Lack of rigorous science to support B.C.'s grizzly bear trophy hunt
Allan Thornton, president of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), spent six years working on a campaign to protect British Columbia's grizzly bears from habitat loss, excessive sport hunting, and the illegal trade of bear parts.
The EIA, a British organization that investigates international environmental crimes like the illegal trade of ivory and tiger parts, started looking into the management of grizzlies in B.C. in the late 1990s because it suspected the bears were being managed for destruction.
“The British Columbia wildlife department does not use rigorous science,” Thornton said of the provincial government's grizzly bear research.
The grizzly campaign attracted attention around the world, including that of the European Union (EU). The EU analyzed B.C.’s grizzly hunt and ruled it environmentally unsound. In 2004 they instituted an embargo, making it illegal to bring any part of a grizzly bear from B.C. into a European Union member country.
The ban was implemented with the condition that it would be repealed if the provincial government could provide the EU with scientific verification that the hunt was being managed sustainably, according to a B.C. government report. The provincial government contested the ban, which discourages Europeans from trophy hunting in B.C., but they were unable to provide the needed scientific evidence.
“Twenty-eight European countries are not allowing your commercially hunted trophies into their imports, why is that?" asked Thornton. "If it is such a good sustainable policy why can’t you show the science to be rigorous and accurate? Because the science, as far as we are concerned, is not rigorous or accurate."
Over a decade later, the EU embargo on B.C. grizzly bears is still in effect.
“I think the science the government uses to manage grizzly bear populations is poor, characterized by so-called 'expert opinion' in the near absence of on-the-ground data,” Chris Darimont, Hakai-Raincoast conservation biologist at the University of Victoria, told the Vancouver Observer.
Brown bears, of which grizzlies are the North American subspecies, were once found on four continents, making them one of the most widespread mammal populations in the world. Their original range included Europe, North Africa, northern and central Asia, the Middle East, and North America. Today, they are locally extinct or endangered across the map — except in Russia, Alaska, and B.C.
According to the provincial government's 2002 report on B.C. grizzly bears, in North America healthy grizzly bear populations once extended from northern Mexico to the Yukon, and from the West Coast to Hudson Bay.
As human populations began to expand, grizzly numbers steadily declined as their habitats became fragmented and their food sources threatened— and they were killed for recreation, or for getting too close to the people who were moving into their territory. Mexico's grizzlies are extinct and the last known Californian grizzly was shot dead in the 1920s.
British Columbia and Alaska are the last strongholds of the global grizzly bear population, though the exact numbers are contested because the bear's solitary and roaming nature makes them difficult and expensive to study. The B.C. government estimates there are 15,000 grizzly bears in the province today, but Darimont thinks there could be as few as 6,000.