British Columbia’s First Nations government decides to ban black bear hunting in an effort to protect rare bear spirits

The BC government has banned black bear hunting on Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Gitga’at First Nation territories in the Great Bear Rainforest, in response to a joint nations proposal to protect one of the rarest bear species on the planet: the spirit bear.

“It’s the only part of the world where you’re likely to find a spirit bear,” said Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority (KXSA) coordinator Douglas Neasloss.

“Every time someone shoots a black bear, they might be carrying this recessive gene, so we wanted that hunt to end.”

Spirit bears, also known as kermode or moksgm’ol bears in the Tsimshian language, are black bears with white coats – the result of a recessive gene found in approximately one in 10 black bears in coastal regions central and north coast British Columbia, according to research by the University of Victoria in collaboration with the nations.

The bear spirit has deep cultural significance in many indigenous cultures and is often featured in songs, dances and stories. It has also been named the provincial mammal emblem of British Columbia. (Credit: Douglas Neasloss)

The Government of British Columbia has announced the new settlement on July 1, which include stipulations on hunting closures covering 8,158 square kilometers of Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Gitga’at territories, and approximately 13% of the Great Bear Rainforest. According to wildlife biologists, this is an area with the highest concentration of black bears carrying the rare gene.

Neasloss says this is the only part of the world where spirit bears appear. “It’s so rare to see something so beautiful and white coming out of a dark green forest,” he said.

“It’s one of the most magical things you can see.”

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the British Columbia Ministry of Forests said “the no-hunting zone extends existing closures to cover areas where the highest concentration of genetic mutations and s ‘aligns with indigenous knowledge’.

“Reservoir of this rare genetic mutation”

KXSA wildlife biologist Dr. Christina Service helped map and examine the genetic diversity of bear populations along the BC coast.

“Alarmingly, recent research shows that these bears are even rarer than previously believed,” Service told CBC News. Population estimates of spirit bears in British Columbia are still under study by researchers, but the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation Estimates they are currently between 50 and 150.

To define the area of ​​closure, Service said she and her team collected hair samples from bears along the coast to determine their genetic makeup.

“These black bears are a really large reservoir of this rare genetic mutation,” she said.

Neasloss, a member of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, says his stewardship work builds on the nation ban on trophy hunting in 2012 and the Ban on hunting grizzly bears in 2016.

“It was a huge step in the right direction, but we believe the job wasn’t done because the black bears were still around and they were still allowed to be hunted,” he said. .

Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Coordinator Douglas Neasloss is pictured with a spirit bear in the Great Bear Rainforest. (Credit: Douglas Neasloss)

The bear spirit has deep cultural significance in many indigenous cultures and is often featured in songs, dances and stories. It has also been named the provincial mammal emblem of British Columbia.

Neasloss adds that preserving spirit bears benefits the community economically, citing revenue from bear viewing through ecotourism.

“It’s really the first time since I’ve worked with bears that we can say that all the bears are now protected on the land and that’s huge,” said Neasloss, who has worked in bear conservation for 20 years. .

He commends the work of the native stewardship departments of both nations.

“It’s been a lot of work to get to this point, and it’s taken a long time,” Gitga’at Nation Councilor Marven Robinson said in a statement. Robinson is a guide for spirit bear tours in Hartley Bay, a coastal village about 630 kilometers north of Vancouver and 145 kilometers south of Prince Rupert.

“Our job is to protect our territory and finally put an end to things like this kind of bear hunting, something that our cultures don’t support,” Neasloss said.

“Whether it’s lobbying or negotiations with the province, it’s very progressive for the Kitasoo/Xai’xais and Gitga’at nations to come to this.”