Human Journey

Stanford: There’s No Money in Dead Bears

NPS Photo / Ken Conger

April 1st saw the opening of another trophy hunt season in British Columbia, a sport in which armed hunters stalk bears, moose and other selective wild game animals, killing them and retaining their paws and heads as memorial.

Long considered morally unsound by scientists and conservationists, researchers are again questioning controversial industry claims that trophy hunts bring in attractive revenue and act as a push for conservation.

A 2013 study by the University of Victoria said around 300 grizzly bears are killed by trophy hunters every year in B.C., a finding that questions the government’s claim that the province’s trophy hunt is sustainable.

Less then 1,500 grizzlies are found in small pockets in the lower 48 states of the United States. Combining Canada and the U.S., grizzly bears inhabit approximately half the area of their historical range: extinct by almost 50 percent. The decrease is blamed in part on reproductive imbalances, created by seasonal trophy hunters who target older, bigger males.

According to UV researchers, “kill rates are too high and the population studies are too inaccurate.”

Grizzly bears are listed as threatened in the contiguous United States and endangered in parts of Canada. In May 2002, they were listed under the Canadian Species at Risk Act as being in danger of extinction in Canada.

Up to 189 countries signed to the Earth Summit in 1992 have developed action plans that discourage the hunting of protected species for trophy. In a 2007 report, “Arguments against trophy hunting,” groups including the League Against Cruel Sports suggested seasonal trophy hunts do little to pump governmental revenue and have had no positive impact on conservation.

A further study in January 2014 by the Stanford University ‘Center for Responsible Tourism’ found that wild bear viewing is exponentially more profitable than bear hunting, with “12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting, and over 11 times more in direct revenue for British Columbia’s provincial government.”

Stanford found that wild bear tourism saw more than $9.5 million in total contribution to GDP. Comparatively, bear hunting saw as little as $669,100.

Action groups are now facilitating Stanford’s sentiment across North America.

Tommy Knowles, who founded the Canada-based Wildlife Defence League, said, “laws governing trophy hunting in British Columbia are outdated and have failed to protect wildlife throughout the province. In addition to killing grizzly bears, the laws allow hunters to kill black bears who carry a recessive gene. The gene produces a cream-colored Kermode bear, known as the spirit bear. In numbers, the spirit bear is more rare than the panda.”

Wildlife Defence League said they believe participating in legislative process, like campaigning to members of the British Columbia parliament, is vital in bringing the B.C. trophy hunts to a close.

Their 2014 campaign, Operation Great Bear, aims to expose, document and intervene against trophy hunts by enforcing international conservation law on the ground.

“Ninety percent of British Columbians are against trophy hunting,” said Knowles.

In light of their findings, Stanford University and the Center for Responsible Tourism have called on the British Columbia government to suspend the province’s hunting policy.

Until then, action groups like Wildlife Defence League say they will remain on the ground.

“Our primary mandate is to assume a law enforcement role as provided by the United Nations World Charter for Nature,” said Knowles in a statement from the organization. “The population levels of all life forms, wild and domesticated, should at least be sufficient for their survival, and to this necessary end, they should be safeguarded.”

  • karl fraden

    there are a few corrections needed here:

    1) april does not see an opening for moose, or other ungulate animals, only bears and smaller game such as coyotes or rabbits depending upon you area

    2) scientists do not consider the hunt morally unsound, they leave emotion out of there research because they are, well, scientists, and focus on factual information, most of which points towards a sustainable population

    3) 300 deceased grizzly bears is the total death toll per year from hunting, car accidents, train collisions, and other man made causes of death. about 180 to 200 casualties are from hunting

    4) shooting old bears does not created a reproductive imbalance. the “big old bears” you refer to are infertile. at around 25 years of age, a male grizzly ceases to reproduce, there for by removing him from the populations, you also increase the number of deer, moose, and other ungulates in the are

  • Tommy Knowles


    You are correct in that April does not see an opening for moose, or other ungulate animals.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to the claim you make that scientists point to a sustainable population and that 300 deceased grizzly bears is the total death toll per year, you are incorrect. Research done by non-government paid scientists points to the overhunting of grizzly bears in the province of British Columbia. In November of 2013, scientists from the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University published research in the Public Library of Science ( a peer reviewed-journal) that stated trophy hunters are killing 300 grizzly bears per year.

    Infertile animals cannot reproduce, as you said, but considering that almost one third of the 3000 grizzly bears killed in British Columbia in the last decade have been female, trophy hunters are clearly not only killing, “big old bears.” A hunt that kills fertile females at that rate cannot be deemed as sustainable.

    Hunting an animal for a trophy is unethical in every sense of the word and shows the disconnect between trophy hunters and wild nature. It is also completely disrespectful to First Nations who have placed a moratorium on hunting bears in the Great Bear Rainforest. First Nations have been ignored by trophy hunters who carry themselves with a colonial attitude.

    Science, conservation, ethics and respect aside, bear viewing generates more than 10 times the employment, tourist spending and government revenue, compared to hunting in the same area. Bear viewing in British Columbia contributes $15.1 million dollars to the provincial economy, compared to only $414,000 from trophy hunting.

    Stephen Hume, a journalist with the Vancouver Sun, appropriately gave our province the name, ‘Brutish Columbia,’ in relation to the trophy hunting of grizzly bears. I cannot think of a better way to describe a province and the individuals who hunt an animal simply for a trophy.

    It is time that as a province, we shoot grizzly bears only as they deserve to be shot, with a camera and a lens.

  • Tyla


    The author of this article IS a scientist. She referred generally to the wildlife killed not those specific to April.

    Scientists do consider the hunt morally unsound. Again I point you to the author who is a scientist.

    shooting old bears DOES create a reproductive imbalance, they also shoot bigger bears, attractive bears — all these things create an unbalance.

    You’re clearly pro hunting or at least looking to destroy a well written article because you find it bothersome to your hobby.

  • Benjamin

    enjoyed this. good to see somewhere like Stanford University releasing evidence to support conservation claims that the trophy hunts have spun totally out of control. it doesnt really matter to me if at one point culls were effective, the point is that now the hunts are carried out for sport and so the companies can make money with very little thought given to the animal, its needs and the needs of the entire population. there are other ways to manage populations and rifle assaults arent the way to go

  • Captain Paul Watson

    It is not true that scientists leave emotion out of their research. Empathy in fact is the hallmark of great scientists. Albert Einstein for one. Carl Sagan for another. Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey, Birtute Galdikas, Louis Leakey, Richard Leakey, etc. These people are all scientists who were not afraid to recognize the existence of ethics and morality.

    Hunting of bears is immoral and unethical and has no place in the 21st Century. What practical purpose is achieved from killing a bear? Bears are killed because the hunter simply wants to kill. It is a form of psychopathic behavior.

  • Keli Hendricks

    Not only are your corrections inaccurate (as pointed out in earlier responses) you are also missing the bigger, more disturbing, issue surrounding these hunts.
    The bottom line is; to hunt an animal, any animal, simply to experience the thrill of killing it, is not something that emotionally stable human beings do.
    An activity may be legal, but the morality of it is an entirely different issue. While the majority of people have come to understand the importance of animals we once ruthlessly and recklessly hunted, they have started to question the value of the ‘sport’ of hunting. It is becoming obvious to most people that the only ‘value’ these days to hunting is in providing hunters with ego boosts and bragging rights. Meanwhile, a beautiful animal that once belonged in nature, where it served an important purpose and could be enjoyed by many other people, was violently removed and it’s body parts displayed as trophies in the home of its killer.
    We protect man- made structures and objects from vandalism, yet we fail to protect wildlife from destruction at our hands. And the animals we lose are far more beautiful than anything created by man.

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