VICTORIA, British Columbia Grizzly bears are worth more to British Columbia as targets for photographers and sightseers than as prey for trophy hunters, according to a study done for an environmental group.
Shutterbugs and those who pay just to watch the big animals in the wild contribute more than $6 million (US$4.5 million) a year to the province's economy, almost twice the value of the sport hunt, researchers asserted.
According to the report, hunting could lower grizzly populations enough to damage the bear-watching industry, an assertion that contradicts other studies and was disputed by the government.
The study, ''Crossroads: Economics, Policy and the Future of Grizzly Bears in British Columbia,'' was conducted by the Center for Integral Economics of Victoria, a social policy and environmental research group, for the Raincoast Conservation Society.
''The argument to maintain the hunt as a significant economic benefit is flawed,'' said Donna Morton, a center spokeswoman. ''Ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in British Columbia and increases B.C.'s reputation for being super natural, but it is hurt by the killing of grizzlies.''
According to the study, monitoring the grizzly population costs more than the hunt generates and viewing and photographing the bears could easily cover any revenue shortfall from a hunting moratorium.
Raincoast leaders have called for the resignation of British Columbia Water, Land and Air Protection Minister Joyce Murray because of wildlife management policies.
A province-wide moratorium on grizzly hunting was lifted shortly after the Liberal party ousted the New Democrats from power in British Columbia elections in May 2001.
Responding to the study Wednesday, Murray said British Columbia has plenty of grizzlies at least 13,800 for trophy hunters as well as bear watchers and photographers.
According to an independent scientific report released by the province last spring, British Columbia's grizzly population can sustain the annual loss of 220 to 250 bears to hunters.
In addition, John Holdstock, a spokesman for the British Columbia Wildlife Federation, said grizzly viewing might be less lucrative in the interior of the province, where bears are spread over a wide area.
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