A man poses for a photograph with a decapitated grizzly bear.
For Joe nobody, this is more than enough to kindle one heckuva' Internet firestorm. But when the poser is a professional hockey player who expresses zero remorse for shooting and killing the bear, and then actually doubles down on his love of sport hunting, well, the web explodes.
Such is the predicament currently facing Minnesota Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner.
"I grew up hunting and fishing in British Columbia and continue to enjoy spending time with my family outdoors," said Stoner, in a statement released in an attempt to quell the uproar after this photo was leaked earlier this week. "I love to hunt and fish and will continue to do so with my family and friends in British Columbia."
According to B.C. hunting regulations, the kill was legit. Stoner applied for a permit (through a limited lottery), received a grizzly bear license, and then shot the bear legally on a hunt with his father and uncle.
But last May, when the hunt occurred, another B.C. political force—a consortium of native peoples called the Coastal First Nations' Bear Working Group (CFN)—attempted to stop Stoner and his party from killing grizzlies after it instituted a non-government-recognized ban on trophy hunting in the Kwatna estuary.
Flags went up when CFN field technicians saw Stoner entering the estuary with hunting equipment. According to watchman Robert Johnson, he told Stoner that the CFN had imposed a ban on trophy hunting and that they'd like Stoner to respect it.
But according to The Province newspaper, Johnson says Stoner "respectfully said that they had the legal right to hunt there and that they were staying." Johnson added that the following day he heard three shots fired, and hoped that they hadn't hit one of the watchmen's favorite grizzlies, nicknamed "Cheeky." Yet he confirmed it was Cheeky when he saw the bear's head in the picture Stoner had taken.
Johnson told the The Province that he cried when he returned to camp and later obtained DNA samples from the carcass that Stoner had left behind. The story is documented here, in the film Bear Witness. According to CFN, the film is an attempt to raise awareness about trophy hunting issues and pressure the provincial government to put an end to the practice.
The provincial government, which regulates hunting, does not recognize the First Nations ban, however. As Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, told The Province, he respects the natives' opinion but he also wants them to respect the province's role, adding that the best available science supports continued grizzly hunting, except where it is illegal, which includes large portions of Coastal First Nations territory.
But the CFN's Jessie Houty says she can't accept Thomson's answer. Houty grew up near Kwatna and says that as a child she took the presence of grizzlies for granted. She also says that it took a long time for her to realize that "there are people out there who will helicopter into a den, where a bear is waking up from hibernation, and kill it, just to cut off its head and paws and leave the meat rotting in the grass. To a First Nations person, it doesn't get any more disrespectful," she says.
While the province estimates there are 120,000 to 160,000 black bears and 15,000 grizzlies in B.C., Houty adds that their numbers don't coincide with what the CFN is seeing (and counting) on the ground.
"What we see indicates that there are far fewer grizzlies than their models and algorithms indicate," she says. "And the polling we've done [including a McAllister poll completed with 805 British Columbians] shows that the vast majority of hunters don't support trophy hunting."