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February 02, 2005

Black and White

From the Victoria Times Colonist, an editorial arguing that a good way to protect one of Cascadia's rarest creatures is to stop shooting it. British Columbia's central coast, a region of dense rainforest, is home to an unusual animal: the Kermode bear (sometimes called the Spirit Bear or Ghost Bear). It's actually a black bear that carries a recessive gene for white fur, which means that one can occasionally find a white-coated black bear.

Because of its distinctive appearance and cultural importance for indigenous people, the Kermode bear has been a rallying symbol for ancient forest protection in BC. It's a classic example of what conservation biologists call "charismatic megafauna." Partly as a result of the bears' celebrity status, the province may set aside about one-fifth of the 11.4 million acre central coast region for parks and conservation areas. But hunting black bears may still be allowed even in the protected areas.

The editorial argues, sensibly enough, that black bear hunting should be outlawed in those designated areas, on the grounds that ordinary-looking black bears may carry the rare gene for white fur. (It's already illegal to shoot a white Kermode bear.) Black bear hunting would still be legal throughout most of BC, but not in a few places where the bear population maintains the unusual white gene.

Protecting our native biodiversity should extend beyond the few members of the animal kingdom that are big or cuddly-looking (it's important to protect lampreys, as well as sea otters). But it seems to me we have an extra obligation to preserve the rare creatures in our region that live nowhere else in the world.

Posted by Eric de Place | Permalink