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The Great Grizzly Debate

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Hunters are often given a bad name in the community by non-hunters because they are under the assumption that we only hunt for fun and to bring trophies home, when in reality, it is much deeper than that. We hunt to provide for our families and bring home the wild meat our ancestors survived on. This meat is hormone, additive and preservative free, coming from free range animals who have every opportunity to live their lives thriving in their environments as intended. As most hunters know, we do not harvest an animal every time we hunt or even every season, it is just not that easy.

Deer, Elk, and Moose are the most commonly sought after animals by the hunting community. This is because of their meat, and yes, the trophy that comes along with it; but, the trophy signifies much more than the animal you harvested. As much as it is about filling your freezer with wild game, it is a reminder of the long days and hard work that is put into harvesting an animal. Every harvested animal has a story. Astory of friends and family getting out in nature and doing something they love together. If you were to ask any hunter about an animal on their wall or picture on their phone, they would be able to tell you a story about the journey and the people who helped along the way. Another thing to consider is the conservation of animals. Hunting to help control the population and keep it at a healthy amount that the ecosystem can support, in addition to lowering the amount of human/animal interaction (e.g. car accidents, predatory animal attacks, etc.). Now you may be thinking, how does this all relate to bear hunting?

We can look towards an animal that we are able to hunt in most provinces and states, the black bear. For the purpose of this article, I am going to refer to Alberta as I do not have much understanding of the rules and regulations in other places. For those of you who may not know, in Alberta you can get your black bear tag as well as a supplemental tag, or in layman’s terms, a second tag. Due to the large population, hunters are given the opportunity to harvest two black bears a year in an attempt to lower the population so more animals can survive. Those bears need to eat to survive and when there are too many, the population of ungulates takes a hit. We also have to consider the farm animals that are suffering from the significant population of black bears. When the population of one area is too high, it pushes the black bears farther and farther from their natural habitat as there may not be enough food for them or safety from bigger mature boars. Remember, every animal wants to survive, and a mature boar will do everything in its power to keep its territory and remain the king. They will kill cubs and younger boars that are going to be competing to pass on their genetics and take their food. Though the human population has moved into these animals habitats and built cities and towns where these animals once called home, we are still concerned with protecting the people who live there. It is beginning to be more and more common to see bears poking around in dumpsters and houses looking for their next meal as they have been pushed out and are searching for food to survive. Usually, black bears are relatively scared of humans. It is not very common to hear of a black bear attack, with the exception of a sow with cubs protecting her offspring and ensuring their survival. With conservation efforts in place to limit the black bear population and find a healthy balance for the ecosystem, it is now time to see if these efforts are effective or if we must find a new strategy.

Due to the fact that a bear is a predator and fur bearing animal, in Alberta, you are legally required to take the hide; however, there are no laws on bear meat. Over the past few years, I have been on my fair share of bear hunts and as someone who understands and respects the animals I harvest, I have started to take the meat and try to use as much of the animal as possible. Personally, I think bear meat is one of the best wild game meats out there. It is tender, fatty and does not carry a gamey taste. I have shot bears in the fall spot and stalk, and even though I have not personally shot one over bait in the spring, I have been apart of hunts where there have been bears harvested over baits. These baits consist of dead beavers and plenty of other food a person would not dare eat these days. Though these bears were shot over baits, their meat tasted just as good as the spot and stalk bear.

Now going back to the discussion of habitat and conservation, there is another big predator that calls Alberta home. The Grizzly bear. Grizzly bear hunting was banned in Alberta in 2006. The population was low and these animals needed saving. Fast forward to 2023 and grizzly bears are on the rise with an estimated 1000 animals calling Alberta home. Though there is no hunting involved with these bears, every year they are still being killed by humans by poaching, car accidents, or fish and wildlife stepping in to shoot a bear that is a little too close to humans. Human inflicted mortality has decreased, but the bear and human interactions have risen drastically. With the population of grizzly bears increasing, their territory is expanding to areas that are more populated by humans, especially if we speak in terms of recreational activities such as camping, hiking, or fishing. In addition, ranchers close to these habitats have seen an increase in livestock fatalities as they are easy prey for young bears that have been pushed out by mature ones. Many efforts have been made to try and control this problem such as capturing these bears and relocating them deeper into the wild. While this is a temporary solution, these bears are often replaced by new young bears that have been pushed out causing a never ending cycle. In addition, this method can sometimes lead to these animals getting shot if they become too much of a problem and too comfortable with humans. A significant amount of money is spent on capturingand relocating these animals that will return to cause the same problems the following year. This will continue to be a never ending cycle until one of these bears takes the risk and attacks a human, causing the animal to be tracked and shot as it is no longer scared of people.

This is where conservation efforts of hunting come into play. Reinstate grizzly bear hunting in Alberta. The money that would go towards applying and drawing tags for the very few that will be given out every year can go towards protecting the rest of the animals in the ecosystem. If grizzly bear hunting was reinstated, there would be less human/bear interaction as their territory would not expand into high volume areas that put humans who are not prepared for a grizzly bear encounter at risk. Sure, it is said that bear spray is a great line of defence; but, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction and you are not close enough to the animal, you will have no luck. Not to mention, if a grizzly bear is set on you being their next meal, the only effect bear spray will have is delay the inevitable. All hunters want is for conservation efforts to be put into their hands as they are willing to protect the species and allow the generations of people that follow to have the same privilege and opportunity of harvesting such an amazing animal.

It is much more than a rug on the wall. It is about protecting people and controlling the grizzly bear population. A great example of conservation happened this year. The province of Alberta re opened wood bison hunting to control the herd, limit the number of diseases and protect the ecosystem. 40 tags were handed out and although the percentage of successful harvests will not come until next year, this is a step in the right direction. Giving people the opportunity of a lifetime as well as helping out our ecosystems. If the same principles were put in place for grizzly bears and hunting was allowed for old mature boars, this would allow more cubs to survive which would strengthen the population. Shoot ten mature boar and allow thirty cubs to survive.

The media and anti-hunters have a strong hold on this topic but it is time to reevaluate the problem and see how hunters can do their part in helping the population grow. Ranchers and people living outside of the city are now starting to live their lives in fear of these animals. Just this past year, two people and their dog were mauled by an aggressive sow grizzly bear. With the population on the rise, it is only a matter of time before these attacks become much too common.

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