AFC Declares First "International Bear Day"

Jeffrey Whiting - AFC
October 23, 2014 share
Artists for Conservation

Bears are iconic symbols and charismatic ambassadors for BC's wilderness. Given this, with so much talk and controversy in the media about B.C.'s upcoming bear hunting season opening at the start of October, we thought it made sense to focus on bears at the second annual BC Conservation Symposium. The goal was to help the science to reach the public and stimulate unpoliticized dialogue around the best use of this incredible resource.

One of Artists for Conservation's important roles is to inspire healthy dialogue around wildlife and conservation issues. As apex predators in the ecosystem, bears are slow to reproduce, are spread out over vast areas and populations are much more sensitive to loss of an individual than other large species such as deer. Bears' top position in the food chain, also means that by protecting them, it translates into conservation of the entire ecosystem they live in.

The topic of hunting is a sensitive one but a critical one in the conservation dialogue. Hunters, as a demographic represent some of the most ardent supporters of conservation. Indeed, conservation of some species in many parts of Europe, has only been achieved through maintaining hunting preserves. Some of the most prolific hunters a century ago, gave rise to the conservation movement.

Most controversies arise over trophy hunting, which is done only for the pleasure and pride of the individual hunter and has no sustenance value whatsoever. This is an important distinction but also not necessarily cut-and-dry. Trophy hunting in African reserves, have resulted in real conservation successes. No one approach or policy can serve all cases effectively. Intelligent conservation policy can only be possible by openly considering the science and research, and not emotion-based lobbying by either side of an issue.

This year, B.C. has issued the highest number of hunting authorizations in decades, with roughly 1,800 trophy-hunting licenses sold. Given that 88 per cent of B.C. residents oppose bear trophy hunting, the number is surprising.

We heard how some of the nuances of bear hunt. The hunt can actually undermine bear tourism, by making bears (in natural and unhabituated conditions) scarce from their natural stomping grounds. Trophy hunting, the selective hunting of wild game animals, often sparks the debate around the morality of sport hunting versus sustenance hunting and issues around conservation. It also begs the question, are bears more valuable economically alive, than dead, in BC. The research presented was eye-opening. At the symposium, scientists and experts in bear conservation argued that trophy hunting puts a fragile grizzly bear population at significant risk, and jeopardizes a bear-watching tourism industry that has far more economic potential than the bear hunt. Put simply, a healthy bear population translates to a healthy overall forest ecosystem.

In addition to an art exhibit and film presentation about bears, unique to this year's Symposium, we declared the first ever International Bear Day. Conservation leaders from the David Suzuki Foundation, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Bears Forever, Coastal First Nations and Grouse Mountain's Refuge for Endangered Wildlife lead a dialogue around the critical role bears play in our ecosystem, their economic and cultural value. The panelists along with the help of Symposium guests participated in the establishment of International Bear Day, declared at the end of the Symposium to be first Saturday of April each year. Starting in 2015, the date will be recognized annually as International Bear Day.

The winning Calendar day, was proposed by Dr. Ken Macquisten, Veterinarian and Director of the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife at Grouse Mountain. Other panelists supporting the motion included Dr. Faisal Moola, Director General at the David Suzuki Foundation, Jennifer Walkus of Coastal First Nations Initiative, Bears Forever Initiative, Mark Hobson, artist and biologist and Bear scientist/researcher at Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Christina Service.

With the declaration of Bear Day, Artists for Conservation hopes to leave a legacy for increased public awareness and understanding of the importance and fragility of these incredible animals. A new International Bear Day Facebook page has been set up.

Thanks to the speakers, volunteers and supporters including the Andy Wright of the Willow Grove Foundation for making this important event possible.

Photos courtesy of Andrew S. Wright. Painting "Grateful Griz" by Val Warner


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