PODIUM

Taking aim at the hunter

George Woodcock October 18 1982
PODIUM

Taking aim at the hunter

George Woodcock October 18 1982

Taking aim at the hunter

PODIUM

George Woodcock

British Columbia has always been thought of as the last refuge of an increasingly threatened population of large game animals. When the provincial government established wilderness parks in the province’s immense remote regions, it seemed as though the safety and survival of the wildlife was assured. The reality is scandalously different. This fall trophy hunters—most of them foreigners— will pay high prices to go into British Columbia’s wilderness parks to kill animals of threatened species and they will be doing it legally, with the actual encouragement of the B.C. environment ministry’s Fish and Wildlife Branch.

The current centre of the controversy between conservationists and the hunter-oriented Fish and Wildlife Branch is the 1.2-million-acre Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park. According to a 1975 order-in-council, which established this park in the far north of the province, Spatsizi is “a unique wildlife area,” requiring “exceptional protection and management to ensure that the values associated with the wildlife are retained and not permitted to degenerate in quality.”

In the past Spatsizi was too inaccessible for its wildlife to be greatly disturbed by hunters, and the moose and caribou, stone sheep and mountain goats lived in balance with the resident predators, the grizzly, the black bears and wolves. In 1975 the wilderness park was created to preserve this balance from an influx of hunters, as the area had become more accessible by new roads.

But the ecological integrity of Spatsizi has been violated since the park’s creation in ways that emphasize how far the Fish and Wildlife Branch—the very agency created to protect wildlife in British Columbia—has leaned toward the interests not only of the mere seven per cent of Canadians who hunt but even more toward the foreign hunters, mainly from the United States and northern Europe, who are willing to pay well—as much as $35,000—for the heads of beasts that, in their own countries, are either extinct or efficiently protected.

In spite of the fact that Spatsizi is described as a unique wildlife area, hunters are still allowed to go in and kill species whose numbers are small and whose survival is precarious. This is the outcome of a single sentence in the

order-in-council establishing the park: “Hunting and fishing, within sustained yield limits, is permissible.” This sentence, which, according to Patrick Moore of Greenpeace, “undermines the purpose of the park,” was not in the original draft of the order-in-council but, according to Moore, was in the final version, signed by the Fish and Wildlife Branch. The branch’s decision to allow hunting seems to be based partly on an overestimate of the park’s wildlife population and partly on a misguided interpretation of its role, which it appears to see as protecting hunters rather than protecting animals. Time and time again, the conclusions of the branch’s officers regarding population have been proven overoptimistic in comparison with those of independent biologists. In 1979 the number of caribou in Spatsizi was officially estimated at 3,000, although officials admitted that no actual count of animals had been made. Yet

The sheep's head is taken to hang on a wall in Dallas or Düsseldorf \ while its body rots in the mountains

this dubious estimate was published in spite of the fact that two biologists, appointed by the Provincial Parks Branch to carry out an investigation in 1977-’78, had put the caribou population of the park at 1,400, less than half the official “count.”

Using such inflated figures for caribou—and for other species—Fish and Wildlife officials have always maintained that there is a sufficient increase in all the ungulates of Spatsizi to allow for both hunting and the effect of predation. The biologists from the parks branch, to the contrary, found that caribou in the park were probably declining at the rate of nine per cent a year. “There are no surpluses available of either moose or caribou, and hunting should cease,” they said. Another independent report in 1978 also recommended that hunting be stopped, at least temporarily, in the upper StikineSpatsizi region. But these recommendations have been ignored by the Fish and Wildlife Branch, which has continued to allow both resident and nonresident hunters to operate in Spatsizi, to seek out fine trophies—picking out the larg-

est and most vigorous bucks among the caribou and the largest and most terrain-wise rams among the stone sheep, with obviously detrimental genetic effects on the wildlife population.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the proportion of nonresident and mainly non-Canadian hunters. Out of 121 caribou, moose, goats and sheep killed by man in the park in 1976, 55 were taken by nonresidents; in 1981,47 out of 62 were killed by nonresidents. Furthermore, it isthe nonresident hunters who form the basis of the outfitting industry in Spatsizi: the current price for getting a shot at a stone sheep is $10,000. The sheep’s head is taken to hang on a wall in Dallas qr Düsseldorf, its body rots in the mountains, and the chances of its species’ survival are diminished to satisfy the whim of an alien rich man.

Recently, the situation at Spatsizi has resulted in bitter confrontations between Greenpeace environmentalists and angry outfitters. One firm of outfitters is suing Greenpeace militants for interfering with legitimate business operations. The same outfitters are being criminally prosecuted for assaulting Greenpeacers. Whatever the courts decide, the actual situation leading to conflict has been created legally by a bureaucracy that is traditionally oriented toward a philosophy of game management and now regards hunting as sacrosanct. When the director of the Fish and Wildlife Branch decided to allow hunting in a wilderness park, he was presumably acting in accordance with his own definition of his objectives as a “game biologist,” which he has defined as “to enhance game production and try to improve hunting.”

Surely it is time our wildlife is protected from foreign trophy hunters. Surely it is also time that the 93 per cent of Canadians who do not hunt be guaranteed wilderness areas where they can observe wildlife peacefully. Spatsizi seemed an ideal place for preserving several large and imperilled species of game for such nonviolent enjoyment, but a single sentence in its charter, allowing hunting, has turned the park into a place of killing and confrontation. Those who plan wildlife parks elsewhere in Canada should learn the lesson: modern hunting and the preservation of natural wildernesses are in no way compatible.

George Woodcock is an award-winning author living in Vancouver.