[A Kermode bear, better know as the Spirit Bear, is shown with its catch of salmon in the Riordan River on Gribbell Island in the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C., Wednesday, Sept, 18, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward]
It is called the Great Bear Rainforest, the vast tract of remote British Columbia wilderness protected under a landmark agreement announced this week ending a two-decades long fight by First Nations and environmental groups.
That agreement is making headlines around the world, lauded by forest industry officials, politicians, aboriginal leaders and most of the activists involved in the long-running campaign.
But the historic deal, which resolves a logging dispute in the region, does little to protect one of the iconic animals that became the mascot for the cause, says one long-time activist.
Brian Falconer, a conservationist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, says the grizzly bear hunt will continue in the Great Bear Rainforest, despite a “misleading” announcement by provincial leaders.
“Really, nothing has changed under this agreement,” Falconer tells Yahoo Canada News.
“Residents still have the right to come kill grizzly bears.
“The province has done nothing to shut the grizzly hunt down.”
The Great Bear Rainforest is home to an abundance of bears, including grizzly bears and the rare, white-furred spirit bear.
Spirit bears are a protected species but B.C. has a legal grizzly bear hunt.
There are two different trophy hunts for grizzly in the westernmost province: the hunt open to B.C. residents and the hunt open to non-residents, which requires them to be accompanied by a licenced guide outfitter.
After the newly-elected Liberal government cancelled a provincewide moratorium on grizzly bear hunting upon being elected in 2001, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Coastal First Nations, the umbrella group for bands along B.C.’s central and north coast, decided to buy the guide outfitting tenures in the territory of the Coastal First Nations, which oppose the hunt.
They bought the first in 2005, a 25,000-square kilometres tract of land in the middle of the Great Bear Rainforest. They now own three at a cost of over $2 million.
There are four guide territories remaining in Coastal First Nations lands and several more within the Great Bear Rainforest in the lands of other aboriginal groups.
Under the deal, there are no changes to the resident hunt, which accounts for 60 per cent of the bear hunt.
When it comes to the non-resident hunt, the deal entrenches the province’s agreement to allow Raincoast and Coastal First Nations not to continue buying licences. The province has agreed to retire the quotas in those areas and not reallocate them elsewhere.
“What the province has agreed in the MOU [memorandum of understanding] is that they will not impede us from buying these territories on a willing-buyer, willing-seller basis, which is what we were already doing,” Falconer says.
The Coastal First Nations’ territories account for about one-third of the Great Bear Rainforest. There are four more guide outfitting territories in the Coastal First Nations lands that Raincoast hopes to buy.
Greig Bethel, a spokesman for the provincial natural resources department, says the province and Coastal First Nations have reached an agreement that ends the commercial grizzly bear hunt within Coastal First Nations territory.
“This means that any guide outfitter licences held by Coastal First Nations will have their quota retired. Once Coastal First Nations purchases guide outfitter licences from other holders, the quota associated with them will also be retired.”
It is true that the resident hunt is not affected by the agreement, Bethel confirms.
“It’s also important to remember that 1.16 million hectares in the Great Bear Rainforest is closed to grizzly bear hunting,” he says.
In 2015, two grizzly bears were killed in the resident hunt and one in a guided hunt in Coastal First Nations territory, according to ministry statistics.
In the entire Great Bear Rainforest, five grizzlies were killed in the resident hunt and three in guided hunts.
[Brian Falconer PHOTO COURTESY: Brian Falconer]
The Great Bear Rainforest agreement has been widely lauded by environmental groups and First Nations for resolving a long-simmering dispute focused on logging in the region.
And Falconer, too, welcomes the agreement for what it does address.
“For that area and given its history, I think it’s certainly a very positive agreement,” he says.
“But I think there are parts of it that are really seriously being mis-spun, one around the trophy hunt.”
Falconer says both Natural Resources Minister Steve Thomson and Premier Christy Clark misspoke about the grizzly bear hunt at the Monday news conference announcing the deal and news coverage around the world has proclaimed trophy hunting over in the Great Bear Rainforest.
“That is not the case, at all. It’s very, very far from that,” says Falconer.
“You’ve got this place called the Great Bear Rainforest. Why are we still permitting the killing of grizzly bears and black bears in the Great Bear Rainforest?” he asks.