Grizzly trophy hunt depends on support from provincial government insiders
Despite "overwhelming" evidence that grizzly hunting is unsustainable, political influence keeps it going
Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett has been outspoken about his support for grizzly hunting, ever since his election in 2001.
Currently Minister of Energy and Mines, Bennett was front and centre during December’s permit-allocation controversy.
When the government announced it was going to lower the number of permits available for local hunters so more could go to non-residents who come to B.C. to hunt with hired guides— there was a public outcry loud enough to make Bennett backtrack.
“This is not going to end in a good place for the BCWF if the membership continues to attack Steve and I personally,” Bennett wrote on an accidentally public Facebook post in December. He was apparently referring to the criticism he and Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson were receiving from upset resident hunters.
“Frankly Steve doesn't need the votes to get elected and I’m not running again so all the threats don't mean sh*t to us,” he continued.
Bennett later apologized for the message and admitted the Liberal government didn't get the new hunting policy “quite right”.
A provincial politician, who requested to remain anonymous because of concerns about the consequences of speaking publicly about Bennett, told The Vancouver Observer that Bennett often interferes on decisions that affect the grizzly bear hunt.
“He runs this valley,” the source said.
Bennett is also still linked to an outfit called Height of the Rockies Adventure Co. Ltd., a company that took clients hunting for grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, deer, elk, mountain goat, moose, and wolves in Kootenay region, according to the 2011 Ministry of Environment guide report.
When The Vancouver Observer contacted the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations and asked for current harvest records for the Height of the Rockies guiding territory (MU 4-25), the communications staff asked in response:
“Is there something specific about the guide you mentioned? Are you looking at a specific angle about MU4-25? What’s the angle? Is it a particular species?”
Bennett sold his shares in the business before running for election in 2001, but the company didn't have enough money to pay back a loan he made to the company, he said.
“I would have been really happy if they had paid me what the company owed me, a shareholder loan of about $65,000, give or take. But they didn't have the money and they still don't have the money,” Bennett told Larry Pynn at the Vancouver Sun in 2013.
But one source thinks that is just a convenient excuse for someone trying to hold their position in the company.
“That is bullshit, they are dentists!” the source said, referring to the owners of Height of the Rockies Adventure Co.
The owners do, meanwhile, have enough money to donate to the Liberals. One of the partners in the company, a Cranbrook dentist named C. M. Callen, donated $1,000 to the B.C. Liberal Party in 2008.
The assets of the company are now in the process of being sold, Bennett said in a statement to The Globe and Mail in January.
“If the sale goes through, I hope to recover a small portion of my original investment and will of course report that amount to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner's office when and if I ever receive it," he said.
Bennett was contacted for an interview, but did not respond.
"Sometimes we bury our heads in the sand"
In February of 2001, the NDP instated a three-year moratorium on grizzly bear hunting in B.C. When former Premier Gordon Campbell took office later that year, he made scrapping the moratorium a priority.
Despite the fact that close to 90 per cent of the B.C. public opposes hunting grizzly bears for their heads and hides, since Campbell's election, the province has supported trophy hunting.
The NDP stopped the grizzly hunt because they believed the research informing healthy management of the bear population simply didn't support it, former Premier Ujjal Dosanjh told The Vancouver Observer.