Is buying up hunting tenures good conservation? 

A conservation organization is buying up hunting tenures in th Great Bear Rainforest—some are asking why

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEL BARDE - Photo anyone? The Raincoast Conservation Foundation is raising money to purchase another hunting tenure in the Great Bear Rainforest.
  • PHOTO by Joel Barde
  • Photo anyone? The Raincoast Conservation Foundation is raising money to purchase another hunting tenure in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Given Whistlerites' passion for the natural world, it's no surprise that last Saturday's Raincoast Conservation Foundation fundraiser (Dec. 8) was a popular event.

Snacking on hors d'oeuvres, visitors took in the third stop for One Shot for Coastal Carnivores, an arresting exhibit featuring renowned nature photographers.

The photos showcase the Great Bear Rainforest's magnificent carnivores, the wolves, grizzlies, and the iconic spirit bears that call the vast area home. Visitors were invited to bid on the images.

During the evening, organizers explained that they were hoping to raise the remainder of Raincoast's $500,000 fundraising goal—money that will in turn be used to purchase a 2,350-square-kilometre hunting tenure in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Yet while the mood of the evening was upbeat and celebratory, some are raising concerns about Raincoast's approach to conservation.

Founded by veterans of the War in the Woods, Raincoast purchased the first of its tenures in 2005, after the BC Liberals lifted a temporary moratorium on the grizzly-bear trophy hunt.

"That was scary for us," explained Brian Falconer, a guide outfitter coordinator with Raincoast. "We'd never raised that kind of money before for a single project."

According to Falconer, the gambit worked. The purchase received international attention and was framed as a "free-market solution" to the trophy hunt.

Since then, Raincoast has purchased 30,000 square kilometres worth of additional hunting tenures, allowing it to stop non-resident hunters from killing grizzlies, black bears, wolves, and cougars in the areas.

The organization's goal is to eventually buy up all of the hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest, a massive temperate rainforest that runs up the central coast.

According to Falconer, as tenure holders, Raincoast is required to conduct a hunt; they just never kill anything.

"We do everything that a guide outfitter might do," he said. "We just aren't successful ... Ultimately, we are doing what's required under the Wildlife Act." With its strong marketing savvy and close working relationship with the Coastal First Nations—an alliance of nine First Nations located within the Great Bear Rainforest—Raincoast was a powerful voice in the effort to put an end to the grizzly bear hunt.

Raincoast's advocacy has therefore generated its fair share of controversy, particularly among hunters.

According to Jesse Zeman of the BC Wildlife Federation, Raincoast's priorities and advocacy are "not consistent with the conservation discussion that the majority of the conservation world is having" and rests on personal views rather than leading scientific research.

"Generally speaking, Raincoast's focus is far more on charismatic megafauna and stopping people from doing things than it is these broader conservation-related issues" such as habitat preservation and restoration, explained Zeman.

"I think Raincoast really focuses in on people's emotions by using individual animal welfare to trick them into doing something (they feel is) positive."

Zeman feels that there are "way, way better" ways to spend $500,000 on conservation, especially given the fact that resident hunters will continue to be allowed to hunt in the area."For a half a million dollars, a group like the Nature Trust of BC could do a lot of wonderful things for land conservation," he said.

According to Falconer, only a "fringe" of the hunting community is critical of Raincoast, while a large segment is supportive of its advocacy.

"They recognize that trophy hunting gives hunting a bad name," he said.

Falconer also doesn't buy arguments that Raincoast is robbing guide outfitters of work.

"They've sold their business on a willing-seller basis," he said. "They haven't lost their job—they've sold their business."

He also points to the bear-viewing industry, which is now a major revenue generator in the Great Bear Rainforest, particularly for remote First Nations who have struggled to generate work.

Ultimately, Falconer—who waxes eloquently about grizzlies and their almost human-like personalities—wants to see a natural "prey-predator relationship" throughout the Great Bear Rainforest.

He has little confidence in North American Model of Wildlife Management in which large carnivores such as bears, cougars and wolves are killed.

"It's actually designed for maximum killing, maximum hunting," said Falconer. "It has nothing to do with conservation. It has nothing to do with anything apart from maximizing the amount of animals you can kill."

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