HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ Conservationists want the U.S. government to ban American hunters from bringing grizzly bears killed in British Columbia back across the border as trophies.
The groups contend the hunts, which are legal in British Columbia, threaten the long-term survival of the bears on both sides of the border. Since American hunters make up about 80 percent of the foreigners who visit Canada each year to hunt grizzlies, the groups hope such a ban could dramatically cut the number of bears killed.
Some bear experts question the groups' contention that the hunts are a major threat, and Canadian hunting guides say they would oppose such a ban because of the potential loss of business.
The Environmental Investigation Agency, the Humane Society of the United States and the Raincoast Conservation Society, said they will ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to consider such a ban on trophies, which usually take the form of grizzly heads, hides and claws.
Grizzly bears are protected in the United States as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Their populations are considered much stronger in British Columbia. Grizzlies have been transplanted from British Columbia to U.S. wilderness areas to help re-establish populations.
Conservation groups allege that British Columbia's estimate of more than 13,000 grizzlies in the province is exaggerated and that hunters have been allowed to kill too many. From 1997-2000, the average annual number killed was 236.
The European Union banned trophy grizzly imports from the province in January and ``now we want the U.S. to also step up, because the British Columbia government's not doing enough,'' said Mia Strickland of the Environmental Investigation Agency.
Chris Servheen, a grizzly expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said persuading the agency to support a ban would require evidence of the groups' allegations that the bears are overhunted in British Columbia, or that their government overstates the grizzly population.
A 2003 report prepared by a group of independent scientists for the British Columbia government recommended setting up no-hunt areas in the province, but did not suggest a hunting ban.
One scientist in that group, James Peek of the University of Idaho, said he does not believe the hunts are a major threat. He said they may even be beneficial, because they can help track bear populations.
``The big problem in British Columbia is habitat and access, and addressing the issue by cutting off hunting is like trying to cure a cold with the aspirin,'' Peek said.
British Columbia hunting guides promised strong opposition to any ban. Nonresidents must have a guide to hunt grizzlies in the province, and the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia says Americans make up about 40 percent of all grizzly hunters in the province each year.
``It (the hunt) is very, very closely monitored and managed, so there's no doubt in my mind the (British Columbia) government is in fact doing everything they can,'' said Dale Drown, general manager of the association.