British Columbia is banning grizzly-bear hunting with the lone exception of First Nations hunters, who will be allowed to hunt the bears for food, social, or ceremonial reasons. The policy drew praise from B.C. environmentalists and threats of legal action from hunters.
The province's environment and forests ministers announced the ban on Monday, saying they were acting on the basis of a program of consultation with stakeholder groups, the public and First Nations, most of whom recommended a ban to protect the bears.
"It's no longer socially acceptable to the vast majority of British Columbians to hunt grizzly bears," said Doug Donaldson, the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources. The government estimates there are about 15,000 grizzlies in the province.
The move follows, and effectively expands, an August commitment to end the trophy hunting of grizzly bears and stop all hunting of grizzly bears in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Mr. Donaldson told a news conference he did not expect that the continuing First Nations hunt would kill many bears, suggesting there are less than 100 hunters who use bears for food. He said about 250 bears were killed a year by resident and non-resident hunters.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs said he welcomed the ban because he supported an end to the "barbaric practice" of hunting the animals. He said few members of the First Nations community are involved in hunting the bears.
In response to a question from The Globe and Mail, the forests ministry said First Nations guides would not be able to facilitate access to grizzly bears for non-native hunters.
Mr. Donaldson said the government would look at transition measures for businesses affected by the ban, including easing businesses into the effort to observe grizzlies as opposed to hunting them, but provided no further details.
Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee environmental group called the measure "tremendous news" that sets a global example. "This is worldwide news," Mr. Foy told reporters after the government announcement, declaring British Columbia one of the world's great hopes to hold onto the species.
"Some nations still allow trophy hunting for big beautiful creatures. This is a word out to the world that says times are changing and changing because so many creatures are on the decline. We've got to start to look out for them, not kill them for fun."
However, Mark Werner, vice-president of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C., whose members are involved in hunting grizzlies, cougars, wolves and other animals, said from Kamloops that the New Democratic government has abandoned rural British Columbia with the ban – a move he said will affect hundreds of jobs.
"This isn't done. We know where they stand. We're looking at legal options," he said. "This will end up in the courts."
Scott Ellis, executive director of the outfitters association, said he expected the government move will negatively affect about 100 B.C. family businesses.
Provincial Environment Minister George Heyman said the ban will be enforced by conservation officers, although he acknowledged they are "understaffed" and the issue of resources is being assessed as part of the process leading to the next provincial budget in February. "I won't preshadow the federal budget, but we'll be happy to talk about it at that time," Mr. Heyman said.
In remarks addressed to hunters, Mr. Donaldson said the NDP knows hunting is important to many British Columbians. "This is not the thin edge of the wedge," he said. "This is a specific species, an iconic species."
Existing penalties for illegally killing grizzly bears will be applied under the new status quo. Under the Wildlife Act, tickets are $345. In what the ministry described in a statement as more extreme cases, a first conviction in court can lead to a fine of up to $100,000 or a one-year jail sentence.