VANCOUVER — There is more money to be made encouraging people to hunt grizzly bears with a camera instead of a gun, says the lead author of a new report that calls on British Columbia to end its annual trophy hunt of the animals.
Michael Audain, chair of the recently established Grizzly Bear Foundation, said there is "tremendous interest" in bear viewing and supporting that industry's development would create jobs in remote communities.
The 88-page report, which the foundation released Tuesday, lists 19 recommendations aimed at protecting B.C. grizzlies. The proposals range from improving laws around controlling bear attractants to creating an advisory board to direct future research.
One of the document's most controversial suggestions is for the B.C. government to halt the annual trophy hunt, which Audain said sees about 300 bears killed every year, out of an estimated total population of about 15,000.
"We strongly believe that bear viewing and bear hunting cannot co-exist," Audain said.
"Some guide outfitters suggest that we could do some bear viewing in the summer and the hunting in the fall, but it doesn't work that way," he added. "The bears can become habituated to people and then they're just pretty simple target practice for hunters."
B.C. is home to the second-largest population of grizzly bears, after Alaska. Their historic range has shrunk to northern and western mainland Canada and Alaska after previously spanning from northern Mexico to the Arctic, and from along the west coast to central Ontario and the American Midwest.
In a statement, Natural Resources Minister Steve Thomson thanked the Grizzly Bear Foundation for its work and said the government would review the recommendations.
As for the grizzly bear hunt, Thomson said the government bases its decisions on the best available science.
Guide outfitter Mark Werner criticized the report as "flawed," saying its authors were biased from the outset.
"I believe as this group travelled the province to listen to the public at large, I don't really think they heard what was being said," he said.
The government takes a conservative approach to the number of grizzlies it allows hunters to kill, Werner added.
Vancouver businessman Stuart McLaughlin, another board member of the Grizzly Bear Foundation, said the science behind grizzly bear conservation is not definitive.
"Grizzlies are under threat. That's irrefutable," he said.
"The one thing that we can do as a human species that's rational is ... just simply to terminate the hunt. It just doesn't make sense."
Audain established the Grizzly Bear Foundation in 2016, inspired by an up-close encounter with a mother bear and her three cubs during a visit to the Great Bear Rainforest, along the province's coast.
The foundation created a board of inquiry made up of Audain, McLaughlin and retired public servant Suzanne Veit. The board met with government and scientists and launched a series of public hearings across the province last September.
"Basically, what we found is that British Columbians on the whole really seem to care about the grizzly bears," Audain said.
"But we fear for the future. We fear that there are dark days ahead for the grizzly bear in British Columbia if we don't really take some action."
— Follow @gwomand on Twitter
Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press