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First Nations offer deluxe alternative to grizzly bear trophy hunting

A female grizzly bear retrieves a dead pink salmon from Glendale River for her spring cub in Knights Inlet, B.C., on Sept. 18, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C.'s Coastal First Nations hope to convince grizzly bear hunters to swap their rifles for cameras, bullets for memory cards and scopes for telephoto lenses in the Great Bear Rainforest.

The alliance, which draws members from First Nations on the Central and North Coasts as well as Haida Gwaii, announced Tuesday it will hold a draw for a guided, all-expenses-paid bear-viewing experience in September for a pair of hunters.

The only catch is they have to surrender their permits that allow them to participate in the controversial grizzly hunt within the First Nations' territory, something a critic argues will likely not happen.

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The contest is the latest development in the ongoing and contentious debate, most of which focuses on trophy hunting – the killing of animals for non-food purposes.

Jess Housty, an elected member of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and board member of the Coastal First Nations, said the contest was announced because the deadline to apply for the hunt is next week.

"Until the province brings about a regulated end to trophy hunting in our territories, we will continue to announce new measures at every opportunity," she said. "If the province doesn't want to close the hunt in the Great Bear Rainforest, Coastal First Nations and British Columbians will do it ourselves.

But Scott Ellis, executive director of the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia, questioned whether the contest will work, even though it's an interesting idea.

"It is highly unlikely a resident bear hunter who finally gets draw in the … lottery would give up his or her tag," Mr. Ellis said. "Bear hunters are typically the most passionate and dedicated type of hunter."

He said the debate has veered away from the solid science that supports the sustainability of the hunt.

"This is an emotional-ethical question that many do not understand." he said. "The 70 per cent in the middle who care about wildlife, but do not hunt, want to ensure that all wildlife populations are doing well," he said. "Our grizzly bear populations in B.C. are doing well."

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Every year, the province hands out 300 licences to a combination of B.C. residents and outfitter companies that take hunters, some of whom come from outside B.C., on guided trips.

The Coastal First Nations have banned grizzly hunting in the area, an action the provincial government doesn't recognize and that has no legal force.

Last September, Clayton Stoner, a Canadian-born defenceman for the NHL's Minnesota Wild, came under fire for participating in a legal and permitted hunt on the Central Coast.

Ms. Housty said the Coastal First Nations hope to draw upon the support of subsistence hunters who have been a "strong voice" in the campaign against trophy hunting. She said subsistence hunters can take further action by participating in the contest.

"We already have hunters reaching out to let us know they intend to participate," she said. "Every authorization matters, and I'm raising my hands in gratitude to everyone who steps up to take leadership in protecting the bears."

The winner of the draw will receive round-trip airfare for two, five nights' deluxe accommodation and daily adventures into bear country with professional guides.

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Natural Resource Minister Steve Thomson said in a statement that about 35 per cent of B.C. is closed to grizzly hunting, and within the traditional territories of the Coastal First Nations, about 58 per cent is closed to grizzly hunting.

In the spring of 2009, the provincial government created three new grizzly bear management areas in the Great Bear Rainforest, totalling 1.16-million hectares, 470,000 of which were previously open for hunting, Mr. Thomson said.

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