Let’s Talk about our Feelings: The Ban on Trophy Hunting for Grizzlies in British Columbia.

Dear well-intentioned people who supported the ban on trophy hunting for grizzlies in British Columbia,

If you really care about this issue, you have probably read some of the hunters’ response to this news. In fact, the ban on a trophy hunt for bears in British Columbia has been the most discussed conservation issue among hunters all last week. Mostly, the hunters’ conversations focus on rational arguments for trophy bear hunting, and lament “triumph of emotions over reason and science”. Let’s not do that here. Let’s not put down the emotional side of ourselves – after all, hunting isn’t completely rational either. From the perspective of pure reason, getting yourself soaking wet and frozen stiff for the sake of a few ducks makes little sense. Let’s talk feelings.

How would you feel to see a cute brown bear cub killed and eaten, perhaps, by its own father?

Sorry if it shocked you, it was intended to. But that’s what bears do. Infanticide and cannibalism are just a day in a brown bear’s life. During one radio-collar tracking study, just one male over one spring and summer killed and ate four bear cubs and one full-grown female bear who, according to genetic analysis, was likely his own mother! Bears do have feelings, too, but they’re very different from ours.

The bigger and older the bear, the more younger and smaller bears it kills. Trophy hunters target precisely this kind of bear – the dominant, big and powerful male, the bad guy of the bear world, the Al Capone and Hannibal Lector 2 in 1. A ban on “trophy” hunting, and focus on “meat” hunting, means hunters would stop killing the “bad guy bear” and start killing “good guy bears”. Simply because, honestly, big old males aren’t the best eating. When you buy a steak in the supermarket, you aren’t buying the flesh of a tough old bull, it comes from 1 1/2 y.o. bullocks. Younger animals not only tend to taste better, but are also easier to harvest. If “trophy” hunting is replaced with “meat” hunting, it’s these animals that are going to get killed and most likely in higher numbers.

Trophy hunting doesn’t add to infanticide in terms of reducing bear numbers, it offsets it.

Andrey Sitsko, now Deputy Director of the Hunting Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia, wrote in Russian Hunting Magazine that when they considered opening trophy bear hunting in Kamchatka in the early 1990s, they felt a lot of concern. At that time, there was little hunting of bears for sport on the peninsula, but many animals were killed in conflicts with the local population, including salmon fishers and especially reindeer herders. Would an additional harvest by trophy hunters be a detriment to the bear population?

Actually, the opposite happened – after introduction of trophy bear hunts in Kamchatka, the numbers of bears began to grow as never before! Decreased infanticide is considered to be the main reason. Contrary to billboards that appeared near some national parks recently, want to see bears? Say Yes! to trophy hunting. A different piece of advertising, the “Hug a Hunter” campaign of Colorado, is closer to the truth. It tells the audience, “if you knew how much hunters contribute to the well-being of the environment of the state (and to remote rural communities, too), you’d want to hug a hunter”.

It seems like quite a lot of female bears – if they could feel and think like humans – would want to hug a trophy hunter!

Bears are asocial animals. They are highly intelligent, but their communication skills suck even by apex predator standards. That’s why circus “animal tamers” (in countries where the practice isn’t yet banned) consider bears the most dangerous animals to work with. You can teach them to do many tricks, but they don’t give you much detectable warning before becoming aggressive. Since they don’t live in packs, bears had no reason to develop such skills. So, one moment everything seems OK, the next moment a bear smashes the “tamer” to bits. As with any asocial animal, there’s no such thing as a “friend” for a bear. With the exception of sows’ motherly feelings or a boar’s desire to breed, a bear has only two categories for other animals: “food” and “threat”.

Think about it when you hear the suggestion to replace bear hunting with “bear watching” as a source of income generation for British Columbia. Even living aside the fact that in Africa and elsewhere eco-tourism repeatedly failed to generate as much money as trophy hunting, the replacement implies a threat for humans. Bear watching means a lot of contact between bears and people without any danger for bears. That would be fantastic – if life was a Disney cartoon. But for real-life grizzlies, if people aren’t danger, they’re food.

How are you going to feel when someone you know is killed or maimed by a bear?

Because of its high bear population, let’s look at another example from Russia. Mikhail Krechmar, the Editor-in-Chief of Russian Hunting Magazine, and perhaps the greatest living expert on bears and bear hunting in the Russian Pacific, says that in the years that passed since the collapse of the USSR, hunting pressure on local bears reduced dramatically. Human presence in Eastern Siberian taiga has dropped manifold, after large-scale Soviet exploration projects, state-supported reindeer herding and military presence were curbed. The remaining population isn’t interested in bears as prey, as the hide is not worth the labor of its processing, and the meat is avoided due to trichinae, a parasite that can be lethal to people. Trophy hunting is practiced, but on a very small scale, because of transport problems.

In some areas of the Russian North-East, the lessening of hunting pressure resulted in a dramatic increase of bear-inflicted deaths.

According to Krechmar, in only one of such areas, Yakutia, 16 people were killed by bears in the first six months of 2017 alone! Compare population levels in Siberia and British Columbia, and you’ll see that the potential risks for the Canadian province are much higher. In a Disney cartoon, it would be easy to handle. We’d send the Man-Cub to tell old Baloo “Hey, don’t eat humans, OK?” and the bear would go “All right, I’ll get me some honey instead”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. Grizzly bears mostly only understand the communication devices that deliver their message, weighing at least 200 grains, with the muzzle velocity of 2500 fps or more.

My next point will look like a strange question to ask in a conversation about hunting and conservation, but I’ll explain.

If you have a family, or another sort of “relationship”, why do you do it?

Most people keep their relationships for a variety of mixed reasons. You can’t really single out just one thing that makes you stay with the “significant other”, e.g. that the person cooks like a chef, or contributes financially, or is a great lover, or shares your beliefs and values, or you can just wake’m up at 3 a.m., talk about your feelings, and be understood. All these reasons count. How would you feel if you were told that you can continue your relationship, but from now on you’re forbidden to cook each other meals? Some people find it disgusting when people get married only because the other person is rich. But would it be fair to ban marriage between partners with great disparity of incomes?

Same thing with hunting. For most hunters the motivation to harvest a bear is mixed: it could be the meat, the thrill of the chase, desire to control a hostile neighbor, etc. Admittedly, there are hunters who gather trophies only to show off to their peers. But these persons make up a tiny minority in the general hunting population. Many hunters don’t really care for trophies as such (meaning they would never pay a dime to see their name in some sort of a “record book”) but they still want to preserve some part of an animal that is somehow special for them – to memorialize the adventure, because of something unusual about the beast or the experience of harvesting it. Now they can’t.

The present ruling doesn’t really ban trophy hunting – it only forbids keeping certain parts of bear bodies.

No, really. There’s nothing in the ban that prevents someone from harvesting a grizzly in BC, take accurate measurements of the animal’s body and scull dimensions by a certified measurer, and make an entry into a record book. Of course, such a hunter would have to leave the forbidden parts of the bear’s carcass, those that are usually kept as “trophies” – hide, scull, and paws, including claws – rot in the wood. The reason why trophy hunters wouldn’t do it is because “the true trophy hunter“, in the worlds of Elgin Gates, “will enshrine the trophy in a place of honor. This is a more noble and fitting end than dying on some lost and lonely ledge where the scavengers will pick his bones, and his magnificent horns will weather away and be lost forever.

Isn’t it ironic that the success of the ban depends on trophy hunters being moral and ethical persons?

If hunters were only obsessed with killing, as usually implied, the current ban wouldn’t stop them. As it is, it would stop many people from hunting grizzlies, even those who couldn’t care less for “collecting trophies”. To say nothing of the bear hide’s practical value (as a rug, for example),  most hunters will be thoroughly disgusted by the prospect of having to leave a usable portion of the carcass waisted. For them, it would be a sign of disrespect for their quarry.

If a person hunts primarily for meat, is it fair to forbid their keeping the hide, too?

If you’ve read this far, you already know about the negative consequences of the so-called “trophy bear hunting ban”. There will be no positive effect on bear populations – even the Natural Resources Ministry of British Columbia admits that there’s no threat for the grizzlies in British Columbia from hunting. It’s only about “public sentiment”. “We don’t like the idea of killing bears only for trophies, so let’s ban it”. And the provincial government’s ruling was not really a ban on trophy hunting, but a carpet bombing that covered many innocent people, including guides and outfitters who lost quite a lot of their business that generates valuable and irreplaceable jobs in the province’s rural areas. If the general public is well-meaning, if slightly misguided, the bureaucrats that framed the ban should be described, perhaps, in harder expressions.

How would you feel to be ruled by populists who base their decisions on any whim of a group of the voters, and cater to that with a delusionary surface solution?

If it’s OK to pass political decisions on the basis of sentiment, why is it only the sentiments of one group that count? I have shown you already, that there are a lot of other feelings in this matter. Feelings of people who run the risk of being killed by bears. Feelings of people who see their businesses collapse. Feelings of hunters who are forced to make an unwanted and unnatural waste of the animals they try to harvest respectfully. The bears, themselves, would have mixed feelings about the ban of trophy hunting, if they could have the same emotions as humans.

Feelings matter – but whose feelings matter more?

You never can tell, because it’s impossible to measure whose feelings are stronger and more “true”. That’s precisely why democracy works best when the decision-making process is based on facts and figures, such as populations numbers, costs and sustainability. When it comes to the health and welfare of our invaluable wildlife, shouldn’t we maybe best leave it to science based decisions?

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  1. science based , them are words you cant always belief in if gov,t has anything to do with these reports ; well I would doubt anything they could doctor,

  2. Excellently written article! It is so easy to become sentimental and commit anthro-morphism due to our experiences with bunnys and puppys. However, in the same way as “majority-rule” does’nt work; so letting the uneducated and uninformed ( ie. UN-WISE) make the final decisions is also a bugger-up.!!! Give ’em some tuition and hence sensible wisdom to live by and accept that there are specialists out there BECAUSE they are enthusiasts and well-informed, studied, experienced in their fields.

  3. I continually read the convoluted and silly ( IMO ) three parts that will be banned from keeping !
    Skull, hide, and paws !
    That is the most asinine thing I can imagine !
    Anyone who knows the first thing about bear hunters and bear hunting , knows no bear hunter in their right mind who values the hide, would ever separate the paws from the hide ! The hide and paws are one item !! The skull is the other !
    Then we have the meat !
    It is the craziest idea to go ahead and switch it up , so one “half” of the value of the animal , that has traditionally been valued , originally for clothing or bed cover, etc. is made illegal to keep, and the other “half” of the animal’s value is substituted !!
    Why would you not just make it mandatory to keep and use it all ??
    Oh yeah , because emotion got mixed in !
    And the urban majority , who mostly know nothing about Wildlife, or the scientific and proper management of it, decide that their opinion is the only one that needs to be heard and heeded !?
    Please !! You can’t be serious !!

  4. Wow! You’re incredibly ignorant and misinformed about bears. Research has shown that killing older male bears that control a certain area and thus keep a check on younger males, actually increases cub mortality as younger males then start to fight for dominance over females and kill more cubs. Try to educate yourself before writing your half-truth, self-glorifying propaganda.

    1. In the words of Swenson et al (one of the papers you probably refer to) “the effect of shooting adult males on cub survival is controversial and poorly documented”. Some studies, indeed, support the claim you make in your comment. However, attempts to verify these claims “found no evidence that removal of adult male bears by hunters reduced cub survival or litter size.” and state that “cub survivorship in our national park study areas was lower than in nearby hunted areas” (Miller et all, 2003, Ursus 14(2)). The increase in bear numbers in Kamchatka after introduction of trophy hunting is well documented, too.

  5. BC hunters claim that there is an overpopulation of grizzlies. This hunter claims that killing the males actually lowers cub mortality and increases populations. Is it science that hunters are claiming to adhere to, or camp fire stories/fairy tales?

    1. Thank you for the link to the US study. But you’re in British Columbian territory now. You don’t get to cloud our heritage and our politics with your spin.

    2. This story does NOT claim that grizzlies in BC are overpopulated. The point is, people who support the grizzly hunting ban think it will increase bear numbers – but this is unlikely. Bear infanticide is a scientific fact, although there’s a difference of opinion on how hunting affects it. If your question was not a rhetorical one, here’s some of the research that supports the claims made in this story http://www.bearsmart.com/docs/miller-hunting-effects-on-cub-survivorship.pdf

  6. Oh my, the Noble Hunter….. Nature does not need your “help”. You do not need the meat. Wrap it up in what ever pile of crap you want, you enjoy killing. Hunting for sustenance is necessary and practiced by a small majority. If you can afford your F350’s and quads and Cabela’s camo, you do NOT need to hunt, you just want to pretend to be men (and yes, there are bloodthirsty women among you). Perhaps the banning of the trophy hunt is proof that the majority has evolved and left you in the dung heap you so richly deserve. And no bear is ever going to want to hug a hunter…..

    1. Have you read Making Sense of Sports, by Ellis Cashmore? (no, it is not a pro-hunting book) It gives an excellent overview of how the hunting instinct, which has helped us survive for 2,000,000 years, can’t disappear in the 5,000 years of farming and herding. And describes the incredible amount of energy our society spends in subliming the instinct and rechanneling it into “more acceptable” practices such as football (and how games like football are, essentially, an imitation of hunting). So, no, “the majority” has not “evolved out” of hunting, sorry.

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