Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Group pays to end killing on Central Coast

December 13, 2005

Conservationists buy rights to big-game hunt

For the first time in B.C. history, an anti-hunting group has bought the guide-outfitting rights to a prime piece of the province’s wilderness with a view to ending permanently the commercial killing of all animals in the area.

Late in November, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation paid $1.35 million to acquire the guide-outfitting rights to five contiguous hunting regions along the central B.C. coast. Together the regions, which stretch from the northern tip of Vancouver Island in the south to Princess Royal Island in the north and cover a land mass of more than 20,000 square kilometres, are home to hundreds of species, including such popular commercial game as grizzlies, black bears, the so-called spirit bear (a genetic anomaly of the black bear that manifests itself in a white coat), wolves, cougar, mountain goats, moose and deer.

But Raincoast, in conjunction with the six first nations that occupy the territory — the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo, Xai’xais, Wuikinuxv, Gwa’Sala-Nakwaxda’xw and Nuxalk — intend to put an immediate end to all commercial hunting in the area. That means no one from outside B.C. would be permitted to kill any animals in the region for sport. B.C. residents, who operate under different regulations, may continue to hunt and kill wildlife in the area, but members of the five first nations hope to see an end to that early next year.

The deal will be announced at a press conference in Vancouver later today. The money was raised by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, fundraising arm of the Raincoast Conservation Society.

According to provincial regulations, licensed guide-outfitters must continue to facilitate some hunting in areas for which they are responsible. Raincoast conservation director Ian McAllister, who helped broker the deal, said Raincoast will live up to those obligations by allowing hunting of some ungulates — hoofed grazing animals — for food. But henceforth commercial trophy hunting will be a thing of the past.

Raincoast will hold the licence indefinitely although the province will charge an annual fee, which will be negotiated.

“There is no other example in North America where conservation interests have bought out such a large commercial hunting area before,” McAllister said.

First nations representatives, who are negotiating a land and resource management plan with Victoria, say they hope the deal will be expanded in early 2006 to include a ban on resident sport hunting as well. About 40 per cent of all animals killed along the coast are killed by resident hunters.

“First nations don’t hunt for trophies,” said Heiltsuk chief Ross Wilson. “We kill for need, not desire.”

Wilson said he has met with Environment Minister Barry Penner and Agriculture and Lands Minster Pat Bell to put forward his nation’s case against trophy hunting.

“I think the minister hears us,” Wilson said. “What he does might be another story.”

Kitasoo band manager Percy Starr was more optimistic. “I’m very much excited about the status of our government-to-government process now,” Starr said. “It appears they want to negotiate with us. I know there will be some major changes in our relationship. I’m hopeful that they will support what we want.”

First nations say sport hunting and eco-tourism can’t co-exist, arguing that a live animal is worth much more to their local economies than a dead one.

“Eco-tourism works in a lot of areas for us,” Starr said. “People want to see whales and bears, and we try to utilize those opportunities. But when you have a hunting licence in the heart of our territory, that’s not going to help us.”

Agriculture and Lands Ministry spokeswoman Liz Bicknell said she couldn’t comment on any particular aspect of the negotiations, saying only that “everything is looking good for an announcement early in the New Year.”

Environment Ministry spokesman Don McDonald also wasn’t permitted to comment on negotiations, but confirmed that Raincoast had bought the guide-outfitting licence.

He said it would be certified as the owner once its representatives pass an exam that demonstrates their knowledge of hunting regulations.

McDonald also said that according to current government quotas, out-of-province hunters would have been allowed to kill 14 grizzlies in the area before the end of 2006.

He also said grizzlies are the only animal that are hunted according to a quota system. That means that prior to the agreement, hunters would have been allowed to kill as many individuals of any other type of animals as they wished.

Raincoast bought the licence from former guide-outfitter Leonard Ellis, who held the guide-outfitting rights to the territory since 1981. The society raised the money over a six-month period mainly from private donations, McAllister said.

One of the major donors, Michael Mayzel, an executive vice-president of Daymen Photo Marketing, who with his business partner, Uwe Mummenhoff, contributed a “very significant” amount of money to the project — he refused to say exactly how much — said he did so because of his special regard for bears.

“The killing of bears through hunting has always appalled me,” Mayzel said. “Because it’s just senseless, particularly when people are brought in from other countries strictly to hunt and kill bears, wolves and so on. I just find it appalling. Hunting for food is one thing, but hunting for trophies is wrong.”

Ellis said because of the increasing popularity of eco-tourism, and the frequency with which tourists’ and hunters’ paths crossed, it no longer was commercially viable for him to continue to bring out-of-province hunters into the area, so it made sense to get out.

“In the old days, there was basically nobody up in this area except for a few commercial fishermen and loggers,” Ellis said. “Now people have turned a lot of the areas into ‘green’ areas on the coast, so people drop in more frequently.

“Hunters don’t like hunting when there are other people around. They like having the place to themselves.”

Ellis, who has guided thousands of hunters along the coast, said he discussed his decision with members of the guide-outfitting community, and was concerned about how they would feel about it.

Dale Drown, executive director of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C., was not available to comment.

But Ellis insists it makes good business sense. “Things change and people have to adjust to changes in society. Twenty years ago we didn’t even know how to spell environmentalist. Now there’s a larger percentage of society who would rather look at bears than hunt bears, so that’s driven the decision.”

Ellis, who operates the Bella Coola Outfitting Company, will now lead wildlife-viewing tours himself. “I honestly believe there’s room for both hunting and grizzly viewing on the coast. I think honestly that the way it’s going down, there’s interest for both. I think to avoid complication, certain areas have to be designated to hunting and others to viewing.”

McAllister said he hoped the deal would set a precedent for similar agreements elsewhere in B.C. “I think the guide-outfitters would be pleased that the guide outfitter was fairly compensated. He wasn’t forced out. He got fair value for his investment and other guide-outfitters across the province should be looking for similar arrangements.”