Trophy hunting of grizzly bears on B.C.’s central coast continues while First Nations struggle to enforce a year-old tribal law banning hunters from killing the animals for sport, Metro has learned.
A source asking to remain anonymous provided Metro with photographic evidence of a hunter showing off the severed head and paws of a grizzly bear after a spring hunting trip last May in the Kwatna River estuary between Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
“They are photos that were taken by one of my field technicians this spring,” confirmed Jessie Housty, an elected Heiltsuk tribal councilor and member of the Coastal First Nations Bear Working Group, a program whose staff have been patrolling and erecting signs in areas of high hunting activity. “In this particular case, our technician was invited onto the hunter’s boat and had a conversation with him. The man in the photo identified himself to our field technicians as being Clayton Stoner.”
A Minnesota Wild spokesman confirmed Tuesday afternoon the man in the photo was Stoner, a 28-year-old defenceman originally from Port McNeill, British Columbia.
“I grew up hunting and fishing in British Columbia and continue to enjoy spending time with my family outdoors,” Stoner said in an emailed statement. “I applied for and received a grizzly bear hunting license through a British Columbia limited entry lottery last winter and shot a grizzly bear with my license while hunting with my father, uncle and a friend in May. I love to hunt and fish and will continue to do so with my family and friends in British Columbia.”
Stoner is not the first NHL player to attract criticism over his love of hunting. Last year, Vancouver Canucks winger David Booth tweeted a photo of a black bear he had killed with a bow on a hunting trip in Alberta, saying: “Just killed a Chara sized bruin! 7ft black bear – 21in skull.” A proud achievement for Booth, the tweet proved controversial because Booth had used a technique called bear baiting, which is allowed in Alberta, but illegal in British Columbia.
Housty said the photos of Stoner mark one of several incidents her field technicians witnessed during this year’s spring hunt.
With the fall bear-hunting season now opening across B.C. – the activity is allowed and regulated by the provincial government – Housty said it remains difficult to enforce the tribal hunting ban, since provincial officials don’t recognize its authority.
“We consider bears to be our close relatives and have many stories and ceremonies that reinforce that connection. It’s incredibly offensive to us that anyone would kill for sport,” Housty said. “Ultimately what we’d like to see is other governments respecting the ban that we’ve put in place on trophy hunting under our tribal law.”
Housty said hunting for sport is also a threat to the sustainable economic opportunities, including ecotourism, First Nations have been exploring in the region.
“Bears are worth far more alive than they are dead,” she said.
The B.C. Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations was not immediately available for comment. A ministry spokesman said there were at least 15,000 grizzlies living in B.C. Roughly 58 per cent of traditional Coastal First Nations territory is closed to the grizzly hunt.
Officials have released 3,786 limited authorizations allowing hunters to shoot and kill bears during this year’s spring and fall seasons.
The ministry estimates some 300 grizzlies are harvested in the province every year.