Environmentalists buy hunting licence in Canada

Foreign big-game hunters will be banished from a vast area of western Canada’s wilderness, local environmentalists said, announcing an unusual purchase of a commercial hunting licence.

The Raincoast Conservation Foundation privately raised 1,35-million Canadian dollars ($1,17-million) to buy one of North America’s largest guide outfitters, Bella Coola Outfitters Company, said Chris Genovali, of Raincoast.

“We bought exclusive rights for the commercial trophy hunting of a wide range of species in perpetuity,” said Genovali.

The licence covers a vast area of 20 000 square kilometres on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province.

Wild creatures that live there include carnivores such as grizzly and black bears, a mutant white bear that native groups call the spirit bear, wolves and cougars.

There are also thousands of ungulates, including mountain goats, moose and deer.

From now on, instead of catering to sports hunters, the outfitting company will focus on eco-tourism, arranging travel packages for tourists who wish to watch and photograph bears and other animals, said Genovali.

Six aboriginal groups supported the conservation group’s purchase, appearing with Raincoast spokespersons at a news conference on Tuesday in this west coast city.

Genovali said it was largely because of the commercial grizzly-bear hunt, which brought foreign tourists to the province to bag trophies, that Raincoast decided to buy a guide outfitter.

“Grizzlies are the slowest-reproducing mammal on the continent,” said Genovali. “The impact of trophy hunting and overkill can be significant.”

The hunt has long been contentious, with threatened boycotts by international tourist groups, a ban on imported grizzly-bear parts by the European Union, and efforts by conservationists to stop sport hunting.

No one knows the exact population of the giant carnivores, said Genovali.
Some biologists put their number at 8 000, while current government estimates say there are as many as 16 000.

“But none of that is based on peer-reviewed science,” he said.

To keep a commercial licence, which is issued by the provincial government of British Columbia and can be bought and sold, guide outfitters have to continue to use it.

“We will do what we have to do to maintain our licence in good stead,” said Genovali. “If that means hunting ungulates, for instance, we will do it. But we will not be hunting large carnivores.”

He said Raincoast and the aboriginal bands are lobbying the government to change the terms of the licence.

The provincial government, based in the capital of Victoria, has approved the transfer of the guide licence.

“We would hope they would welcome it, because this isn’t costing them anything,” said Genovali. “We’ve found a unique and creative solution, to make some progress on this issue.

“We feel that wildlife viewing and eco-tourism has so much more potential than sport hunting.”—AFP