Part II – Bear referendum
Chapter 3 – Loading for Bear
May 4, 1996
Christopher’s seventh birthday. Anthony hadn’t seen him for more than three years. Still, whenever he hears Tears in Heaven, he would break uncontrollably in tears. Clapton wrote the transcendentally sad song to commemorate his toddler son who fell to his death out of an eighteenth floor window left open by someone. Though on the other hand Christopher was very much alive, in a way it was worse, for Anthony knew then that Christopher was still suffering, the damage being done to his psyche daily deepening. And though he is not Christopher’s biological father, he loves him more than many fathers love their own biological offspring. Tears in Heaven did not appear on the air this day, but still, salt water welled from the bottom of his heart.
It is against Anthony’s nature to accept defeat, or give up on a cause. That he was forcibly relieved of the sacred duty to Christopher served only to force him to take on the even greater responsibility of serving all children of the world, of which Christopher was one. If he could not benefit Christopher directly, he would benefit him indirectly, by ensuring that the beauty and bounty of this planet will be preserved for him to enjoy.
“But given the rate at which the world is deteriorating, and in so many ways, can it be done? For just one example, at today’s rate of decimation, the tiger will be extinct in the wild within a decade, max two. Can the Earth be saved? Raminothna, show me a sign.”
“Within a day, I will show you a sign, a good sign.” I promised him, solemnly.
The next morning, in his office, I led his attention to a placard leaning against a wall used in a pervious demonstration, which says, “SAVE THE TIGER!”
“Not a bad sign, wouldn’t you agree, and all senses of the word?” I said.
Anthony is one month from embarking on the journey of his life, and he is filled with a sense of foreboding and trepidation. At best, he will encounter harassment from opponents at every turn. At worst, he could lose his life and that of his assistant – a 25 year-old woman by the name of Erica Dennison.
And who are these dreaded opponents? They are those humans whose main pursuit in life is to kill magnificent wild creatures of other species for entertainment and ego gratification – trophy hunters, of the “Great White Hunter” tradition. And the species of wild creatures in question? Bears – Grizzlies and Blacks.
The idea of this anti-hunting expedition emerged in Anthony’s mind less than two months ago. On April 11, in a media conference hosted by the British Columbia provincial government at the Vancouver Public Aquarium, environment minister Moe Sihota announced a set of changes in the so-called Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy. With high hope in their hearts, Anthony and Joe Foy went to attend the conference. Their hope was based on the result of the 1995 Angus Reed poll, commissioned by the conservation group Bear Watch, where over 80% of the respondents said they would support a ban of bear hunting in the province.
As it turned out, the conference was a great disappointment. Not only was bear hunting still condoned, it continued to be actively promoted. The nice-sounding term “limited entry hunt” was projected to the public, which won’t save a single bear from being killed, but would prohibit non-hunters from purchasing hunting licenses and permits intended not to be used such that a number of bear lives be spared.
After the minister’s presentation and Q&A, the media converged upon Joe and Anthony for comment, during which Joe used a phrase that stuck in Anthony’s mind – “barbaric practice” – to describe the “sport” of trophy hunting.
Days later, Anthony came upon the government provision, available only in the province of British Columbia, called the Recall and Initiative Act. Given his exploring mind, the brain storm was inevitable: if they could use the Act to force a province-wide referendum on the issue of bear hunting, based up the Bear Watch poll results, they stood a good chance of winning. He took the idea to Paul George, Adriane Carr and Joe Foy – WCWC’s Executive Team.
The first step according to the Act, he explained, was to perform an Initiative Petition, which requires the certified signatures from at least 10% of the registered voters in each and every one of the 75 electoral districts within the province, some bigger in area than some small countries. If one of the 75 electorial districts fall short by just one signature short of the required 10%, the entire Initiative Petition drive fails. On top of this, all the signatures have to be collected within a 90-day period, the exact start and end dates to be mutually agreed upon. And on top of this, the signatures are to be collected by “registered volunteer-canvassers”, each specific to his/her electoral district. Only succeeding in this petition could the referendum vote proceed.
To inform the public about this project via mass media, and to recruit enough volunteers in each and every electoral district, to organize the volunteers into a single fighting force, someone would have to visit each and every one of the 75 electoral districts throughout the province, in person. Anthony proposed to do it himself.
This is not a matter of bravado or even responsibility. Over the years he has received unsolicited advice by the dozens as to what should be done. If he likes the idea, his response is always that if the adviser would take on the task himself or herself, Anthony would give him or her his full support. So, since he is the person to propose the idea to E-Team, he should be the one to execute it.
Not that he was unaware of the risk factor, but it was only after the proposal had been accepted by E-Team did it hit him just how risky this venture could be. He would be like a lamb walking into the midst of wolves – those humans who indulge in killing for pleasure, with apologies to the wolves, who do it out of need. Since no one he knew of had ever pitted himself or herself in a big way against hunters, their reaction was unknown, although the chance of physical violence along the way could not be ruled out. This he was willing to face, but what of Erica? Environmentalists had been hurt and even killed before. Could he take on the responsibility of her safety other than his own?
Erica was a sweet-faced, head strong and energetic woman. She first gained Anthony’s attention by being a volunteer for his BET’R Campaign. When the expedition was decided upon, and the need of a field assistant for Anthony announced, Erica applied, and the E-Team accepted her upon Anthony’s recommendation.
Erica approached the danger aspect of the expedition with an almost cavalier attitude, to the point where Anthony began to think that she was making light of the whole situation. But when they finally discussed it, she revealed a deeper layer of herself, where the fear was present, but well managed. She said that she could take care of herself and take responsibility for her own safety.
At one point in their conversation, they isolated four factors of consideration from the perspective of the E-Team, which they wrote each on two pieces of paper: stopping bear hunting, safety of the expedition personnel, cost, and WCWC’s wellbeing. They took one set each to arrange them in what they consider descending order of importance to E-Team. And they came to the same conclusion. In descending order, E-Team’s priorities are: WCWC’s wellbeing, cost, stopping bear hunting, and the expedition personnel’s safety. And they did not blame E-Team for it, and took responsibility for their own safety as a team.
Anthony and Erica went as far as to conclude that in the worst case scenario, where they died in the course of the road tour caused somehow by hunters, the hunters’ reputation would be hugely damaged, and the bears would benefit.
Another time, Erica added that she fears more for Anthony’s safety than her own, on account of his race. The concern was real, considering the presence of US-implanted White Supremacists en route, who would most likely also be hunters. Anthony countered with the factor of her gender. With each passing day towards D-Day, Anthony’s apprehension became more acute. At times, in the middle of the night, frightening scenarios would play themselves out in his mind, garnered mostly from movies and TV shows, but seemingly with lives of their own, none of which he mentioned to Erica.
On her part, with her enthusiastic and efficient though at times insubordinate assistance, the preparation for the Bear Referendum road tour progressed by leaps and bounds. She had already set up meetings and presentations at Campbell River, Cortes Island, Nanaimo, Victoria, Comox, Port Alberni, Gold River, Salt Spring Island, Pender Harbour, etc. This was done in chronological order according to the route he had planned, which would cover over 50 cities in 60 days. They worked right through the long weekend. Even last night, at 1:30 a.m., Anthony coached Erica on the phone to work with Excel, when Erica was still in the office, all by herself, which, in that part of the city, took some courage unto itself. Of all her attributes, what impressed Anthony most was not her seeming lack of fear, but her courage in the face of it.
May 7, 1996, Tues.
The Vancouver Sun
by Nicholas Read
Help our Grizzlies; stop hunting them
Moe Sihota, the provincial environment minister, has taken steps toward protecting Grizzly bears. No one can deny that. He’s announced a new Grizzly bear reserve in Tweedsmuir Park, increased fines for poachers, banned Grizzly hunting in the Okanagan and Southern Selkirks, and established a limited-entry hunting season for Grizzlies.
There is also no disputing that Grizzlies need protection. There are only 4,000-13,000 left in the province – estimates vary according to source – and unless serious steps are taken to ensure that they survive, they won’t.
What is at issue, however, is whether Sihota has done enough.
According to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, he hasn’t. WCWC campaigner Anthony Marr says the maximum poaching penalty of $25,000, though higher than the previous $10,000, is still merely “a slap on the wrist”, and the 103 hectare Tweedsmuir reserve, while welcome, isn’t anywhere near what Grizzlies need to exist.
The WCWC also says that all sport hunting should be abolished.
That certainly would be the easiest, and arguably least contentious, move the government could make. An Angus Reed poll conducted last year said 78% of British Columbians believe trophy hunting should be outlawed.
That would affect Grizzlies directly, says BC Wildlife Branch chief Ray Demarchi, because Grizzly meat is not fit to eat, meaning the only reason hunters have to kill a Grizzly is for its head, hide and claws.
Yet, Grizzly hunting continues in part because officials like Demarchi, hunters themselves, wish it.
He is a third-generation hunter whose sons have followed his lead. So you have to take that into account when he explains why Grizzly hunting is permitted.
First: There is a “recreational demand” for it, he says. So people simply like killing bears. Demarchi can’t say why – hunting’s allure is hard to define – but it’s there. As proof, he says 400 BC residents and 1,200 non-residents seek permits to kill a Grizzly each year. About 350 to 400 bears are actually slaughtered legally.
Second: Grizzly hunting gives employment to guide-outfitters and hunting supply stores, Demarchi says.
Third: Hunting makes bears more wary of humans and therefore less likely to invade urban areas where they could be shot as nuisance animals, he believes. However, he concedes there is no scientific evidence for this.
His points are in direct contrast to a ground-breaking, 10-year study of Grizzlies completed in 1992 by biologist Robert Wielgus who concluded that trophy hunting can have a severely deleterious effect on Grizzly populations.
Because government regulations forbid the killing of female bears with cubs, most hunted Grizzlies are large males. Conventional government wisdom says by killing large males there will be more food available for mother bears and cubs.
But Wielgus’s research says this isn’t so. He said if the head male of a harem of three females is killed, the females will become vulnerable to young male bears who will attempt to establish their own harem by killing the dead male’s cubs and forcing the females into heat again.
Thus, to safeguard their cubs, the females may be forced to move into food-poor areas where the health of their cubs may suffer. And this, combined with trophy hunting, can result in entire populations being threatened.
Nevertheless, the government has chosen to disregard Wielgus’s research and rely instead on the opinions of the hunting fraternity within the Wildlife Branch. In fact, all questions to Sihota’s office about hunting are referred directly to the Branch.
In announcing his initiatives, Sihota said, “In my opinion, the Grizzly is an icon of what BC is about . . . one of the most magnificent creatures that has ever roamed the planet.”
Yet sport hunting of this magnificent creature continues, despite what most British Columbians would prefer. And the elected officials who claim to want to save the bear refuse to say why killing it for kicks is still tolerated.
The Fortunate and The Called Upon
at your service
Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)