British Columbia is cracking down on the use of sheep and goats as pack animals for big game hunters in its latest set of hunting and trapping regulations. But the contentious trophy hunting of grizzly bears will continue unchanged.
The provincial ministry responsible for hunting produced updated regulations on Monday, and although it has rejected a proposal to increase the number of grizzly hunting permits for resident hunters in the Peace River region, environmentalists are disappointed that the status quo remains in place.
The major changes include additional record-keeping requirements for butchers, and a new ban on bringing domesticated sheep or goats along on big game hunts to act as beasts of burden because of fears that the animals may pass on disease to wildlife. The report did not say whether this was a common practice. Steve Thomson, the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, says in the report released Monday his major concern in wildlife management right now is around the declining moose population, and he promised a new BC Moose Tracker app that will allow people to record moose sightings.
Mr. Thomson could not be reached for comment, but in a statement, ministry officials maintained that the current grizzly bear hunt is sustainable.
Auditor-General Carol Bellringer has announced she will conduct a performance audit to determine whether the province is effectively managing the grizzly bear population . The province says there are 15,000 grizzlies in B.C. and that hunting is allowed only after conservation targets and aboriginal harvests for food, social and ceremonial uses are met.
Ms. Bellringer's report is not expected until next spring, and Ian McAllister, executive director of Pacific Wild, an environmental organization, said that means the B.C. Liberal government's current approach won't be effectively challenged until the May, 2017, provincial election.
"This institutionalizes the trophy hunt in wildlife practices," Mr. McAllister said. "It's an indication of what Premier Christy Clark is thinking about this file and that is almost inconceivable given the unprecedented input over the past year."
Pacific Wild has led opposition to the grizzly bear hunt, particularly in the newly proclaimed Great Bear Rainforest. Mr. McAllister says the Coastal First Nations, along with a large majority of British Columbians, are opposed to trophy hunting of grizzlies. (Polls suggest anywhere between 88 and 95 per cent of British Columbians are against trophy hunting.)
The provincial government has been reluctant to curtail the hunt, however, saying it is confident in the science behind its quotas. As well, the province maintains that hunting in general is good for the economy: The province is home to 100,000 resident hunters who, along with guide outfitters, put $350-million into the economy each year by the province's reckoning.
Mr. McAllister said he is hopeful the Auditor-General will agree that the province is not adequately managing the population of grizzly bears. He said the timing of her report at least will help raise the profile of the issue in next year's provincial election.
"It will be a high-profile issue in the run-up to the next election."
However, it is not clear the New Democratic Party will offer an alternative position. The party has said it is still consulting before deciding whether it would promise to restore the moratorium on trophy hunting that it put in place in 2001, when it last help power.
The lone Green Party MLA in B.C., Andrew Weaver, last year introduced a bill to ban the trophy killing of grizzly bears. That bill would treat grizzlies the same as black bears, so hunters would be required to harvest edible portions of a bear.