British Columbia's leading bear-viewing lodges and operators pledged yesterday to put aside tens of thousands of dollars a year to promote grizzly bear conservation in the province.
The pledge follows the end of commercial and residential hunting of grizzly bears in BC, announced by the government in December last year. "It is only right that with the end of the hunt we should take on the funding of grizzly bear conservation," said Kathy MacRae, Executive Director of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC. "Our members have decided to not only match what the hunters were putting into grizzly bear conservation, but exceed it, beginning right now." MacRae said that bear-viewers had been keen to work with government in promoting and funding grizzly bear conservation for years, but that until recently conservation efforts had been tied up with hunting policy. "The end of the grizzly bear hunt is in line with what British Columbians expected from their government. Poll after poll showed that. It will also be great for BC's international image and bear-viewing in this province," Julius Strauss, the Chairman of the CBVA's Political Committee, said. "Our operators expect to benefit and we, in turn, will give back to ensure a future for these magnificent animals." In a survey conducted among its members, the CBVA found that every single operator expected the end of the grizzly hunt to help the bearviewing industry grow.
One reason is that it will remove a black mark on the province's image and increase the number of eco-tourists heading for BC.
But also it will allow bear-viewing to expand into areas where hunting has traditionally prevented viewing. Even before the ban bear-viewing had been expanding in BC and was worth more than ten times what the province took in in grizzly bear hunting tags and trophy hunting fees. But operators said that the grizzly bear hunt had meant many parts of the province were off-limits to viewers. "Now without grizzly hunting and with a little time we can really expect bear-viewing in BC to reach its full potential," said John Marriott, who runs high-end wildlife photography tours in BC. "And that will benefit rural communities and provide rural jobs."
The CBVA is currently working with government on developing a policy framework for bear-viewers and ensuring that existing protocols are implemented across the industry.
"We don't want the Wild West out there," MacRae said. "We have to make sure that we are viewing bears in a respectful way. That is all part of our vision."
"We are not talking about mass tourism here, but welcoming visitors who make a large contribution to the provincial economy with minimal impact. Unlike the bear hunters, they're not taking anything away other than photographs and memories." The CBVA survey showed that most guests at BC bear-viewing lodges pay an average of between $500 and $2,000 a night for their stay. More than half of the bear-viewing lodges in BC reported increasing in size, improving revenues and taking on extra staff during the last five years as international demand for wildlife-viewing has soared. "The move to end the hunt will take the shackles off bear-viewing in BC," Strauss said. "That, in turn, will mean greater revenues and more money going into grizzly bear conservation. For the province, for rural communities, and for the bears it's a win-win-win."