This Article is part of the Trophy Hunt special report See the full report

Who shot 'Big Momma’?

Did one of interior B.C.'s favourite grizzly bears die following a Liberal government push to reopen the trophy hunt against 95% local opposition?

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big momma grizzly bear trophy hunt chilcotin cariboo john e marriot
The "Big Momma" grizzly bear mother in the Chilcotin area of B.C.'s interior in 2010.  Photo by John E. Marriot.
The area’s Big Creek ranchers were among the tiny minority of public commentators pushing for the hunt’s re-opening, provincial records show. Some suspect Big Momma may have been shot and buried for straying too close to cattle.
 
“I would not be surprised,” said Chilcotin leader, Chief Roger William, of the Xeni Gwet’in band. "Things like that happen in the Chilcotin… people talk about it, but there’s not enough evidence.”
 
Making matters worse, grizzly kill licences for the Chilcotin were tripled to nine in 2015, the province confirmed. So even if Big Momma did survive, the odds of her getting shot dead this year just multiplied.
 

David Williams, the founder of a local non-profit, the Friends of the Nemaiah Valley, said the hunt's justification comes down to hunting votes for Liberals, including for the Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister in charge of the hunt.

"Minister Steve Thomson is a hunter, and is far too close to the guide outfitters. He’s not objective. He’s part of the problem,” said Williams. 

"The idea of shooting [the grizzlies] is totally abhorrent.  The grizzlies in the area are usually old, big and tough. [Hunters] don’t want that meat. They want the hide."

"If you want to talk dollars, a live bear is probably worth 10 times what a dead bear is. There’s a developing tourism industry, especially among First Nations," he added. 

Are grizzlies so horribilis?

Karen McLean owns one of several eco-tourism lodges at in the Tsilhqot'in territories.  She says the apex predator — with the species name Ursus arctos horribilis — isn’t so horrible after all.
 
"We used to be like everybody else — ‘Oh my god, the grizzly bear is going to kill us. Then you see them come through your yard…  we didn’t have any problems. If you respect them, they respect you."
 
“The bears have gotten used to not being killed. They thought this valley was safe for getting berries. But the killing changes the behaviour fairly quick.”
 
The province’s grizzly spring hunt opened last week on April 1. John Marriot will return to the Chilcotin in the fall to see the effect.
 
"This year will be a telling year if the hunt has had an impact on things."

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