The B.C. NDP is vowing to ban the trophy hunting of grizzly bears if the party forms government after next May's provincial election.
Leader John Horgan said B.C.'s iconic grizzlies are worth more to the province alive than dead.
"We can look after our natural environment, respect the outdoor traditions of our province and grow the economy if we make the right choices," Horgan said. "That should start now with a change in how we treat the iconic grizzly bears of B.C."
NDP tourism critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said B.C.'s grizzlies increasingly attract visitors from around the world. “The wildlife viewing industry is booming in this province, and creating good jobs from Vancouver to Stewart."
The election promise to ban the killing of grizzlies for sport was supported by Doug Neasloss, Chief Councillor of the Kitasoo/Xai'Xais, who said the Coastal First Nations declared a ban on all but traditional aboriginal bear hunting in their territory four years ago. "Bear claws, hides and teeth are not trophies," Neasloss said.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson predicted the NDP's proposed ban will divide the province and split opposition party ranks as well.
Thomson said the B.C. Liberal government is moving to retire guide-outfitter licenses in the Great Bear Rainforest as territories are sold to bear-watching companies. About a third of the province is off limits to grizzly hunting for wildlife management reasons.
But the rest is subject to a managed hunt for resident and non-resident guided hunters that has been been validated by independent experts and makes a significant contribution to the provincial economy, he said.
"It clearly will not resonate well in rural communities," Thomson said.
The number of grizzlies that can be killed each year is based on estimates of populations and sustainable harvest levels.
The proposed NDP trophy hunting ban doesn't preclude hunting grizzly bears for food or ceremonial purposes.
"It isn't really a ban," said B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak, adding it's no surprise the New Democrats aren't promising to stop all grizzly hunting.
"There are resident hunter issues, first nation hunter issues that mean you can't exactly make a ban," she said. "They're confronting the same challenges governments have always faced in British Columbia, which is the need to balance those passions that people have for an iconic species with the realities of what takes place in our rural communities and how people feel there."
Polls have pointed to strong support for a trophy hunting ban.
A recent report on the B.C. grizzly bear management system gave the province good marks, but also recommended setting objectives to accommodate both hunting and viewing of grizzly bears, and investigate whether conflicts exist.
The B.C. government has felt blowback from resident B.C. hunters in recent years after a controversial 2014 decision to increase big-game hunt allocations for guide outfitters at the expense of unguided locals.
There are more than 15,000 grizzly bears in B.C., which accounts for more than half of grizzlies in Canada.
B.C. Wildlife Federation strategic initiatives director Alan Martin said the federation doesn't object to the NDP commitment.
“We think that if you’re hunting wildlife that you should utilize the whole animal and that’s been part our policy and is consistent with this announcement," he said.
Martin said the federation is more concerned about the sustainability of grizzly habitat.
“I think there are larger issues about grizzly bears in terms of the habitat that is required to sustain them," Martin said. "We’re seeing lots of impacts because of accelerated forest harvesting and changes in salmon populations. Those are probably much more important to deal with than the issue of trophy hunting.”
– with files from Tom Fletcher and Katya Slepian