Billboards Target British Columbia Grizzly Bear Hunt

LONDON, United Kingdom, January 17, 2001 (ENS) - With the unveiling of a 40 foot long billboard at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Grafton Way in London, the Environmental Investigation Agency today launched a campaign that asks UK tourists to play a role in ending the hunting of grizzly bears in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is an independent, international campaigning organization that investigates and exposes environmental crime, and campaigns to protect endangered species and the natural world. It has offices in London and in Washington, DC.

The grizzly bear protection campaign has already attracted support from 78 UK and Irish travel companies and 150 Canadian travel companies that have signed an EIA appeal for a moratorium on grizzly hunting in B.C. The new billboard is adjacent to the offices of four major travel agents.

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This billboard went up in downtown London today. (Photo courtesy EIA)
Through the new billboards and a TV ad campaign, UK tourists are being asked to urge their travel companies to join the appeal. A similar billboard campaign in B.C is being run by the Raincoast Conservation Society.

The grizzly bear is classed as at risk, vulnerable or threatened throughout its dwindling range in Canada. British Columbia is estimated to hold half of the country's remaining grizzly population. Neither Canada nor British Columbia has endangered species legislation.

Some travel agents believe it is in their own best interest as well as that of the bears to stop the hunt. In a letter to the Canadian Tourism Commission, Paul Stewart, managing director of Arena Holidays wrote, "I ask you to consider the commercial consequences of allowing this unsustainable hunting to continue. Many countries have failed to act upon environmental issues with dire results as far as tourism is concerned. Don't allow Canada - British Columbia in particular - to make the same mistake."

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(Photo by Ian McAllister courtesy Raincoast Conservation Society)
A letter from Ian Green, managing director of Greentours, to the Canadian Tourism Commission states, "Increasing public awareness of these issues has already led to negative feedback from a number of our customers with regard to using Canada as a wildlife watching destination. In addition, human nature dictates that without the stars of the show - in B.C.'s case the grizzly bears - wildlife watchers will take their tourist dollar away."

The provincial government continues to grant quotas allowing hunters to kill an estimated 300 grizzly bears each year, in part because such tourists in total pay 250,000 (US$368,408 or C$556,925) a year for the chance to bag a rare grizzly trophy.

In August 2000, then B.C. tourism minister, Ian Waddell, promised to seek a ban on the grizzly hunt after receiving a petition from over 200 UK and Canadian tourism companies, concerned that continuing to allow the grizzlies to be hunted to the brink of extinction will deter holidaymakers from visiting the province.

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British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh (Photo courtesy Office of the Premier)
Waddell, since promoted to provincial environment minister, has yet to carry out this promise. British Columia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh has the final say on the issue.

Since the UK is Canada's largest overseas tourism market, and tourism is British Columbia's second biggest export earner, the EIA hopes that UK tourists have a voice that will be heard.

Martin Powell, bear campaigner for the EIA, said, "Sadly, the B.C. government has consistently refused to heed the conservation imperative for a ban on grizzly hunting - long argued for by independent and many government appointed experts, as well as the international conservation community and even the B.C. tourism minister. Every one of the three-quarters of a million UK tourists who go to Canada each year can play a key role to help save this beautiful species by urging their travel company to back the campaign to ban the B.C. grizzly hunt."

The bear protectionists argue that with the growing popularity of eco-tourism holidays, bear viewing in B.C. offers better long term economic benefits than bear hunting. The one permanent bear viewing facility in the province - Knight Inlet Lodge - earns three times the income brought in by all grizzly hunting, the EIA has found. "Yet unless the B.C. government enforces a hunting ban soon, there may well be no bears left for tourists to see," says Powell.

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Hunter bags a British Columbia grizzly bear. (Photo courtesy Outdoor Connection)
Joe Scott, conservation director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance in Bellingham, Washington says that grizzlies have limited protection south of the border, but no legal protection in Canada. "With fewer than 1,000 individuals remaining out of an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 that used to roam the continental U.S., grizzly bears are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Despite this legal protection in the U.S., the Great Bear is fair game when it crosses the border into Canada."

The B.C. government has imposed a hunting closure in the Rivers Inlet area for both the fall 2000 and spring 2001 hunts. The season was closed by minister's regulation in the spring of 2000 as a result of grizzly conservation concerns due to declining salmon populations in the area.

Bear experts in British Columbia have said the grizzlies are suffering from overhunting. Provincial government biologist, Dionys de Leeuw, has stated, "There is no evidence suggesting any hunting of grizzlies is sustainable in B.C. In fact, there is a strong indication that past and continuing population declines are due to excessive sport hunting."