Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in The Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia

This study is the first to compare the economic value of bear viewing and trophy hunting for both grizzly and black bears in the Central and North Coast of British Columbia, an area also known as the Great Bear Rainforest (GBF). The study assesses trends in these two sectors of wildlife recreation over several decades and analyses the economic impact of each based on 2012 data. It examines both non-resident bear hunting with guide outfitters and independent resident hunters, as well as bear viewing offered by tourism companies in the designated GBF study area. 

This study was carried out according to Stanford University’s research protocols and with the approval of the University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). It used the same National Accounting criteria that Statistics Canada uses to determine the economic importance (GDP) of other industry sectors. The research team conducted a site visit and interviews with government officials, businesses, Coastal First Nation leaders, and associations and organizations involved in bear viewing or hunting. We conducted surveys (online and telephone) with bear-viewing companies and a sampling of tourists who participated in bear viewing in the GBF in 2012, as well as with several guide outfitters operating in the area. 

1. The overwhelming conclusion is that bear viewing in the GBF generates far more value to the economy, both in terms of visitor expenditures and GDP and provides greater employment opportunities and returns to government than does bear hunting.  In 2012, bear-viewing companies in the GBF generated more than 12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting: viewing expenditures were $15.1 million while guided non-resident and resident hunters combined generated $1.2 million. The study also finds that organized bear-viewing activities are generating over 11 times more in direct revenue for the BC government than bear hunting carried out by guide outfitters: GDP is $7.3 million for bear viewing and $660,500 for non-resident and resident hunting combined. Further, bear-viewing companies are estimated to employ directly 510 persons (or 133 FTE jobs) per year while guide outfitters generate only 11 jobs (or 4.8 FTE) per year in the GBF. In addition, bear viewing is attracting many more visitors to the GBF than is bear hunting.

2. Bear viewing is a key factor bringing international visitors to the Great Bear Rainforest. We surveyed guests who had visited the GBF in 2012 using information from 25 bear-viewing companies. Of the 71 visitors who completed the survey, 79% said that bear viewing was the main reason they visited the GBF.  These visitors spent on average 3.8 days in the GBF. Overall, those surveyed spent about one-quarter (26%) of their total vacation time in BC and 89% of their time in GBF in bear viewing.

3. In contrast, bear hunting in BC (including the GBF) has been declining since 1980, with less resident and non-resident hunters and fewer days spent hunting. Resident hunting in BC has declined more steeply than non-resident hunting: from 7.5% of the population in 1980 to just 2.5% in 2010.  Non-resident hunters remained fairly consistent over last decade at about 5000 individuals per year, but fell 20% during the recent economic crisis. Between 1998 and 2012, the number of residents hunting black bears in the GBF study area declined from 198 to 65, while the number of resident grizzly bear hunters fluctuated between a high of 60 and low of 20, with 47 in 2012.  Over the same period, the number of guide outfitters has been small, fluctuating between four and seven companies, with four companies operating in 2012.

4. The 2013 MFLNRO-commissioned study conducted by Responsive Management, Expenditure of British Columbia Resident Hunters, suggests resident hunter expenditures reached $230 million in 2012. However, its findings raise questions and its estimates appear inflated in a number of areas. A study by BC STATS for the year 2003 estimated resident hunter expenditures at $70 million, and since then the number of resident hunter licenses declined from 160,000 to just under 80,000 in 2012, according to MFLNRO statistics. A threefold increase in expenditures since 2003 contrasts strongly with a 50% decline in people hunting and it suggests that there may be some errors in the results. In addition, the 2013 study may have overinflated the number of hunter days and spending per day, and since these feed directly into the calculation of total expenditures, one must question the validity of the total expenditure estimate of $230 million. These apparent errors may be due to the fact that the study accepted the telephone responses as stated and did not benchmark to any known data.  For example, total licenses and tags (specie licenses) for the province are estimated at just over $9 million in the study, whereas according to MFLNRO, the actual value of licenses and tags collected was only approximately $6.0 million for 2012, a value roughly 65% of the study’s estimated value. Given these uncertainties, it is not really possible to say how accurate the 2013 study is. 

5. Whatever the actual amount generated by resident hunting in BC and the GBF (an amount this report questions as inflated), this spending represents a circulation of already existing money rather than new money entering the province. Resident dollars spent on hunting are dollars not available to be spent on other goods and services and therefore, as most economists would advise, resident hunting should be viewed as providing no real net economic impact to the BC economy. 

6. Even assuming that resident hunting actually contributes to the economy, it is also true that non-resident grizzly hunting has a higher economic contribution rate than does resident grizzly hunting ($244,600 in non-resident grizzly GDP for four kills or $61,000 per kill compared to $60,000 for resident grizzly GDP for six kills or $10,000 per kill).