The world is going crazy for bears these days. And for good reason as these kings of the forest are fascinating and magnificent beasts. The government of Alaska recently announced they are accepting applications for the lottery to visit Katmai National Park or McNeill River State Game Sanctuary. mcneilriver.adfg.alaska.gov These are two renowned sites for excellent viewing of brown bears in the wild. If you have never been there, it is an amazing place and you should add it to your bucket list.
Alaska has brilliantly fostered the bear viewing opportunities they have and now the demand to see these animals in the wild is so high they have to run a lottery almost 6 months in advance. A total of 185 guided viewing access permits are available for the prime viewing spot at McNeill River and another 55 standby viewing permits are given out allowing participants to stay in a nearby campground where the bears also assemble.
This news was covered in the front page of local and US newspapers and is something wildlife enthusiasts in the USA get excited about. Applicants pay a $25 per person non-refundable application fee to enter the lottery. If selected, non-residents pay $350 just for a permit to watch the bears. Wow! Alaska really has their act together and have cultivated a fair and thorough process for bear viewing.
Recently ROAM Adventures invested more than $700,000 to open our own deluxe bear viewing camp at the juncture of Chilko Lake and Chilko River. This area has about the same number of bears (70-100) as McNeill River and we take 12 guests per trip to watch the bears feed on 2 million sockeye salmon spawning right in front of the property.
(Bear Camp – ROAM Adventures – safari style camp with a Canadian twist)
There are other lodges, like Tweedsmuir in Bella Coola and the Huston family who have invested millions in private guest ranches and rely on large quantities of bears to draw tourists. So recently, to encourage and foster such investment, our forward-thinking British Columbia government has decided to completely eliminate the BC Ferry service to get to Bella Coola (all but giving a tourism death sentence to that area) and wants to re-open grizzly hunting in our valley.
I have no quarrel against subsistence hunting by first nations or locals but I am morally opposed to trophy hunting of keynote species like grizzly, cougars and wolves. I understand the hunter-gatherer ethos but it is not the 1800’s anymore and I truly cannot wrap my mind around the joy of whacking a bear with a gun from 300 feet, especially when accompanied by a guide like me who finds them.
Its an interesting paradox as I do not recall the BC government filling the airwaves during the Winter Olympics with images of hunters holding up wolf heads of their recent kills.
Sure some folks at Whistler did destroy more than 100 unwanted Huskies once the games were over but I did not think this behaviour was being adopted as new ground breaking economic policy?
Moral issues aside, and looking strictly from a practical and business perspective, it does not take a deep-thinker to realize the sustainable ripple effect of tourists on an economy compared to the economics of hunters. Simply put, a few RV’s and hunters on quads ripping around the backwoods in “camo” does not create the same employment and tax base for the province as sustainable high-yield tourists who arrive by plane, consume local goods and fill the coffers of more than just a few lodges.
The bear viewing season has extended the traditional tourism operating season and the Chilcotin is world class in this category. Our bear viewing opportunities rival all of the national parks in Alaska and are much easier to get to and have better weather. The reality is that the bears coming to the Chilko River travel from the surrounding area, which includes the Klinaklini, and even as far as Bute Inlet. In my opinion, it would be bordering on insanity to re-open grizzly hunting in this area as it would be sending the wrong message to investors and tourists alike.
As I stated earlier, I have no issue with subsistence hunting for traditional purposes or feeding your family but trophy hunting is not a winning formula for a region that is finally getting some positive momentum in this bleak but slowly improving economy.
Bear Camp was designed and built by BC residents and local artisans. It draws guests from around the globe as well as locally and utilizes airlines, suppliers, restaurants, hotels, wranglers, other lodges and local employment. We also operate river rafting, multisport and lodge-based programs through out the province. There are great rivers and beautiful mountains throughout BC but the opportunity to see grizzlies in the wild sets the Chilcotin apart.
If you agree with my sentiment that grizzly bear viewing is a better strategy than re-opening the grizzly hunt then please take a moment and write our government, get outraged, send this to your friends and please support any efforts to stop the BC government from re-opening the bear hunt.