Saturday 28 April 2018

Bear Viewing Tourism and My Family

Gear that I am lending my family
So, I have a rather extensive family in the Netherlands.  My maternal grandparents came to Canada in the 1950s, when my mother was very young.  They have maintained a close relationship over the years and now, with social media, it is easier than ever for me to stay in touch with some of my uncles, aunts, and cousins in Holland.  Over the years we have visited family in Holland and they have come to visit us here in Vancouver.  Without exception, one of the goals of any family member who is coming to visit us in Canada is to see a bear.

Family from Holland coming to see a bear has caused us plenty of concern over the years.  Much of Europe is so densely populated and devoid of real wilderness that there is no need for basic survival gear, let alone the deeply ingrained sense of caution most Canadians have when it comes to bears.  In Holland, towns are so close together that you really cannot get lost.  It's wonderful to always be within a few minutes bike ride of a cafe or cold beer.  It is in total contrast to the vastness of Canadian wilderness.

My grandparents like to tell a story about how when they first came to Canada and settled in Edmonton, they went camping in Jasper and spent the first night listening to bears tipping over the garbage cans all around their tent.  At one point my grandfather got out of the tent and tried to chase off a black bear so they could sleep.  My grandmother was a lot more concerned, but they really had little appreciation for the fact that bears are wild animals which deserve a fair dose of preparation and caution.

Fast forward to now.  Yesterday I welcomed some family from Holland at YVR and as I drove them to my parent's house, where they are staying for a few days, and on the way we discussed their holiday plans.  My uncle, aunt, cousin and her two kids are definitely excited to go and try to see a bear.  My uncle is an ecologist in Amsterdam, so he is really interested in wildlife.  Last time I was in Holland we chatted about how wolves are starting to migrate into the northern parts of the Netherlands from Denmark and repopulate their former ranges.  So, we discussed the basics of bear identification, and safety, but like each time family comes to visit and wants to go see a bear, I was left feeling like, are they sure they know what they are getting themselves in to? I remember as a kid seeing tourists getting out of their cars and trying to walk up to bears and elk in Banff and it left a strong sense of the fact that a lot of people just don't know that wildlife is wild.

So, I decided to send an email to my relatives last night with links to the government website from Parks Canada about bears, along with some YouTube videos about what to do if they charge, and how to use bear spray.  My email read:

Typically, bear charges occur when a mother grizzly is trying to protect her cubs.  Most grizzly charges are false charges.  Rarely is it an attack charge.  Black bears don't generally charge or attack.  Here are some videos of what can happen if there is a grizzly charge.

Tomorrow I am seeing a friend of mine in the area near my parent's house, so I will bring for you my Bear Spray.  Please take it with you if you go into the woods to look for bears.  This shows you how to use it.

Be careful.  It is very very powerful and   I will drop it off at my parent's house if you are away.  It can be used for bears as well as cats like a cougar.

I don't mean to worry you! It is fun to see bears.  However, it is good to be prepared with bear spray.  I think you will not be anywhere where you would see a grizzly, so there is much less to worry about.
As I went to get my bear spray I saw my GPS, survival kit, first aid kit... hell, I'll just put together a few things.  I got carried away according to my wife, but when you hear about all the tourists who go missing in the back country because they are unprepared, how could I not loan my family the minimum of what I would take.  I hope they get their wish and see a bear and I will sleep a lot more easily knowing they have some basic equipment to stay safe in the woods.  My wife points out, rightly so, that they will likely stay on well marked trails, but you never know.  People get lost in Lynn Valley all the time, so anything is possible.

Jesse Zeman: If we don't act now, future generations will only see some wildlife species in museums

News broke last week that B.C.’s south Selkirk caribou herd is now functionally extinct, and this week the South Purcell’s population is at a record-low four animals. While these numbers may shock the public, it was no surprise to those who have spent decades advocating for and researching mountain caribou.

B.C. started funding caribou conservation in the 1970s and researchers have been telling us how to fix the declines for over three decades. We failed to listen. Caribou are one of the most intensively studied animals in Canada; we may know more about them than any other wildlife species yet their populations continue to decline.

Why? Because B.C. did what’s easy, not what works.

Science tells us the ultimate cause of caribou population declines is habitat loss, principally logging and oil-and-gas development. These activities bring young forests while increasing the abundance of prey species such as moose and white-tailed deer, which attracts more predators. The activities also increase the number of roads, which brings people and allows predators to move more efficiently. Waiting for roads and cut blocks to grow in to get back to caribou friendly habitat takes decades.
In the interim, there are only a few necessary management options — managing human access, recreation, resource extraction, non-native prey and predator populations — to keep caribou populations viable while habitat recovers.

There are a few glimmers of hope in two B.C. mountain caribou populations, Klinse-za and North Columbia, where management options have been used and in North Columbia, where significant land-use planning occurred. For the most part, however, until the past few years, politicians only did what looked good, talked about recovery, had staff write recovery plans and implemented recommendations which were politically and socially convenient.
For the South Selkirk’s herd, it was too little, too late.

The story of caribou is becoming the story of wildlife. Moose populations are in decline across B.C., Rocky mountain bighorn sheep (one of two species on B.C.’s Coat of Arms) and elk are coming in at record lows in the Kootenays, Thompson and Chilcotin River steelhead are at record lows, and Fraser River salmon continue their downward spiral. While researchers tell us the over-arching issues are habitat related, the calls for change go un-answered, often in favour of the very things that scientists tell us will not change the trajectory of failing populations.

Last spring, the federal government cancelled the Rural Restoration Unit, a group focused on habitat restoration and enhancement in streams across B.C., the only part of Fisheries and Oceans Canada with a history of helping steelhead spawning and rearing habitat.

After a backlash, unit was restored with funding, no doubt, coming from other programs. Last fall, facing predicted record low returns, Freedom of Information documents show DFO pushing to move salmon net fisheries into higher risk period for steelhead, putting endangered runs at increased risk. Since, DFO has been busy justifying the sustainability of its salmon net fisheries, which “ensure less than 20 per cent of returning steelhead” are killed in nets — because, according to DFO, it’s OK to kill up to 20 per cent of endangered fish populations in net fisheries for salmon.

Last winter, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada — independent scientists the federal government relies on to assess wildlife — conducted an emergency assessment and designated these two steelhead populations as endangered.

Canada and B.C. are gaining a well-deserved reputation for placing band-aids on a patient that is suffering a heart attack. We are amassing an environmental debt that will be inherited by future generations whose expectations for vibrant wildlife populations will not be met. Under the current approach, seeing a Thompson River steelhead or a  mountain caribou will be left to electronic devices or museums.

B.C. is at a crossroads. We can continue to do what we always have and manage our fish and wildlife to zero and let politicians off the hook for failing to keep wildlife a priority or we can advocate for wildlife. At the B.C. Wildlife Federation, we care deeply about fish and wildlife and invite the public to join us and focus on their recovery.

Jesse Zeman is fish and wildlife restoration program director at the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

Letters to the editor should be sent to The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email

Friday 27 April 2018

Conservation Advocacy: MLA's office and BHA Pint Night

Yesterday, I managed to get out to my MLA's office for a meeting with one of her assistants.  I am still trying to arrange a second meeting with my MLA Judy Darcy, here in New Westminster, but with the legislature sitting right now, MLAs are away from their constituency.  I will continue to try to arrange a meeting for the next time the legislature breaks.

The meeting went well and I felt that I was able to convey my key points.  I'll discuss those in a moment.  

Later in the evening I went to my first BC Chapter of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Pint Night.  The Region 2 Rep, Mark Robichaud and the Communications Rep for Region 2, Jeff Chan, were there as well as some familiar faces such as Dylan Eyers of EatWild, Rob Chipman, Mitch who I head met at the BC Sportsman's Show when we were two of just a few people listening to Jesse Zeman's presentation about managing to zero, and Grady who I met at the Beers for Wild Things event in February.  I also met a lot of new people who were all very dialed in and passionate hunter conservationists.   It was an excellent event.

Mark had asked me to do a short presentation about my political activism, so I tried to summarize how I approach letter writing to politicians and my MLA, rather than just talking about how many letters I have written or what they said.

This is how I try to communicate the message that hunters care about habitat, wildlife, and the future of wilderness in BC.  

I want to first say that I have pulled a lot of catch phrases from a lot of places, podcasts, and presentations, so please accept my reuse as flattery.

Know Your Audience
It is important to remember who you are talking or writing to.  If it is a person, try to understand who they are or what they know.  If it is the public, assume they are hunting-curious and probably eat meat, but also that they likely don't know much about the issues.  They will all probably be shocked by both the sad state of affairs and how much you know and care.
- They are just normal people.  Some are good, some are not so good, some care, some won't. When I met my MLA Judy Darcy, I felt like I was having a nice conversation with my mom.  It wasn't at all intimidating.
- They may not know much about the issues, so you may need to start at the beginning and summarize.
- The are probably curious and interested, like most of the public.

- This is our echo chamber.  Everything you say will be echoed back at you with cheers and agreement.  
- While it makes you feel good, it doesn't further the cause to spend too much time trying to convince people who already agree with you.
- I think it is worth trying to get hunters to talk to non-hunters

Anti-Hunting Activists:
- Tiny minority of people who you will never convince.
- Arguing with them is not worth your time and isn't productive.

The Non-Hunting Public:
- Most people eat meat 
- Caring where your food comes from is really popular these days
- Many will be curious about hunting and know very little other than what's on social media, TV or in movies
- Would probably love to try some game meat.  "Venison Diplomacy" wins hearts and minds via the stomach.

- They occupy the sane middle ground and we want to be there with them.  The protest at Antler, the restaurant in Toronto where the Chef, Michael Hunter, butchered a deer leg in the window out of exasperation for the weekly protests, gained huge public support and support from moderate vegans for the restaurant.  We have the best story and it is a sane, normal, everyday person story.  We just need to tell the complete story... More on that to come below. (There is a great Joe Rogan Podcast with Michael Hunter.  It is excellent.)

Have a Clear Message
It pays to be organized and concise.  I know that being concise is a weakness of mine, so I really try to organize my letters or talking points into 3 clear points per letter or meeting.  Any more than 3 points, in my opinion, will be hard to follow or seem like you are rambling.

Who you are:
- I like to start with who I am.  Where you live matters to your MLA.  They care a heck of a lot more if you live in their community.  I explain that I am a hunter who grew up in Vancouver and came to hunting as a adult.  Through hunting my eyes were opened to the habitat destruction and declining wildlife numbers and that is why I am reaching out.

What you want:
- If you want a meeting, then ask for a meeting at their earliest convenience
- If you want changes such as Clear Management and Recovery Objectives, Science Based Management, Increased Funding, Wildlife and Habitat to be a Priority, Changes to Policy and Legislation, Biologists to be Included in Resource Extraction Planning and Remediation, etc. state those objectives clearly.

Why you care:
- Explain why it matters to you (Food, Nature, Future Generations, Tradition, Family)
- Explain why the things you have learned are upsetting and worrisome.

Use Info-graphics and Visual Aids When Possible:
- A picture is worth a thousand words 

It's About the Habitat
I like to always keep it about the habitat.  It sets a good tone when you focus on habitat issues. All studies indicate that the habitat is the key to conservation and the recovery of wildlife populations.  It helps all hunters if we can be seen as a voice for habitat.  It shows us in a positive light.  If the discussion focuses too heavily on the animals as themselves, then the result will be a reduction in the hunting of those animals in order to preserve them.  It is far better for us to keep the discussion about enhancing habitat to increase or protect the total population.

Clear Management Objectives:
- One way to keep it about the habitat is to have objectives.  Protecting specific areas, road deactivation, biodiversity objectives, fish and wildlife population objectives, prescribed burn to restore habitat objectives, etc.
- The objectives have to include solid numbers, not ratios or soft goals, or else no one will be held accountable.
Science Base Management:
 - I like to discuss how provincial biologists should be included in forestry planning and replanting to ensure biodiversity and high quality habitat.
- I also like to discuss how it is about giving people who are already government staff the funding and authority to do what they already know needs to be done. 

Inevitably it will come to how to pay for it all.  I would prefer that funding is widely distributed so that it is everyone paying a little for a larger total. This includes ideas about:

- 100% License fees allocation
- Modest increase to License fees
- Excise taxes similar to in the US
- Including other user groups paying their share (Skiing, Biking, Eco-Tourism, etc.)
- Show discrepancies with our neighbours and the scale of how little funding we are really asking for ($700 million roof on BC place, $820 million Port Mann Bridge)

We Show Up!
I am a real person, from BC, who cares so much that I wrote this letter or came to this meeting.  I care even when it is not in the spotlight and I still care even when things didn't go my way.  Our opposition, anti-hunting activists and organizations, way on the other side of this debate, aren't going to take the time to meet with their MLAs and continue to advocate for wildlife and habitat after it is out of the media or after they achieve an objective to end a hunt.  I still advocate for grizzly bear habitat, even though the hunt has been ended, because I genuinely care about the habitat and grizzly bear populations.  I hope that it does not go unnoticed that the opposition groups have stopped caring now that they have achieved their objective of ending the hunt.  I generally think that the grizzly bear topic is very sensitive and divisive and I only bring it up once I have established a rapport with someone.

We Are Here to be Productive!
- I try to do everything I can not to seen angry, but rather really worried, upset, and distressed
- I try to say thank you for any funding increases or positive actions, but make it clear that it is only a first step and that there is so much more to do.
- I am here to help and answer any questions, be a resource for my MLA, and friend in the community.

Change the Narrative
-I do everything I can to come across as just an average person who cares about BC's native plants and animals, their habitat and where my food comes from. I don't wear camo or hunting t-shits to meetings.
-I think it is important for us to all work to change perception so that when people think of hunters they think about us being the strongest and most passionate advocates for habitat and wildlife. 

Tell the Complete Story:
Part of changing the narrative is accepting we have an image problem.  It is easy for hunters to be vilified as blood thirsty killers who just want to trophy hunt to cover our walls with heads, hides, and antlers.  

We all know who nonsense that is.  So, why is it so easy for us to come across so terribly?  In my opinion, it is because we have done little to try to understand what non-hunters think about.

1) If you are going to post on the internet or social media, it cannot be just a "Grip and Grin" of a dead animal.  Post the whole story, the planning, the days without success, the story of the success, the animal, the processing, the meat, and food, the meals, the enjoyment, the recipes, the memories.  Steven Rinella and MeatEater do a great job of ensuring every episode is a complete story and ends with a meal.  We need to do the same.

2) When a non-hunter hears "Trophy Hunting", "Trophy Animal", etc. they think that is the only value that that animal has to us.  They think that we won't eat the meat or use the hide. They hear "Killing for the sake of killing". We've lost that battle.  It's over.  I prefer the term "Selective Hunting" so that it is harder for people to misuse.  "Selective Hunting" didn't get as warm of a reception when I mentioned it last night at the meeting, but I still like it.  Anyways, be careful with the words you choose and understand how they will be interpreted.

3) Many non-hunters probably don't really want to think too hard about where their food comes from.  In the media there are tons of documentaries which show the horrible conditions in factory farming and there are great cooking shows which champion knowing where the food comes from.  It is very popular and trendy to talk about food security and ethical sources of food.  I explain how that was a significant reason why I got into hunting in the first place.  If you gently force people to confront the issue of where there burger or chicken comes from and explain that their discomfort is why hunting is so important it can be a great way to bridge the gap and explain why you do what you do.

4) Venison Diplomacy is Steven Rinella's term for sharing a game meal with someone to help break the ice and normalize hunting.  No one will dislike hunters after eating an amazing meal.

5) Occupy the sane middle ground.  We have the best story.  Habitat protection and restoration, caring about the health of fish and wildlife populations, ethical, organic, and hormone free meat, are all issues everyone can get behind.  We need to build bridges starting with these points.  

Ambassadors of Conservation
We need to realize that everything we do, say, or post reflects on us as hunters.  We need to be careful so that we can build friendships, allies, and gain public support.  We need to be in it for the long game, not simply reacting to events.  We need to look towards where we want to get to in 5, 10, 25, 50 years and work diligently to protect and enhance what we care so much about.  If we fail, there will be no wild places for future generations to learn about and appreciate what we are fighting to protect.

"The “greatest good for the greatest number” applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method."
Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Conservation Advocacy Meeting in Vancouver

Left to Right: Ferg, Dylan, Larri, Rob, me (Alex), Jesse
Yesterday evening I attended a productive meeting with some of Vancouver’s best habitat and wildlife advocates. The meeting was organized by Jesse Zeman of the BCWF and included Dylan Eyers of EatWild and noted conservationists and habitat activists such as Larri Woodrow of the Mission & District Rod & Gun Club and Salmon River Enhancement Society Langley, Rob Chipman, and Ferg McDonnell.  We discussed upcoming political issues, strategies, and what to do next. Ultimately, we all need to encourage as many people as possible to meet with their MLAs and express their concerns about the declining state of BC’s habitat. 

One new fact I learned from Jesse last night is that BC had protected a significant amount of caribou habitat... but it will take about 85 years to regrow to get to the point where it is viable to support caribou populations. Tragic

We need to act now. 

On that note, I just came across this today.  This is a great place for us all to provide some additional feedback.

Share your ideas on the Draft Caribou Recovery Program.
The provincial government is embarking on a new program to recover and conserve woodland caribou in British Columbia, and we would like your feedback.
The Caribou Recovery Program is a long-term commitment that will include all B.C. caribou herds in a comprehensive and uniform approach to conservation, based on traditional knowledge and science. The province has already committed to $27 million to ensure a strong start.
We value your knowledge, your experiences, and your ideas.

Please share your comments on the draft Discussion Paper.

To share your thoughts, click on the Draft Discussion paper link (above or in the sidebar) and there you can comment on each paragraph by selecting the comment icon, accepting the Terms of Use and submitting your comment. Each comment will be reviewed against the Moderation Policy and all approved comments will be posted publically for all to read.

Your comments will be reviewed and reflected in the final paper that we are targeting for completion in spring 2019.

Feedback will be accepted until June 15 at 4pm.

Sunday 22 April 2018

Rookie Hunter Podcast with Mike and Kelly

The Rookie Hunter Podcast with Mike and Kelly is the best BC based hunting media there is.  The two hosts discuss hunting from the perspective of relatively new hunters who came to it later in life, which is very similar to my experience.  They seem like two genuinely nice guys who really care about conservation and the issues facing BC's native plants and animals.  The podcast is a great mix of stories and interviews.  Many of the guests are local conservationists with important messages to share with BC hunters.  I particularly like the interviews with Jesse Zeman of the BCWF for their informative recap of the current issues facing fish and wildlife in BC.  The Rookie Hunter Podcast is a great way to stay up to date on issues, hear cool stories, and learn about hunting in BC. 

I highly recommend having this and other podcasts on for while you're working on your gear, long commutes, or the long drives to and from where you hunt.  Podcasts are a great way to stay current on issues, hear interesting stories and perspectives, and learn something new.

MeatEater with Steven Rinella

If you haven't heard of MeatEater with Steven Rinella, do yourself a favour and stop reading this right now and log into Netflix and binge watch the episodes available there.  Steven Rinella's perspective on hunting, conservation, public lands, and nature is refreshing.  

Right now, most hunting media is just canned hunts, kill shots, poor camera work, breaking the fourth wall, and generally has nothing to do with conservation, nature or food.  I can't stand most hunting shows because they are more harmful to hunting than they are helpful.  Most hunting media adds to the anti-hunting narrative and stereotypes rather than debunk them.  Furthermore, most hunting shows don't depict how I hunt or how anyone else I know hunts. MeatEater is a distinct departure from the drivel that is most other hunting TV and it is one of the few shows that depicts hunting in a positive light.  I'll also mention Solo Hunter as another one of the few shows which is demonstrating hunting in a positive light since Remi Warren has been on MeatEater a few times and clearly has similar values as Steven Rinella.

MeatEater has a great formula and format for storytelling.  It is heavy on the setup and conservation, rarely does the host speak to the camera, there is insightful and eloquent narration, and when they are successful the show always ends in a meal.

I am very excited for Season 7 to be released.  Last I heard on Instagram Season 7 was in editing.

I also highly recommend the MeatEater podcast.  It is informative on the issues, hilarious, and generally quite interesting.  I listen to it while I am out in the shop working or reloading ammo, or during my commute.  Listening to the podcast, more than the show, has significantly contributed to my knowledge of the issues facing habitat protection and conservation.  The podcast is a great resource for anyone looking to get into hunter advocacy.

The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game
by Steven Rinella
Steven Rinella is also an author and excellent writer.  I bought his book, The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game and have read it cover to cover and even tried a few of the recipes.  The best so far is the wild game stuffed meatloaf.  The stuffing is spinach, pine nuts, cheese, and a little spice for kick. The glaze is a simple, but delicious grainy mustard sauce.   
As you can probably tell, I am a huge fan of MeatEater and Steven Rinella.  He has been a big influence for me as both a new hunter and a new hunting activist.  I can't get enough of what he, his friends and crew publish.  It is all really well done.  My one criticism is that the online store won't ship to Canada.  I really want some of their gear and I am almost going to sign up for a PO box in Blaine WA just to get a decal and a beanie (Toque as it should really be called).

Saturday 21 April 2018

BCWF: Decline in Biodiversity and Endangered Species in British Columbia

Did you know?

Our Province is in a State of Environmental Crisis.


  • Over the past 5 years the population in BC has grown exponentially, doubling in size from 2.2 to over 4.8 million people.
  • In the past 20 years, over 20% of government jobs dedicated to natural resource management have been removed. While at the same time, funding for natural resource management was cut in half.
  • There are approximately 230 species at risk in BC including several iconic animals: central mountain caribou, sturgeon, mule deer, steelhead, and many more. This list continues to grow every year.
  • Today,only 45 steelhead remain in the Chilcotin river and only 144 steelhead in the Thompson. One of British Columbia's most iconic populations of steelhead is almost completely wiped-out forever.
Everyday the BCWF is working to advocate on behalf of British Columbia's fish and wildlife. Some of the projects we are working include but are not limited to:
  • Combating devastating development on the Fraser River to protect sturgeon habitat.
  • Working to protect what's left of the Chilcotin Steelhead by recognizing them as endangered species.
  • Learning how to restore mule deer populations in BC by studying how landscape change and the predator prey community are affecting our current populations.
  • Leading numerous wetlands activities that result in habitat restoration, enhancement and conservation projects.
  • Working with the BC Government and local communities to help increase the abundancy of fish and wildlife that presently continue to decline.
Help be the voice of BC's fish and wildlife and speak for those who can't speak for themselves.
Donate to the BCWF Now

Did you know that BC is in a state of environmental crisis?

Help the BCWF advocate on behalf of British Columbia's fish and wildlife and

speak for those who can't speak for themselves.