It’s bear season here in BC and with it comes the perennial anti-bear hunting rhetoric and misinformation spewed forth by the self-deluding “conservation” movement. In the news, on the radio, and on their respective websites these groups welcome the longer days of Spring and the prospect of bears awakening from their dens with a full-fledged and very well-funded PR assault against bear hunting and bear hunters both domestic and foreign. Terms such as “barbaric” and “indiscriminate killing” are used to demonize bear hunters in the public sphere, and phrases like “bullets ripping through their bodies”, “murderous escapades” and “paramilitary style amphibious assaults” are used to steer the public’s perception of one of the most regulated hunts on the planet away from science, reason and logic and into the realm of raw, visceral emotion and self-righteous moral arguments.
There was a time in the not too distant past when I still held out hope that we in the hunting world, the most effective true conservationists alive, could find some middle ground with these extreme preservationists that like to call themselves conservationists. I thought, erroneously, if we could only help them see the scientific and statistical side of hunting, we might be able to once and for all end this pointless battle. And given the fact our two sides are supposedly fighting for the same outcome, healthy, sustainable populations of carnivores and herbivores for generations to come, I naively believed that reason and logic would eventually prevail. But I was wrong and could not have been more wrong.
The truth is that although they claim to be science based organizations, these groups and their privately funded agendas have nothing to do with science, conservation or truly objective reason and logic. No, their doctrine has more in common with extreme Islamic fundamentalism or crusading Christian zealotry than it does with science or conservation. They use pseudo-scientific interpretation of data, statistical manipulation that is the mathematical equivalent of lying and inflammatory language to ignite public disdain for bear hunting. Their supposedly conservation based arguments are nothing more than poorly masked moral and “ethical” beliefs as bigoted as racism, sexism and anti-Semitism. The fact that they have former, and I use the word former intentionally here, scientists on staff does nothing to buffer the unmitigated extremism pouring from their well-oiled media feeding machines.
These organizations provide ample evidence of their complete and utter ignorance of reality, their disregard for the facts and the real motivations behind their agendas. Consider these two quotes from one of the most vocal and powerful extremist groups operating today, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation:
“The trophy hunting of coastal grizzlies is not so much a sport as a search and destroy mission by trophy hunters with militia-style mindsets employing aircraft, electronic aids, and transport to arrive on a river, walk up to bears and shoot them while they feed.”
“While we believe this hunt cannot be justified on scientific or economic grounds, for us, it is ethical reasons that are at the heart of this issue.”
And yet, there is no explanation as to what “ethical code” they are following. Is it an issue with “sport” or “trophy” killing as they love to call it? If so, they clearly have not done the research to understand the science of trophy record keeping and how those records are utilized to track and monitor the health of our wildlife populations. We featured an article from the Boone and Crockett Club’s Assistant Director of Big Game records on this exact topic back in December and I can assure you if a legitimate scientist takes one look at the reasoning behind the maintenance of a trophy record book, they would never sneer at the term “trophy hunter”. Or perhaps they have simply disregarded real science for the sham, privately funded (aka biased) science they promote in their marketing materials and on their websites.
Maybe the ethical question is centred on the taking and utilization of the meat? Would that defuse the situation? Within the hunting community there has been a falsely held hope that if we showed these groups or at least the non-hunting public that many bear hunters take and keep the meat, this fruitless battle would finally come to an end. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
When commenting on a proposed bill that was introduced to try to bring into law the taking and keeping of meat from all grizzlies killed through hunting, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation had this to say:
“Not only would the bill do nothing to stop, or even reduce, the recreational killing of grizzlies, it would end up providing cover for grizzly killers who would like nothing more than to be able to mischaracterize their trophy hunting of bears as a food hunt.”
And unbelievably they went on to add:
“..most of the muscles of the bears will be transported out of the bush and dumped into landfills in B.C. and beyond, while their hides and heads will continue to be transformed into rugs for living rooms and prizes for trophy rooms.”
When the Guide Outfitter Association of BC (GOABC) even went so far as to say, that if the bill passed, they would donate any unused portions of bear meat to food banks and charities, Raincoast representatives continued spewing their bigoted and slanderous preachings:
“In what can only be described as a macabre act of charity, the GOABC had the gall to further state they intend to donate the grizzly remains to food banks, never mind the potential for contracting trichinosis and other pathogens, thank you.”
That’s right, the donation of some of the healthiest, fairly and humanely taken meat on the planet to those in need was somehow spun to suggest those in the guide-outfitting community were somehow mounting biological warfare against the poor and the needy. Forget the fact that they clearly don’t even understand the biology, physiology and virology of the very animal they profess to protect. I think we can agree on just how fanatically extreme these groups really are.
Photo Property Boone & Crockett Club Archives
Let’s face reality here. There is no science, no law, no statistic and no reasonable argument that can be used against delusion of this severity. There is no middle ground to be had. Like extreme fanatics of any bigoted doctrine, they will not rest until their supposedly higher moral and ethical beliefs are satisfied.
Now let’s consider some facts.
According to Raincoast’s own website, between 1978 and 2011, domestic and foreign grizzly bear hunters killed 10,000 bears or on average 303 bears per year. Compare that to the data from the BC government’s Fish, Wildlife and Habitat division that reports an annual harvest average of 297 grizzly bears between 1976 and 2009 and for once we actually have a relative consensus. Population estimates in the province range from 15,000 at the low end to 17,000 at the high end and the preservationists of course use the lower number to plead their case. If we use the lower population estimate of 15,000 and the higher annual harvest average we end up with a two percent harvest rate. This is an unbelievably small relative number of animals, and one the population can most certainly sustain. Further, this annual average is not not evenly harvested across the province. Hunting is only allowed in very specific areas where there are healthy, viable populations that can sustain the hunting season. Even if that annual mortality number doubled, something that will never happen due to how closely the grizzly bear hunt is regulated here in BC, we’d still be just barely over the threshold of what biologists believe to be the maximum sustainable annual mortality rate (562 bears).
In the “Great Bear Rainforest” specifically, the very area Raincoast and many of these groups have worked feverishly to abolish the trophy hunt within, a mere 24 bears out of an estimated 2,000 are legally killed each year by hunters. That’s 1.2%! In an area that’s 32,000 square kilometers.
Now let’s put those numbers in perspective. Two years ago the Smithsonian Institute in collaboration with the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC published a paper (using real science I might add) showing that feral and house cats kill upwards of 3.7 BILLION birds every year in the US alone and up to 20.7 BILLION small mammals. Yes that’s billion with a “B”. Where is the uproar? Where is the rhetoric? Why are we not polling the public on their opinions on cat management? Why are we not abolishing cat shelters and rescue organizations, and putting into law the neutering and spaying of all cats in order to save BILLIONS of birds? If these groups actually cared about Nature, and actually cared about unbiased, unemotional science and conservation they could not possibly ignore these statistics.
Photo Credit CBC News
But they don’t care about the birds. Birds aren’t photogenic like grizzly bears, and can’t be humanized like grizzly bears. And birds don’t pad the privately funded bank accounts of these conservation groups. These groups don’t care about anything beyond their short-sighted fanatical doctrine and will continue to use pseudo-science, sham statistical manipulation and the unfortunately uninformed ignorance of the general population to sway public opinion and steer political decisions in their favour.
Now let’s contrast Raincoast’s language and fanaticism with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. An organization whose mandate is as follows:
“To remain firmly committed to providing the world with the most objective, scientifically-based information on the current status of globally threatened biodiversity. The plants, fungi and animals assessed for The IUCN Red List are the bearers of genetic diversity and the building blocks of ecosystems, and information on their conservation status and distribution provides the foundation for making informed decisions about conserving biodiversity from local to global levels.”
And in regards to the global grizzly and brown bear populations, the IUCN has this official stance:
“The range of the brown bear has declined in North America, Europe, and Asia, and the species has been extirpated in North Africa. However, it remains widespread across three continents, and is still one of the world’s most widely distributed terrestrial mammals. Globally the population remains large, and is not significantly declining. There are many small, isolated populations that are in jeopardy of extirpation, but others, under more protection, are expanding.”
This is the type of organization that represents true conservation, science and reason. And an organization we in the hunting world should endeavour to collaborate with in the future.
I should add one final note. One of the key arguments made in the anti-bear hunting camp is the economic impact of bear viewing vs bear hunting but this is yet another example of their utter disdain for truth and reason. Comparing the revenues generated by bear viewing and eco-tourism (often lumped together) and bear hunting is like comparing the sales of Advil or Tylenol to those of prescription pharmaceuticals. The former two can be bought at will without any restrictions or limitations and the latter is available only to a controlled and regulated few. Other than to mention the fact it has no basis in a discussion that should be firmly planted in reality, I will spend no time debating this economic sub-topic. It has no bearing on the facts of the debate and is yet another example of their deplorably underhanded and misleading PR tactics.
Within our own ranks as hunters, there unfortunately remains a division on the topic of predator and large carnivore hunting. As I discussed in my previous op-ed Cannibalism, killing only for meat has been one of the “safe havens” of hunting’s ethical backbone. But do not delude yourself into thinking these extremist groups will leave you alone as a “meat hunter”. The quotes I included above should sufficiently open your eyes to the sheer fanaticism present within these organizations and the lengths to which they’ll go in terms of dishonesty, slander and the outright deception of the public.
As I’ve outlined, this debate is not about science, and it is not about reason. For these extremists it is a moral debate, and an ethical debate, one that cannot be won or lost with facts, figures or scientific modeling. If it were there would be no debate at all, we would win on the balance of science and reason without fail. But like any fundamentally fanatical belief or belief system, we cannot rely on reason and objectivity to win the day.
Make no mistake about it this is the frontline of the ongoing war against hunting in a world increasingly disconnected from Nature. It is a proxy war happening on the fringes of what most hunters consider mainstream. But don’t let that fool you. Whether you are a bear hunter or not, have verbally opposed “trophy hunting” or not, do not for one second think these people will stop once they’ve abolished the grizzly hunt here in BC.
Editor in Chief