An Anti-Hunting Group is Buying Up Millions of Dollars Worth of Commercial Hunting Permits in Canada

The group claims to be protecting grizzlies and other large carnivores by buying up exclusive guiding rights in huge portions of British Columbia. Adobe Photostock.

After two years of fundraising, a Canadian environmental group known as the Rainforest Conservation Coalition has purchased the exclusive rights to guide non-resident hunters in a huge swath of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. The group won’t be guiding any hunters any time soon though, at least not successfully. Instead, the Rainforest Conservation Coalition purchased the massive outfitting lease—known in Canada as a guiding tenure—as a way to lock non-resident hunters out of the area.

The outfitting lease, situated on the southern end of the Great Bear Rainforest, covers 18,000 square kilometers, or roughly 4.5 million acres. Raincoast purchased the tenure from the estate of a legitimate hunting outfitter who recently passed away, a source with the pro-hunting group, Hunters for B.C. tells Field & Stream.

Massive Fundraising Effort

It reportedly cost the organization $1.92 million to acquire the tenure, which comes with the infrastructure needed to run a successful guiding outfit—like cabins, base lodges, boats, planes, and ATVs. According to Raincoast’s website, they received 700 individual contributions from around the world that allowed them to make the acquisition, including substantial support from a U.S.-based outdoor apparel company.

“We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to you, our amazing donors, for caring enough to give your incredibly generous support to this transformative initiative,” reads a January 4 statement on the Raincoast website attributed to Guide Outfitter Coordinator Brian Falconer. “Last but not least, we want to convey our deep gratitude and appreciation to Patagonia’s Holdfast Collective for providing such extraordinary and timely support to help push this acquisition over the top.”

Scott Ellis is the Executive Director of the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. He tells F&S that Raincoast’s motives for buying up the hunting tenures is simple: They want to curtail legal hunting activities inside the Great Bear Raniforest. “Raincoast claims not to be an anti hunting organization. But they act like an anti-hunting organization, and they talk like an anti-hunting organization,” Ellis says. “They were behind the closure of the grizzly bear hunt throughout the province in 2017, and they’ve been buying guide territories for 20 years.”

With its recent purchase, Raincoast says it now owns exclusive non-resident guiding rights to six guide territories that comprise 87.5 percent of the 15-million acre Great Bear Rainforest. According to Ellis, B.C.’s 2017 ban on grizzly bear hunting greatly reduced the commercial value of those guide territories in southern B.C. because the area was a popular destination for non-resident grizzly bear hunters. And those foreign hunters made up a substation portion of the guide’s and outfitter’s revenue stream.

Prioritizing Bear Viewing Over Bear Hunting

In the absencse of grizzly hunting, the popularity of bear viewing has skyrocketed in the Great Bear Rainforest. And Raincoast is working to support local companies that run bear viewing outfits for tourists. “They were very strategic in how they showed First Nations communities how best to generate revenue by viewing bears,” Ellis says. “Whereas hunting bears may be difficult, the viewing is much easier. So they’ve built docs and given boats and given training and all that stuff. The money behind the environmental movement here that Raincoast has access to is overwhelming.”

Falconer has gone on record to say that Raincoast continues to purchase tenures in hopes of keeping non-resident hunters out of the Great Bear Rainforest—particularly in the event that the B.C. government reverses course and reinstates the grizzly bear hunt, which has happened in the past. In doing so, the Falconer says, they’ll not only protect grizzly bears but also safeguard the economic interests of those who draw revenue from grizzly bear viewing operations.

“The behavior changes really radically when these animals are hunted,” Falconer recently said on a B.C.-based news radio program. “In 22 years of taking people to see bears in close proximity, there were places where the bears were hunted, and we would go in and never see them. Within two years of buying out the tenures, there would be 17, 18 grizzlies feeding along the river.”

 A Slight of Hand

Though Raincoast’s stated mission is to rid southern B.C. of what it calls “commercial trophy hunting”, the group still claims publicly that they are actively guiding hunters on the six large tenures they now own in the Great Bear Rainforest. This is likely because the B.C. government designed the tenure program with hunting in mind—and ostensibly requires that some form of hunting be carried out by the license holder. In fact the B.C. Wildlife Act, a body of laws that govern hunting and fishing activities throughout the province, says that habitat managers can revoke or cancel tenures that aren’t being used for hunting purposes.

When asked by John Streit of 980 CKNW if he’s worried about any of the Raincoast’s tenures being canceled due to non-hunting use, Falconer claimed that his group is guiding hunters. “We do hunt,” he said. “We’re not very successful. We have a fussy clientele. But we do absolutely comply with the Wildlife Act.”

Ellis calls the strategy a loophole. “That’s how they’re able to tie up these guiding territories,” he says. “In that way, they’re supposedly meeting their obligation for the hunting tenure. Who knows how many of these quote-unquote hunters they actually take out, or if it just exists on paper.”

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