My name is John E. Marriott and this episode, we’re exposing you to the magical combination of grizzly bears and salmon but not where you might expect, like Alaska or the Great Bear Rainforest, instead, we’re introducing you to the gorgeous mountain grizzlies that feast each fall on spawning salmon in the rivers and lakes of interior British Columbia, Canada. [intro music] In 2008, I began visiting isolated pockets of wilderness in the interior of British Columbia to see what the bear viewing scene was like away from the coast. I had long heard that rivers like the Nass and the Skeena were great places to find bears fishing for salmon and I was hoping to not only find some cool spots to photograph grizzlies in, but also to find a unique location that I could begin leading small groups of wildlife photographers
to. One of the areas I explored was the total opposite of the lush, green coastal rainforest that I was so used to seeing bears fish for salmon in and I was immediately smitten with the incredible potential it had for wildlife photography: it was a difficult-to-get-to location with loads of salmon and piles of photogenic bears. My first encounter that year was with really unique-looking femnale grizzly bear. Over a decade later, I’ve now led more than twenty groups to this remarkable, remote grizzly hotspot, and along the way, we’ve been introduced to some truly amazing bears. That very first year, we encountered a beautiful, big sow grizzly with a sad-looking face. Because of her, uh, ample girth, we nicknamed her Big Momma and for years, she was one of the most highly-sought after regulars on the
river. In years where she didn’t have cubs, she often got so big and fat that any newcomer to the river would have sworn that SHE was actually a HE! In those first few years, we also had a friendly female grizzly that had a series of triplets that we called the Butterballs because they looked like fat, adorable, little
turkeys. Mom and the Butterballs dominated our attention for a few seasons with their antics, and Mom was a truly remarkable bear: she was caring, attentive, loving, and even had a bit of a wild side to her. Out of dozens of amazing things we saw her do, the one that stands out for me was the day Mom pulled a rock out of the water and set it on her head and tried to balance it there. Then she did it again. And again. And again!! Each time seeing how long she could keep it balanced there, and whirling about in disappointment every time the rock fell off of her head. By 2015, I had lead 13 tours to the area and brought more than $325K of direct revenue into the local economy, all by focusing on shooting bears…with cameras. At the time, it was one of very few successful interior bear viewing operations in the province, and here’s why. On the coast, most of the good bear viewing spots are remote and extremely difficult to access. There are no roads, no towns, no lodges, and very few people that ‘stumble upon these places.’ Even the hardiest grizzly bear hunters rarely make it into many of the best bear viewing locations on the coast and many of those spots are already fully protected, anyways, like the Mussel, the Khutzeymateen, and the Khutze. But the story in interior BC is totally different. Very few bear viewing locales are protected and every one has some kind of access, no matter how remote. A logging road here, a logging road there, a logging road seemingly everywhere. These interior bears have to learn to coexist with locals, bear viewers, ranchers, loggers, miners, fishermen and on and on and on. That increased access also meant that grizzly bear hunters could get to all of these locations, playing havoc with populations and on bear viewing dynamics in general. After all, nobody wants to pay to photograph a bear disappearing into the woods. As the years went on, it became clear that these interior bears needed more protection, from both hunters and non-hunters alike. The breaking point for me happened during the spring grizzly bear hunt in 2015 when Big Momma disappeared. She would have been alone without cubs and most grizzly bear hunters would have thought she was a big male. No one ever saw her again. The loss of Big Momma devastated me, and I decided right then and there to dramatically ramp up my efforts to shut down the trophy grizzly bear hunt in BC forever. Less than six months later, our first EXPOSED episode launched and just 2 years after Big Momma disappeared, and after a relentless campaign by a diverse group of advocates, the BC government announced a total ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting. It was one of the happiest moments of my career and I KNOW a lot of you felt the same way. I think it’s pretty obvious watching these episodes that helping to save our wildlife is a sincere passion of mine, and probably yours, too. And I think it’s also important to point out that doing so can actually be good for the economy and for continuing conservation initiatives as we shift our focus to shutting down grizzly bear hunts in the U.S. and the Yukon. As an example, my little five-person tours in a brand new grizzly bear viewing spot have now resulted in direct revenues of over $600K going into the local BC interior economy. So imagine the possibilities that exist elsewhere in Canada and the US. In addition, starting this year, all commercial bear viewing operations in British Columbia will be selling $25 bear viewing licenses to their bear viewers. That money will all go directly back into grizzly bear conservation and habitat protection, instantly outstripping any financial contributions that the grizzly bear hunt used to make to provincial bear conservation. However, as we saw in Episode 9, which highlighted the troubles with mass tourism in Banff National Park, us humans really have to be extremely careful not to love our wildlife to death… In the case of bear viewing, we need strict regulations and guidelines in place and the ability to enforce them, and we need to protect far more habitat. Why do we still have only ONE grizzly bear sanctuary in all of Canada? Why don’t we have more of these protected areas where there can be a bit of bear viewing, like the Khutzeymateen, but where the vast majority of the habitat is off-limits to
humans? At this point in history, it’s clear that the top threats to our wildlife are all human-related, including habitat loss and degradation, overfishing, and overhunting. In fact, a recent report from the World Wildlife Fund shows that there has been, on average, a staggering 60% reduction in wildlife populations around the world in just the past 40 years. If this trend continues, the effects on our human population and the planet itself will be devastating. Our mission with Exposed is to educate and inspire you to help us fight for our wildlife. And we want you to get involved. It can be as easy as sharing this link on Facebook or your
other social media networks, or as engaged as contacting your local, regional and national politicians. Stay connected with us and help us spread awareness about our most pressing wildlife conservation issues. Oh, and one more thing… perhaps the most famous mountain grizzly I’ve photographed in the BC interior was a tiny, brilliantly-coloured, golden hued grizzly bear cub that sometimes looked almost white. We named her Casper, the friendly bear, and I’m looking forward to sharing her amazing story with you… in a future episode. Be sure to follow and subscribe and you won’t miss a thing