Ten First Nations groups on the province’s north and central coast have declared a ban on bear hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest in recent days, with the provincial government stating their disappointment with the unilateral ban.
“Despite years of effort by the Coastal First Nations to find a resolution to this issue with the province this senseless and brutal trophy hunt continues,” said Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation Chief Doug Neasloss.
The Coastal First Nations — the group imposing the ban — are against people hunting both grizzly bears and black bears for reasons other than for subsistence or out of self-defence.
The coalition of First Nations have a number of issues with the hunt, including the fact that hunters tend to go after larger, potentially genetically-superior bears which could weaken future breeding; unknowingly harvesting black bears that have the recessive gene responsible for the Kermode or Spirit bear; and the loss of tourism opportunities.
Above all, the group is diametrically opposed to killing animals that are not to be used for food.
“It’s not a part of our culture to kill an animal for sport and hang them on a wall,” Jessie Housty, a councillor with the Heiltsuk Nation, said. He alleges that hunters often gun down bears while they are near shoreline foraging for food.
Currently 58 per cent of traditional territories of the Coastal First Nations are closed to grizzly bear hunting, but the province does allow 300 grizzlies to be hunted throughout B.C. every year. In an attempt to protect the black bear population that carries the recessive Kermode gene, the province has already banned black bear hunting in 122,000 hectares in the Great Bear Rainforest and also made it illegal to hunt Kermode bears.
The province will give out 32 permits for hunting grizzly bears inside the Coastal First Nations’ territory this fall, and based on past experience the government is expecting only one or two bears to actually be killed.
However, William Housty, chair of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department board of directors in Bella Bella, said that the Coastal First Nations don’t care about the numbers and that even one bear being taken as a trophy goes against the values, beliefs and customs of the Coastal First Nations.
“Coastal First Nations will enforce the ban by continuing to have presence on their traditional territories, by continuing to pressure the government to live up to signed agreements, and by continuing to walk the same shores, beaches and estuaries that the people of the Coastal First Nations have walked for thousands of years,” William Housty said.
“This fight will continue until all agreements are met, and until the Coastal First Nations have a say in the management of their territories, particularly the management of bears. None of the Coastal First Nations have ceded any land to anybody, so we feel that our word needs to count for something within our own territories.”
According to Housty, the Coastal First Nations have been fighting this issue for decades, and haven’t been able to get the province government to take action.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations is not siding with the coalition.
“I’m disappointed in the declaration the Coastal First Nations have issued. Given that the province has the responsibility for setting the harvest limits, we’d ask them to respect that authority,” said Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson.
Thomson has instructed staff to engage the Coastal First Nation in discussions aimed at addressing their concerns on the issue, with the ministry stating that without specifics of how the Coastal First Nations will try to stop the hunting they cannot speculate on what action the government will take against the ban.
The Coastal First Nations are an alliance of First Nations that includes the Wuikinuxv Nation, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Haisla, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and Council of the Haida Nation.