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According to a new poll, 91 per cent of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Ninety-one per cent of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting, according to a new poll conducted by Insights West, and disdain for the practice runs equally high in rural areas of the province as it does in urban centres.

The pollster found attitudes towards killing animals for sport were similar in neighbouring Alberta, where 84 per cent of those surveyed said they opposed the idea.

The poll comes amid a growing debate in B.C. over the trophy hunting of the province's iconic grizzly bear – a practice that has not been allowed in Alberta for nearly 10 years. Recently, B.C. Premier Christy Clark defended her province's position, saying B.C. has a record number of grizzlies and the hunt is "scientifically managed." She added that the province did a better job of handling the grizzly population "than anywhere else in North America."

However, critics of the government's stand say there is considerable disagreement in the scientific community about the actual size of B.C.'s grizzly population.

Beyond that, they say it's not about numbers, it's a question of whether it is morally right to kill a bear, or any other animal, solely to become someone's den-wall trophy or cabin rug. The Insights poll suggests most people in the two Western provinces find that notion archaic and objectionable, with only 7 per cent of British Columbians and 12 per cent of Albertans openly favouring trophy hunting.

"Grizzly bear populations in B.C. are healthy and we have confidence in our science-based management of this population," said Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson, when he was asked to respond to the poll results.

"B.C. will continue to carefully manage these hunts and only allow the activity where populations are sustained and unthreatened.

"The hunting industry contributes about $350-million annually to the province – comprised of resident hunters and guide outfitters, supporting small and rural communities that depend on jobs from outdoor recreation activities of which hunting is a key component," Mr. Thomson said.

The provincial NDP did not provide anyone to talk about the grizzly kill.

Meantime, large majorities in the two provinces were supportive of eating animals (85 per cent in B.C., 88 per cent in Alberta) and hunting animals for meat (73 per cent in B.C., 81 per cent in Alberta). The survey also asked respondents how they felt about killing animals for their fur. It, too, was unpopular, with 81 per cent of British Columbians and 75 per cent of Albertans saying they oppose the practice.

The B.C. government has often suggested that opposition to trophy hunting is largely based in Metro Vancouver, and that there is much stronger support for it outside of that region. However, the poll results expose that as myth.

Asked whether they were opposed to or in favour of hunting animals for sport (trophy hunting), 89 per cent of those living in Metro Vancouver who responded said they were opposed. The number jumped to 92 per cent on Vancouver Island and 93 per cent in the rest of the province. Only 2 per cent of respondents across all three regions said they were "strongly" in favour of trophy hunting.

"There is an inherent problem with assuming that the thoughts of a small but motivated group of residents actually represent the views of the entire population," said Mario Canseco, vice-president, public affairs, for Insights West. "A conversation with two hunters does not create a provincewide trend, in the same way a conversation with two vegans does not create a provincewide trend. The argument of urban versus rural has been thrown about with no evidence whatsoever to try to create a controversy over trophy hunting.

"There is no controversy. There is a minuscule number of residents who are in favour of this practice, both in British Columbia and Alberta. It was important to look at this within the context of other issues related to animals. Our views can shift, for instance when assessing aquariums and zoos or hunting for meat. But trophy hunting is thoroughly despised throughout the province."

While bear meat can be eaten, the B.C. government does not condone the practice because of concerns that predators such as grizzlies could be carrying a parasite which can cause trichinosis, an intestinal disease that can lead to extreme abdominal pain among other symptoms. Consequently, trophy hunters usually chop off the parts of the bear they want to take home (head, paws, fur) and leave the rest of the corpse to rot.

The head of the B.C. Association of Guide Outfitters recently told The Globe and Mail that trophy hunting for grizzlies would likely soon be banned, and that the association is recommending that anyone buying a guiding operation in the future not factor in any profits from grizzly bear hunting into their economic equations.

The Insights poll also canvassed Albertans and British Columbians on other issues related to the treatment of animals and found some surprising results. Nearly two-thirds of Albertans (64 per cent) favoured keeping animals in zoos and aquariums, but only 48 per cent of British Columbians did. While 55 per cent of Albertans supported using animals in rodeos, only 32 per cent of British Columbians shared that opinion.

Insights West said it interviewed 1,003 British Columbians and 590 Albertans of voting age. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 per cent for B.C. and 4.1 per cent for Alberta.

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