Today, on August 14th the British Columbia Government announced it would ban the hunting of grizzly bears after November 30th. The ban would mean all grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rain Forest along BC’s coast would be prohibited. Elsewhere in the province, hunters could still hunt the bears for meat except it will be illegal to retain the head, hide and paws.
What’s More Important to You?
Some people hold the belief that a wild animal harvested by a hunter should only be for the purpose of sustenance. After all, the purpose of hunting, as it began with our ancestors, has been first and foremost about acquiring food. However, early humans also used fur and hides for clothing and shelter. Bones were used as tools and building materials. Whale and mammoth bones were once used for the frames of shelters. Ancestors of modern humans, as well as many First Nations people today harvest wild animals for medicinal, ceremonial and spiritual purposes. Animal parts including feathers, tusks and claws are still used as personal adornments in many cultures. The use of wild animals is part of the human condition and it’s been part of what has connected people to the land for countless millennia. Some hunters and non-hunters believe that the meat of a wild animal must be eaten in order for the killing of the animal to be a moral act. Others believe that human hunters should not take pride or pleasure in utilizing other parts of their game animal (antlers, horns etc). Is it the motive of the hunter or the utilization of the animal that matters most to you?
Sum of the Parts
Digging into the research about the proportions of an animal’s body mass I found that an elk is roughly:
Viscera – 29%
Hide/head – 13%
Bones – 29%
Meat – 29%
I can’t find much published data on bears other than one account suggesting a bear’s viscera accounts for 10-15% of their total body mass. I will present a few assumptions for the purpose of extrapolating the proportions of an elk’s mass to that of a grizzly bear. Elk are ruminant herbivores and have large multi-chambered stomachs so the proportion of viscera to total body mass might be slightly more for an elk than that of a bear. It’s likely the fur of a bear makes up a slightly higher proportion of their total body weight than does hair on an elk. With these assumptions I propose that the breakdown of a bear’s total body mass may be closer to:
Viscera – 15%
Hide/head – 25%
Bones – 30%
Meat – 30%
Want Not Waste Not – Is this British Columbia’s Approach?
The current statements made by the BC Government that it will only allow harvesting of grizzly bears for meat (head, hide and claws cannot be kept by the hunter) means approximately 70% of the mass of the animal might not get used by the hunter. Harvesting a bear for the head and hide uses about 25% and taking the head, hide and meat utilizes about 55% of the animal. Using the bones for soup stock (check the Meateater’s cooking tips for utilizing bones to make healthy organic soup stock) would increase utilization to 85% of the animal’s total’s body mass. There is no difference between a meat only hunt and hide only hunt when you look at it terms of utilization of the animal on a proportion of total body mass basis. Whether a hunter only takes the meat or just the hide a hunter would only be utilizing about 25-30% of the animals’ total body mass. Some non-hunters seem to believe that First Nation’s hunters have a more moral ethos about utilization of the game animals they harvest. Yet when non-aboriginal hunters advocate for the opportunity to utilize as much of a game animal as possible society seems to be discriminatory towards the non-aboriginal hunters.
Conservation First or Utilization?
The most important issue about grizzly bear conservation should not be about moral autocracy – imposing ones morals on another. Conservation must be about protecting grizzly habitat and limiting total human-caused mortality to less than 6% of the population. Science and monitoring is critical for ensuring a sustainable hunt. Education, tolerance and stricter enforcement are needed to reduce unwanted destruction of bears resulting from human-bear conflicts. Better solutions are needed to address highway and rail mortality of bears as well as conflict with agriculture producers who range domestic livestock in high use grizzly country.
Conservation means the wise use of natural resources. Regardless of how an individual hunter chooses to process and utilize his/her game animal including a grizzly bear, a meat and hide retention regulation ensures the greatest possible utilization of a sustainable harvested grizzly bear. In today’s world, the modern hunter conservationist needs to balance and temper his/her personal values with the expectations of society. Equally important though, hunter conservationists must engage politicians and educate them about what certain wildlife policy actions really mean – like a prohibition on retaining the hide of a bear. If harvesting of grizzly bears is going to remain lawful in British Columbia then the responsible policy is to utilize as much of the animal as possible – just like our ancestors taught us.