Bear hunters exploiting legal loophole 

Dolson leading effort to ban bow hunting within RMOW after bear killed with crossbow


True or false: it is legal to shoot a bear with a crossbow in Lost Lake Park during hunting season.

Answer: true.

That is also the case in the Callaghan Valley and the Interpretive Forest, any logging and hiking trail or anywhere within the RMOW, so long as the hunter is licensed and, according to a loophole in the Firearms Regulation Bylaw, is 15 metres away from the centre line on the road, and/or is 100 metres away from a playground or building occupied by people or domestic animals.

"This presents a huge safety risk for residents and visitors, not to mention the animals," wrote Sylvia Dolson, leader of the local citizens' group Whistler Residents Opposed to Urban Hunting (WROUH), in a letter addressed to the mayor and all members of council.

"The wounding rate for animals shot with bows is significantly higher than those shot with firearms and they often suffer a slow and agonizing death."

Dolson, who is also the president of the Get Bear Smart Society (GBSS), is spearheading the movement to ban bow hunting within municipal boundaries. Failing that, she is hoping for at least a ban within recreational areas. In the letter, she urges council to draft a bylaw "quickly" since black bear hunting season begins Sept. 1 for bow hunters. (It begins Sept. 10 for all other hunters and ends Nov. 30.)

According to the Firearms Regulation Bylaw No. 874, 1991, discharging a firearm within municipal limits is illegal but the wording of the bylaw exempts crossbows.

"We need to add crossbows, or hunting, or something, to change that bylaw," she said, noting that the municipality could also move toward permit-based hunting, similar to what has been imposed in Squamish.

Dolson told Pique that she "would be taking on that issue as a citizen" because it's not within Get Bear Smart's mandate to have a stance on hunting.

The letter has not yet reached the mayor or councillors but there's little chance that anyone on council will oppose Dolson's petition.

"I'm sure there's a crossbow hunter out there somewhere who will be opposed to it, however I think that the safety of our citizens and the safety of the bears, the wildlife, is a little more important," said Councillor Chris Quinlan.

"I just can't see any reason why you would need to facilitate crossbow hunting within the boundaries of the RMOW. It just doesn't make sense to me," he said.

Quinlan said this issue has not yet been raised in a council setting but Councillor Ralph Forsyth said he asked at the last council meeting for staff to bring in an administrative report about bow hunting in the RMOW after a bear was killed with a crossbow near Function Junction.

Last month, the Conservation Officer Service received a complaint that a bear had been shot and killed with a crossbow south of Function Junction. Officers investigated and found that the hunter was licensed and within his legal rights as it was the spring hunting season.

"What these guys did was within the law but beyond the spirit of law," Forsythe said. "You're not supposed to shoot bears 100 feet from the highway. It's just not sporting."

This isn't a first-time incident, either. Dolson told Pique that the Get Bear Smart Society has received several complaints from concerned people who have witnessed bears being hunted with crossbows along Highway 99 and in the Callaghan Valley.

"These bears along the Callaghan, because they're being viewed every day by dozens of people, they're being habituated," she said. "Come hunting season, it's going to be like shooting fish in a barrel."

Only the first five kilometres of Callaghan Road are within municipal limits, which means that the remaining five kilometres are open to all kinds of hunting during hunting season. Dolson said that her citizen's group will be "addressing this issue directly with the Ministry of Environment," who are responsible for hunting regulations.

"There's a huge human safety risk," she told Pique . "There are people (standing) roadside, they're going to Whistler's Olympic Park and there's legal hunting with a firearm along the side of the road. I think that most people have no idea that's happening."

She would need to submit her recommended changes to the head of Fish and Wildlife at the ministry, who would then consult all of the potentially affected parties.

"I suspect it's a long (process) and it won't help our bears this fall for sure," she said.



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