Trophy hunters decimate bears in B.C. valley under "abysmal" policy
First in a series investigating B.C.'s trophy hunt. As public servants and their critics debate the justifications of the hunt, we start with a story of bears caught in the political crossfire.
End of bears came quickly
The guide in question in this region is 39-year-old Abe Dougan. He runs Big Boar Outfitters out of Kamloops, a company that aims to “provide you with 'THE' trophy hunting adventure of a lifetime.”
“Over the years,” their website says, “we have maintained a consistent track record with an outstanding success rate.”
Provincial records obtained by the Vancouver Observer show just how successful the hunters have been.
Between 2003 and 2013, Dougan and his clients killed 348 black bears in B.C., a substantial number of them in the Upper Pitt Valley region, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations says.
In an effort to organize hunting and wildlife levels the province is divided into 225 management units, with the Pitt River Valley falling into "MU 2-08". Even though it encompasses a large area of roughly 4,000 squared kilometers, much of the hunting takes place along a concentrated stretch of the Upper Pitt River.
“When they manage it, they look at the whole area, but there are no bears on the top of the glacier,” says Gerak, who resembles a rugged Keanu Reeves.
Ministry records indicate Dougan and his clients removed 50 black bears in a six-year period from MU 2-08, and Gerak believes they were all killed along a 20 kilometre stretch of river.
“The biggest problem with this bear hunt, is that it is done by management unit, it’s not done by watershed," says Didlick. "He is doing all his hunting in 1 per cent of the area.”
Bears previously concentrated in the valley bottom as the Pitt River provides better living conditions that the neighbouring mountains. Photo by Claire Hume
Dougan, who was contacted multiple times but declined comment, is facing charges in the Yukon that date back to a 1999 incident where he shot a trophy-sized sheep without a license. He allegedly transported it out of the Yukon without a license, and then lied to officials about where he killed the animal. His final round of court hearings regarding these charges are scheduled for February.
Dougan was also tried in the Yukon Territorial Court where he plead guilty to offences related a 2011 incident where he wasted over 300 kilograms of meat and hunted too soon after getting out of an airplane.
To ensure a fair chase and prevent people shooting animals from planes, Yukon law requires a six-hours delay between when hunters get off a non-commercial flight and when they take their first shot.
In that case, it was a caribou that Dougan and his hunting companion killed shortly after their flight landed. They took its antlers but left its meat in bags under rocks and brush. Over the next few days they shot a grizzly bear, stone sheep, and a moose. Each time they took the heads off the animals and left most of the meat behind, court records indicate.
Dougan was fined $15,000 and banned from hunting in the Yukon for 20 years.
The Yukon's provincial prosecutor for the case, Lee Kirkpatrick, has described Dougan's approach to the Yukon hunt as a “train wreck waiting to happen.”
As a guide, Dougan is the expert responsible for directing non-resident hunters who are unfamiliar with B.C.’s game laws. The B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations has defended his right to guide, stating that “convictions in another jurisdiction do not cause a person to lose their license in British Columbia.”
Dougan has reportedly been hunting within the limits of the harvest levels allocated for the Pitt River Valley region.
When the Ministry was asked to clarify if it is true that someone can be banned from hunting in one province while simultaneously being permitted to guide in another they responded with a written statement:
'Abysmal' hunting policy
Faisal Moola, a director at the David Suzuki Foundation specializing in wildlife protection, says what is happening at the Pitt reflects a province-wide problem.
“B.C.’s policy regime for bear hunting is abysmal, absolutely abysmal,” Moola says.
While the government attempts to track grizzly bear deaths in the province, he says in the case of black bears, it is largely happening out of sight, out of mind. “There are no requirements to report whether you’ve killed a black bear, what the sex of the bear was, what the age of the bear was, where you killed the bear,” says Moola.
Standing outside the lodge he built overlooking the Pitt Valley, near a stream where grizzly and black bears once fished, Danny Gerak agrees that the system is broken.
“The only reason you know about what is happening in the Pitt Valley is because there are people living here, and we’ve seen it,” says Gerak.
He speculates that Dougan “moved into this valley after he decimated some other area. He hunted out an area, and there’s no bears left, so he keeps moving from valley to valley. And the province defends his right to do so."
Video filmed and edited by Nick Didlick
Continue to the second instalment in the series.
Update January 26: the word "criminal charges" was corrected to "charges". We regret the error.