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British Columbia’s flourishing grizzly bear tourism industry

Reposted from:
FROM Irina Zhorov

Irina Zhorov/Courtesy PRI

January 24, 2018
On an early evening in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, Shawn O’Connor, the general manager of Homalco Wildlife Tours, ushered a group of tourists off a bus and toward a wildlife viewing tower on the edge of a river.

The group was there for what they might see, but at first, they were overwhelmed by what they smelled. The banks of the river were littered with rotting salmon carcasses. Salmon swim up this river every fall, spawn in its gravel beds, and then die. There were hundreds along the shore, torn apart and in varying states of decay. Prime grizzly territory.

“The bears will just go by and they’ll just eat the skin, eat the brains, eat the roes, and they’ll leave all the flesh,” O’Connor explained. “That’s what that smell is. You didn’t step in anything.”

And sure enough, below and by the tower, a huge grizzly stood on his hind legs.

Doing their best to ignore the smell, the group watched the bear from the security of the tower, snapping pictures and speaking in whispers so as not to scare him off. It didn’t take long before the bear sniffed out the visitors and ran off into the darkness, seeking his own safety.

Until recently, the grizzlies here had good reason to be afraid of people — this vast tract of pristine rainforest encompassing most of the western coast of Canada and the islands just off it was prime grizzly hunting territory. But as of the end of November 2017, the British Columbia provincial government has banned grizzly hunting in the area. Now, shooting bears with cameras is the only kind of grizzly “hunting” allowed.

The ban was a big victory for local First Nations who have long opposed the grizzly hunt on the territories that have been their home for millennia.

“People a long time ago had to learn to live with bears and share the same estuaries, share the rivers,” says Doug Neasloss, chief councilor of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais. “So we were taught very young to have a respect for these bears.”

Neasloss says his people used to hunt grizzlies for food but stopped doing that a century ago. Today, in place of grizzly hunting his nation is working to build a tourism economy that it says honors the bears, benefits the First Nations and takes their cultural heritage into account.

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