record correcting a misunderstanding that British Columbians actually voted to ban grizzly hunting, the bigger issue here is about hunters not standing together to protect the North American hunting heritage. Hunters need to be united on all issues on conservation and our way of life across all of North America. We need to be educating each other and stand behind each other with the attitude that the border between Canada and USA and USA and Mexico is simply a political boundary. Advocacy and education about hunting and conservation must not stop at that artificial boundary.
Canada’s hunting population is tiny compared to that in the USA even though our land mass is larger. Our overall contribution to conservation is a fraction of that in the USA. In fact, our ability to generate revenue for conservation is so small that world class organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and National Wild Turkey Federation could not justify keeping a presence in Canada from a business perspective so they no longer officially operate north of the 49. Yet thousands of Canadians belong to both those organizations including myself because they are leaders in hunting and conservation messaging.
The North American hunting industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Canadian hunters contribute to this industry but in the grand scheme of things we are relatively insignificant in affecting the industry’s bottom line. British Columbia is an even smaller piece of this economic pie and even less significant from a market share perspective with just over 100,000 resident hunters in the province. Yet British Columbia is one of the largest and most biologically diverse regions in North America. In terms of size, BC extends from Washington State to the Mexico border. BC is home to 25% of all of North America’s grizzly bears and most of the continent’s mountain goats and Stone’s Sheep. In fact, BC contains representatives from the majority of North America’s big game animals. No other jurisdiction in North America has as many big game species as BC. Hunters across North America come to BC to enjoy this great land and what hunting here has to offer. But when it comes to major issues like our declining wildlife populations and the fight to maintain a well-managed science-based grizzly hunt we are left in isolation.
For the most part, the North America hunting community knew nothing of the battle to end the grizzly hunt in BC until the official announcement was made and it hit social media. There was little support given by the broader hunting community in North America to stand behind BC hunters. Since the ban was announced many organizations have made after-the-fact statements objecting to the hunting ban. I get it though. In the US, hunters are battling to protect their public lands and National monuments right now. There is no energy to engage in the issue of a grizzly hunting ban in BC, after all one can go to Alaska or the Yukon and eventually Americans will likely have a science-based hunt on the Yellowstone grizzly. However, by not being educated and engaged in the BC grizzly hunt debate, hunters have failed the greater cause of protecting the North American hunting heritage. The anti-grizzly hunting campaign here in BC is not a home grown movement. The campaign is likely backed and run by professional anti-hunting advocates from the US. They now have a victory in BC that they can leverage back in the US. This is where the North American hunting community has failed itself by thinking the grizzly debate was just a Canadian problem that didn’t affect the rest of hunters in North America. Anti-hunters have already publically stated that black bear hunting in BC is next on the agenda.
The Silence is Deafening
British Columbia is home to one of North America’s most popular professional sponsored hunters – Jim Shockey. Yet through this entire debate over the BC grizzly hunt there has been silence from the Shockey camp. Shane Mahoney of Conversation Visions is one of the most respected spokesmen for the American hunting conversation movement. As a Canadian, he is one of America’s most authoritative speakers on the history of conservation in the US. I know Shane is following the BC grizzly debate very closely as he does with hunting and conversation issues around the world. Watching trends that affect hunting and conservation and seeing the “big picture” is his forté. He is the master at it and I respect him for his abilities to see the future and for his efforts to get hunters in front of the issues facing us. However, both these public figures had the opportunity to bring BC’s debate over the grizzly hunt to the world stage and rally the North American and the international hunting conservation community. Maybe they did and I missed it. But from where I sit, BC’s hunters were essentially left alone fighting a micro battle that represented a small strategic undermining of everyone’s hunting heritage. We lost and we lost in a forum of silence and apathy from the bigger hunting community.
I understand that sponsored hunters have contractual obligations that likely prevent them from jumping into the political arena. I can’t fault a person for doing what is required to bring home a paycheque and protect their families from hateful publicity. Most public hunting figures get so beat up on a daily basis that getting involved in the politics of wildlife management could be career suicide. I understand that speaking about hunting and conversation in the US is better for one’s career than trying to make a living from it in Canada. American hunter conservationists want to hear about America conservation success stories and American conservation heroes. A Canadian message is hard to sell in that market. But when the Canadian caribou hunt in eastern Canada was shut down because of dwindling populations I was dismayed to see Jim Shockey post a statement that said something along the lines that he was happy to have a had chance to hunt that caribou herd before the closure and at least he can still hunt caribou in his guide territory in the Yukon. Caribou is part of the Canadian identity and the federal government recently removed it from our $0.25 coin and replaced it with an image of industrial progress. I’m not sure the world knows or cares about what’s happening to wildlife and hunting in Canada.
I have the highest level of respect for folks like Aron Snyder, Brian Call, Randy Newberg and Steven Rinella who put their own principles, other hunters and conservation first and worry less about sponsorship and political correctness. Unfortunately, Canada does not have folks like these guys with their level of public exposure who are standing up for Canadian hunters and Canadian conservation issues. I also get it that many folks, including Canadians, believe what happens in the US hunting conservation movement will benefit Canadian hunters. That’s why so many Canadian hunters belong to US hunting conservation organizations, follow the podcasts and shows of the popular US hunters and know more about hunting and conservation issues the US than they do in Canada.
I write from the perspective of a Canadian hunter conservationist. I am trying to focus on issues affecting my home province of British Columbia and the future of wildlife and hunting in Canada because the world needs to know what’s going on here. I hope that one day the rest of the North America hunting conservation community will care too. How can we all work towards becoming “hunter conservationists without borders”?