Conservation group buys out hunting rights in Great Bear Rainforest

Conservation group buys out hunting rights in Great Bear Rainforest

A¬†conservation¬†group¬†says its latest purchase of exclusive¬†hunting¬†rights¬†in BC’s Great Bear Rainforest¬†is a major step toward protecting the area’s¬†wildlife, but hunters say the move is an “abuse” of the licensing system.

The Raincoast¬†Conservation¬†Foundation, based¬†in¬†Sidney,¬†B.C., said Thursday that it raised $1.92 million over two years¬†to¬†buy the¬†rights¬†from hunters that covers roughly a quarter ‚ÄĒ or 18,000 square kilometres ‚ÄĒ of the Great Bear¬†Rainforest¬†on the province’s north and central coast.

Raincoast’s guide outfitter co-ordinator Brian Falconer said the¬†group¬†has fulfilled all aspects of the purchase except the physical transfer of the¬†hunting¬†licenses, a process that is being completed.

The province confirmed in a statement that it has received the application to transfer the certificate, and the transaction was being reviewed.

Falconer said they will continue to buy more hunting rights to achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating commercial trophy hunting completely in the Great Bear Rainforest.

The purchase makes Raincoast the largest hunting tenure holder in B.C., covering more than 56,000 square kilometres.

“Literally hundreds of animals every year, including particularly the trophy species like grizzly bear, black bear, wolves, cougars, those are the real trophy species, those are not being killed now,” he said.

He said it assures there are healthy populations of animals, particularly carnivores, all through the Great Bear Rainforest.

Raincoast has been buying hunting rights in the province since 2005, after a 2001 moratorium on grizzly bear hunting approved by an NDP government was overturned when the Liberals were elected to government.

The province again brought in a ban on grizzly hunting in 2017 after the NDP returned to power, but Falconer said Raincoast will continue its efforts because there are many other species the group can protect by controlling hunting tenures.

“We are required¬†to¬†do hunts¬†in¬†order¬†to¬†maintain these territories at this point,” Falconer said.

“We’ve been very unsuccessful at those hunts, and so the harvest rate has gone down¬†to¬†zero¬†in¬†those properties, ” he said. “We just have very, very poor hunters.”

In the place of commercial hunting, Raincoast has been encouraging ecotourism in the regions where they hold tenure, another intentional move that Falconer said is aimed to show the economic potential of a sustainable industry based on wildlife.

“It is lighting the path¬†to¬†a new,¬†conservation-based economy that is not dependent on killing and extracting things,” he said.

Raincoast’s purchases, however, have upset the¬†group¬†Hunters for¬†B.C., which says the move amounts¬†to¬†abusing commercial licensing¬†to¬†stifle legal¬†hunting¬†activities.

The group’s president Robin Unrau said the 2017 ban on grizzly¬†hunting¬†put several outfitters¬†in¬†a difficult financial situation, which gave¬†conservation¬†groups like Raincoast an opportunity¬†to¬†the buy tenures from hunters with the plan¬†to¬†not hunt.

“Whether they’re taking them¬†out¬†hunting¬†physically or whether it’s just on paper¬†to¬†look good, it should be written better that a¬†hunting¬†tenure is for the purpose of¬†hunting¬†and not as we say just going through the motion on paper and using this propaganda,” Unrau said.

He said the move¬†to¬†limit commercial¬†hunting¬†also isn’t addressing the key challenge facing species like the grizzly, which is habitat protection.

Unrau said hunting, when done responsibly, is actually a key tool in maintaining biodiversity and balance in a given region, and Hunters for B.C. are members of the Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition that play a role in conservation efforts.

“Protectionism is fantastic,” he said. “It has¬†to¬†have its time and place.

“There’s always two sides¬†to¬†a story; if¬†conservation¬†organizations or environmental groups choose not¬†to¬†really look at the big picture, which is the habitat. If we’re not able¬†to¬†look at that, I think it’s a failure on all our part for the¬†wildlife.”

Great Bear Tours launched 24-years ago, and is rated by National Geographic as one of the best adventure travel companies in the world.

Co-owner Marg Leehane sees this latest move as a move in the right direction.

“People feel more connected to the natural world now. They are much more delighted to sit with the grizzly bears, and watch them for three hours. Rather than having them as a trophy in their den,” Leehane said.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2024.

Chuck Chiang, The Canadian PressChuck Chiang, The Canadian Press
Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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