Monday, April 7, 2014

New Cards on the Horizon!

Those of you that have been following me for a while know by now that I've got a line of 51 different greeting cards that I sell through my card website, www.wildernessmoments.com  I'm going to be adding to the line this spring and would love your help in figuring out which of these 15 images should be added.  Please let me know in the Comments section at the bottom:

'The Yawn'

'Snuggling Up'

'Baby Raven'

'Fluff-Up'

'Portrait of a Lynx'

'Little Cutey II'

'Cuddle Time'

'Rainbow over Banff'

'Tongue Out'

'All in the Family'

'Aurora over Minnewanka'

'Bighorn Butts'

'Little Cutey'

'Wild Wolf'

'Baby Bear'

Please let me know your favourites in the Comments below.  Thanks everyone!!

John

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The cruelest April Fool's joke

It's that time of year: April Fool's Day.  When I was nine years old my Dad rushed down into my bedroom in Salmon Arm, British Columbia to tell me the news -- my beloved NHLer Guy Lafleur had been traded that morning from my equally beloved Montreal Canadiens to the California Golden Seals.  I lay in bed and cried and cried, heart-broken and crushed, until finally my Dad gave my arm a gentle punch and said those infamous words, "April Fool's!" and snuck back out of my room.

It still brings a devilish smile to my face every time I think about it, how my Dad took me at my most vulnerable and pulled a fast one on me. And since that day onwards, I've always tried my best to pull my own brilliant versions of April Fool's on those around me.

Only that this time around, as we 'celebrate' April 1st, 2014, it's bear lovers that are the brunt of the foolish joke: because this morning it's no April Fool's line when I tell you that grizzly bear hunting season opens in British Columbia, and the hills are alive with trophy hunters intent on adding a new rug or head to their grisly collections.

The beautiful big bears of the Chilcotin are once again being hunted today, after 13 years of peace

April 1st, Day One of grizzly bear hunting season in B.C., despite 87% of the province's residents being opposed to the hunt, and despite all of the science pointing out quite clearly that the current hunt is not based on science and is not sustainable in the long-term. You can ignore the ethics of the trophy hunt all you want -- why are grizzly hunters so intent on killing something that they do not eat or need to kill -- but the science is supposed to be what our governments use to manage our wildlife.


So when four of the world's most prominent grizzly bear and wildlife scientists speak out publicly about the failed science behind the BC grizzly bear hunt, I tend to listen: http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/Stephen+Hume+Grizzly+hunt+fails+test+science+experts/9652306/story.html

Nature, the International Journal of Science, published the scientists findings, too, again coming out strongly against the grizzly hunt: http://www.nature.com/news/canadian-grizzly-bears-face-expanded-hunt-1.14914 

Another gorgeous Chilcotin bear that will be under fire from grizzly hunters this morning on 'April Fools Day'

So why isn't the British Columbia government listening to any of this? Why are they not listening to the general public?  Those are both good questions, and I suggest you fire off a quick email to the BC Premier Christy Clark at premier@gov.bc.ca and to Minister Steve Thomson at flnr.minister@gov.bc.ca  (the idiot that keeps defending the hunt in the BC Legislature saying repeatedly that it's "based on science") to ask them exactly those questions (and please feel free to include the links to those two articles).

Check out this article for more ammunition: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Stephen+Hume+Brutish+Columbia+trophy+bear+hunt+puts+display/9624211/story.html.
Vancouver Sun columnist Stephen Hume brilliantly sums up some of the ridiculousness of the trophy hunt.  Did you know that almost a third of the bears killed are females (even though grizzly hunters are not supposed to shoot females)?  And perhaps the best/worst part of the entire article is when Hume exposes that grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia contributes the same amount to the provincial economy as the CAR ALLOWANCE for 19 cabinet ministers and their assistant ministers. No, that's not an April Fool's joke, either, though I wish it was.

And if you feel like getting onto Twitter to express your displeasure, feel free to tweet Premier Christy Clark (@christyclarkbc) or Minister Thomson (@Steve4Kelowna).

I'm usually not that gentle in my tweets to either of them (read from bottom up to the top)

And finally, I want to point out a great article in the Huffington Post recently from a friend and colleague, Chelsea Turner: Bears are My Neighbours, and You Wouldn't Slaughter your Neighbours.  Please take a read when you have a chance and let me know what you think of Chelsea's opinions in my Comments section below.

Here's to hoping that by next year, April Fool's Day will be back to being just that...a day of funny fake jokes, not cruel real ones.

Thank you everyone for all of your support in trying to shut down the British Columbia grizzly bear hunt once and for all.

John

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Fight to Save Big Momma

Her name is Big Momma, and she is a photo tour superstar. Each fall in the Chilcotin, when my clients and I arrive to photograph grizzly bears eating salmon, Big Momma gets some of the biggest gasps and stares -- and for good reason, for she is gentle, she is beautiful, and she is big. Very big.

The gorgeous grizzly bear we call Big Momma -- gentle, beautiful, and big.

In fact, Big Momma is so big that next spring, if the British Columbia government has its way, for the first time in her life, she will be at risk of being gunned down by legal bear hunters looking for the ultimate trophy as she emerges from hibernation and wanders her way down into the valley bottoms to graze on fresh vegetation.  After all, what self-respecting trophy hunter could resist the temptation to fire at a 700 lb. (320 kg) bear sporting a lush winter coat that would make a perfect rug? 

It is as ridiculous as it sounds: a gorgeous female grizzly that produces wonderfully well-behaved cubs every three years will be at risk of being shot next spring so that some loser with a giant truck and a tiny penis can brag about how he slayed a giant with his life hanging in the balance (in other words, he'll lie -- the truth is, he'll shoot a big speck on a distant horizon with his high-powered rifle and then somehow claim that it makes him a better man).

Now I'm not here to argue that these grizzly hunters do need to strive to be better men; I suspect that that's as clear as day to most you that have come to this blog to read about the fight to save Big Momma's life.  What I am here to get very, very angry about is the proposal by the dimwits in charge of mis-managing British Columbia's wildlife resources to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin this spring after it's been closed for the past thirteen years.

[Steaming mad, yet?  Go 'Register' before December 20th (this Friday) at http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/hunting/re-open-grizzly-bear-leh-hunts-mus-5-05-and-5-06 and leave your comments regarding why you are against this proposal to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin.  And keep reading if you want more ammunition to debate this proposal with....]

Want to know what happens in thirteen years without grizzly bear hunting and with a clamp-down on illegal grizzly killing by ranchers and poachers?  Strangely enough, wild grizzly bears start to show up on salmon streams and in distant fields, no longer afraid of being shot on sight. Bears like Big Momma start to show their faces in the day-time and shepherd their cubs along the banks of rivers and creeks where once they didn't dare go in the past for fear of being hunted.

And soon enough, ecotourism operations begin to sprout up, with tourists from around the world showing up to spend their hard-earned money to see and photograph wild grizzly bears in their natural habitat. In fact, bear viewing in B.C. provides as clear a financial argument as one could desire when it comes to putting an immediate end to the proposal to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin (or to even have a hunt at all).  Last year, one grizzly bear viewing operation (Knight Inlet Lodge on the west coast) in B.C. brought in more money than all of the grizzly bear hunting outfitters in the entire province combined.  One versus all, and one crushed all.

Want a financial argument just for the West Chilcotin?  Last year, my photo tours there brought in over $45,000 in direct revenue to the lodge I work with.  That was half of the grizzly bear viewing business they did last fall.  And they are one of just five bear viewing operations in the West Chilcotin last year.  Extrapolate my figures and it's not hard to see that bear viewing in the West Chilcotin is already worth up to $450,000 in direct revenue each and every year.  Couple that with the indirect revenue that gets spread throughout the Chilcotin, from the gas station at Anahim Lake to Safeway at Williams Lake to the charter planes flying out of Vancouver, and the direct and indirect financial impact of these five tiny bear viewing operations in the West Chilcotin is likely in excess of $1,000,000.

They are staggering numbers, particularly when compared to how much it would cost a resident of British Columbia to go hunt a grizzly bear in the West Chilcotin next spring: $32 gets you a hunting license, and another $80 gets you a grizzly bear tag (all grizzly bear hunting in BC is via Limited Entry Hunting).  So if you win the LEH lottery and get a tag, it costs you a whopping $112 in provincial licenses to go shoot Big Momma.  $112....

Big Momma in 2010 -- grizzly bear viewing revenues dwarf grizzly bear hunting revenues in B.C.

[The same officials that have proposed the re-opening of the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin have also proposed re-opening the hunt in two different parts of the Southern Rockies in the Kootenay region, please go 'Register' before December 20th (this Friday) at http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/hunting/re-open-grizzly-bear-leh-hunts-mus-4-20-and-4-23 and also leave your separate comments there regarding why you are against this proposal, too.  Keep reading if you want more facts to use in your arguments against both proposals.]

At this point, many of you may be wondering about the loud cries you often hear from the hunting community about how their licenses and fees go directly into conservation and into supporting wildlife management in British Columbia.  Their argument is that without hunting licenses and the money generated from them, we'd have no wildlife management and little conservation in the province.  So let's break that down quickly, because surely that has some merit, right?

Nope, not really.  What it boils down to is this: the government chooses to take the money from hunting licenses and invest that back into wildlife management instead of into health care and road building.  They take the much larger amount of revenue generated from tourism and tourism components like bear viewing and pump that into the general coffers into things like health care and road building.  But if they wanted to, they could put it into wildlife management instead and the argument that the hunting community fosters the province's wildlife conservation projects would be dead before it started.

That's not to say that the hunting industry doesn't play a role in conservation, because it often does. However, the larger truth is that wildlife management in British Columbia is geared almost entirely towards 'management for hunting', not towards actual conservation management.  And most hunting lobbies simply lobby to ensure they get more hunting opportunities.  Their lobbying often has little to do with conservation, as is clearly evidenced when one looks at the parks set aside in British Columbia: for the most part, the hunting industry had nothing to do with protecting any of the national park lands or the majority of the provincial park lands, and it definitely had nothing to do with preserving Canada's only grizzly bear bear sanctuary, the Khutzeymateen (in fact, in some of these cases, the hunting community lobbied strongly against protecting these areas).

So back to the issue at hand, why on earth is the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations proposing to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin after thirteen years of no grizzly hunting?  It's not a financial decision, so it must be a biological decision, right?  Maybe the bears are overpopulated, maybe they need thinning out?

Nope, not that either.  Though that's what you'd be led to believe if you read the government website with the proposal on it:

These two management units are part of the Klinaklini-Homathko Grizzly Bear population Unit (GBPU); This GBPU is classified as viable. The LEH in these MU’s was closed in 2000 due to a combination of hunter kills and conflict bear kills along the northern and eastern fringe of the MUs where ranching and other human development is more widespread. As a result the mortality exceeded the Annual Allowable Harvest (AAH).  A new population estimate has been developed (184 grizzly bears) and the Annual Allowable Mortality has been set at approximately 4% or 7.4 bears per year. After removing 1% for unreported and problem bears there are approximately 5 bears per year for hunter allocation.

Anecdotal information from various stakeholders suggests that the grizzly bear population has increased which corresponds with the recently updated population estimates. . DFO personnel who work [in the area] have also observed substantial increases in bear sightings and encounters over [the] last 10-15 years.

So lemme get this straight...you're telling me that after grizzly bear hunting stopped, the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) started seeing more bears on the rivers?  No SH*T!  Absolutely incredible information, truly ground-breaking stuff from the geniuses in charge of our wildlife management in B.C. [yes, that is sarcasm you can see dripping off of your screens].  And you're telling me that your various stakeholders (read: ranchers, hunters, guide-outfitters, trappers) are telling you that they, too, are seeing more bears?  Wow! No personal stake in that one, is there?

I think we all stopped believing most ranchers crying wolf long ago (Vancouver Sun article, October 1, 2012) and I'm pretty sure that we're not going to believe grizzly hunters, either.  So I decided to go straight to the source and ask Cedar Mueller, the grizzly bear researcher that knows more about the West Chilcotin grizzlies than anyone else on earth.  I wanted to know if the population estimate was accurate (nope), how it was determined (by manipulating her study data), and if she felt grizzly bears were stable enough in the region to hunt (putting aside the ethics of grizzly bear hunting for a second and speaking strictly from a biological standpoint, she unequivocally said NO).

Big Momma in 2012 without cubs -- why should this gentle bear be exposed to hunting?

Mueller forwarded me her draft Final Report for her study, which referred repeatedly to just how critically important this small population was to an enormous area around it in terms of grizzly bear population stability.  She found that grizzly bears were coming from as far as 115 kilometers away to get to the salmon spawning streams and rivers in the West Chilcotin and that many of these bears were from sub-populations that are severely threatened -- in fact, if you look at a map, the entire eastern edge of the area they are proposing to re-open to grizzly bear hunting is either considered to be a Threatened GBPU (grizzly bear population unit) or has had grizzly bears extirpated altogether.

Even if Mueller's report concluded that there were 184 individuals in the West Chilcotin (which it doesn't -- it only attempts to determine populations in grizzly bear migration areas at certain times of the year, like the number of grizzlies using a particular stream or river during spawning season), the fact that this grizzly bear population unit is bordered by threatened and non-existent grizzly bear populations on its eastern side should be reason enough not to fool around with bear numbers via a  bear hunt.  So the fact that Mueller believes the catchment area for the fall grizzlies congregating to feed on salmon is actually in the neighbourhood of 41,000 square kilometers (FOUR times the size of Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks combined!) makes the number 184 look measly at best -- consider that the Banff-Jasper contiguous national park area has between 200-250 wild grizzly bears in a quarter the space, yet that population is considered to be threatened.  So how is the B.C. government determining that this small population of bears in the West Chilcotin is now viable enough to have bears hunted from it?

The sad truth is that this is a political play from ranchers, hunters, trappers, and guide-outfitters putting pressure on the Ministry to re-open the hunt despite a lack of financial, ethical, or biological reasoning.  So what I need each of you to do is to make your voice heard on behalf of Big Momma and the rest of the West Chilcotin bears and Register and submit Comments at http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/hunting/re-open-grizzly-bear-leh-hunts-mus-5-05-and-5-06 by this Friday, December 20th.

The government has purposefully made it as difficult as possible to voice your opposition to this, so please also contact the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, the Honourable Steve Thomson, at FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca or on Twitter at @Steve4Kelowna or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Steve4Kelowna and let him know your feelings on this issue.

Thank you to you all for your help with this.  With any luck, next spring will be just like the past thirteen springs for Big Momma and the rest of the West Chilcotin grizzly bears.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wildlife Photo Seminar in Calgary this Saturday

Hi everyone,

My apologies for the lengthy delay in communication here on my blog, things have been busy!  I wanted to let you all know about a 4-hour wildlife photography seminar called Getting Wild About Photography that I'll be doing this weekend in Calgary, Alberta from 1-5 p.m.  There are a few spots remaining, so if you're interested in learning more about wildlife photography and about how I photograph certain situations and how I process and edit my images, then this is the seminar for you.

"All in the Family" - shot on this year's Chilcotin Grizzly Bear photo tour in September

I've also now released my dates for next year's Wildflower and Landscape Photography Workshop in the Bugaboo Mountains in British Columbia.  This popular workshop has sold out for three years in a row, so if flying around in a helicopter to flower-filled meadows during a photo workshop sounds like your cup of tea, then check it out.

We had seven different colours of Indian Paintbrush on August's workshop!

Stay tuned for more 2014 photo workshop and tour dates in the coming weeks.

Thanks everyone,

John

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Spirit Bears and Other News

Hello everyone, it's been quite the long and winding road for me and my wife this summer and early fall as we've spent the majority of our time dealing with the aftermath of the Alberta floods which ravaged our house (quite literally -- if you haven't seen any of my flood videos, check out my youtube channel at john660).  As a result, my blog has been left in the dust for a while, so I thought today, a week after my Spirit Bear Photography Tour ended and a day before my Chilcotin Grizzly Bear Photo Tour begins, was as good a time as any to revive the ol' blog and let you know what I'm up to.

For starters, I've added a few new items to this year's and next year's tour, workshop, and seminar calendar, including a Polar Bear Photo Tour to Cape Churchill which sold out almost instantly (within a week).  I'm hoping to add this trip to my list of 2014 tours, so stay tuned for details in early December to see if it does get added.  I've also added a new February wildlife photography workshop in beautiful Jasper National Park and a wildlife photography seminar in Calgary in late November, you can check out all the details over on my Canwild Photo Tours website

I'm hoping to add a few more seminars in other locales this winter, including Vancouver, and I'm also hoping to have my tours for next year finalized in mid-October.  You can expect another Khutzeymateen grizzly bear trip, as well as the Spirit Bear tour, the Chilcotin grizzly tour, and at least one northern experience in search of caribou/muskox!  Sign up for my newsletter now if you haven't already so you'll have an early crack at getting a spot on one of these trips.


In terms of gear news, I've just received the new Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 lens (version II) to test out on my Chilcotin bear trip, so I'll be posting a full review when I get back.

I think that's it for an update, so here's a few pics from my recent spirit bear photo trip in the Great Bear Rainforest.  Enjoy!

Our first white bear of the trip!

A baldie surveying her terrain

Backlit blow from a humpback whale

Beautiful big black bear male in a mossy canyon

'Peek-a-boo' bear from behind the rocks

Caviar, anyone?

Thanks for looking and reading, everyone, wish me luck on my next adventure in the Chilcotin!

Happy shooting,

John

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Win Bear Prints - NLWS Fundraiser!

I am very excited today to announce a chance for all of you loyal followers and readers to win a host of cool prizes from me.  Feel like putting a 20"x30" archival display print from my collection of more than 6,000 bear photographs on your wall?  Want to spend a full day in the field with me photographing bears and other beasts?

Then read on for details of my June fundraiser for the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada.  The NLWS is the only grizzly bear rehabilitation facility on the planet and last month I got the chance to visit the Shelter on a private tour from owners Peter and Angelika Langen to learn what this amazing operation is all about.

Founded in 1990 by the Langens, the Shelter has rehabilitated and released more than 277 bears back into the wild in British Columbia.  And in 2007, they became the first and only wildlife shelter in the world to begin rehabbing and releasing orphan grizzly bear cubs back into their home ranges.

The Shelter is home to more than just orphan bears, as they've already taken in three moose calves this year and they regularly rehab and release moose calves, deer fawns, and a host of smaller creatures like baby beavers, baby otters, baby raccoons, and baby foxes each year!

And rather than having me write on and on about how great the Shelter is, I thought I'd give you a first-hand look at what they do and why I'm doing a fundraiser for them. Check out this short (and VERY exciting, haha!) 8-minute video I put together from my visit in May (or click here to view the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter video full-size on youtube:



The Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter fundraising efforts

I first contacted the Shelter two years ago in May when two young grizzly cubs (Quill and Morant) were orphaned in Banff National Park after their mother (Dawn) was killed by a train near Lake Louise the day after Cai Priestley and I had photographed her.

I spent quite a bit of time in the following days trying to convince Parks Canada to ship the undersized and underweight cubs to the Shelter in B.C., but in the end Parks decided to leave the cubs to fend for themselves (while both bears are believed to have survived two years on their own, Quill in particular has been in all sorts of trouble with humans and would be considered a long-shot at this point to become an adult bear given Parks Canada's poor track record with young adult male grizzlies in the Lake Louise area).

Fast-forward two years and through chance circumstances and the belief of one individual (thanks Carolee) that I could help the Shelter out with fundraising efforts, I got back in touch with the Langens and got to spend an incredible four hours at the Shelter in May touring the facilities and seeing their 2012 bears (32 black bears and 3 grizzlies) first-hand just weeks before their releases back into the wild!

The visit quite literally moved me to tears.  I was astonished to see how much the Langens have accomplished with their limited resources, and I was buoyed beyond belief with the countless success stories that have come and gone from the Shelter over the years.  But throughout it all, I continuously had a feeling that the Shelter could use an infusion of funds, that they were operating at near capacity and that they were getting dangerously close to having to reject baby bears in the near future if they weren't able to expand soon and upgrade some of their pens and buildings.

So I asked Angelika what was on her wish-list and I resolved to do my best to help her raise some of that money.

Here is a list of what the Shelter currently needs:

- a new grizzly bear pen.  The current pen is great for grizzlies, but the adjoining black bear pen was at maximum capacity this year with 32 black bears.  If Angelika can raise enough money to build a new grizzly bear pen beside the current one (there is already land set aside for this), then the old grizzly bear pen can be joined up with the current black bear pen, effectively increasing the size of the black bear pen by almost 400%, greatly enhancing its ability to take on more black bears!!  Projected cost: $50,000

- an upgraded vet clinic/building.  The current clinic building is run-down and rough.  Angelika would like to completely clean it out and refinish the interior so that it is easier to maintain and more presentable when media visits to film or photograph new baby animals arriving at the Shelter (these media visits and original photographs from Angelika's staff of the new babies are critical in fund-raising efforts for day-to-day operations). Projected cost: $10,000

- a completed volunteer staff accommodation building.  The current staff accomm is in Angelika's house and is wearing on the entire operation as they require more and more volunteers to keep things running smoothly and they're running out of room in her house to do so.  Fortunately, the framing is already in place for a real staff accommodation building, but it still requires finishing inside (drywall, paint, etc) before anyone can move into it.  Projected cost: $30,000

- a new Siberian lynx pen.  Years ago the Shelter took in a pet Siberian lynx that was about to be euthanized by a vet. Unfortunately, the lynx is now using a space that would be better suited to bears than to a pet lynx and Angelika would love to move the lynx to a small new pen.  Projected cost: $6,000

- new radio collars for bears.  The Shelter would love more money to pay for radio and gps collars for released bears so they can continue to track the success records of their released bear cubs. Projected cost: $10,000

And here is how we're going to raise money for the Shelter:

The fundraiser is going to be as simple as possible.  Between now and the end of June, if you donate $25 or more to the Shelter (donate here), you will automatically be entered into a random draw to win one of three 20"x30" archival display prints (valued at $395 each) from my collection of more than 6,000 bear photographs, including grizzly bears, black bears, polar bears and white kermode bears!  The best part?  You get to choose the photo you want!

But that's not it for prizes.  In fact, the best one in my opinion is a full weekend volunteering at the Shelter helping with baby foxes and moose and so on in July 2013 or July 2014.  Between now and the end of June, if you donate $100 or more to the Shelter (donate here) you will automatically be eligible to win a full weekend at the Shelter volunteering with the baby wildlife, everything from beavers to otters to foxes to deer fawns (depending what they have on hand - note that you will not get to help with the baby bears because in order to avoid habituation to humans, the bear feeding is done by just one person throughout the year)...so we'll fly you from Calgary (July 2013 only) or Vancouver (2013 or 2014) up to Smithers, BC, put you up in a hotel/inn near the Shelter, and then you'll get to help with the baby animals for an entire weekend, feeding baby moose with a bottle, helping out baby foxes, etc.  This is an incredibly unique opportunity because normally you have to volunteer for SIX months to get to go into the Shelter (which is not open to the public), so I really think that the opportunity to go there for a weekend would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many of you. Note that this is fully transferrable, so if you win it and want to gift it to someone else, you can!

And the final thing in the prize pot is a full day in the field photographing bears with me in BC or Alberta (depending on the time of year and where you are located or where I will be traveling).  Normally a day in the field with me costs $1195 a pop (and I very rarely even offer it), so this day with me is going to go to the highest donation received before the end of June.  Donate $250 and you'll have a pretty good chance. Donate $500 and I'd say you'll have a really good chance.  Donate $1000 and I'd say you'll probably win! Note that this is also transferrable as a gift to someone else.

I really hope many of you will consider donating by the end of this month.  The Shelter is a charitable organization in Canada, so Canadians will all receive a tax receipt for any donations you make.  But perhaps the best part of your donation will be the knowledge that your money is going to be helping baby wildlife from BC get rehabilitated and released back into the wild for years to come, particularly if we can raise enough for some of the Shelter's larger projects.

Thanks everyone, please let me know what you think of this fundraiser here in the Comments section or over on Facebook/Twitter.

Enjoy the video!

John

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fifteen Days of Glory

7,712 photographs, 32 videos, 2,221 kilometers driving, 103 kilometers snowshoeing, 2 wildlife photographers, 1 lost shoe, and a lifetime of stories: this is the initial tale of the greatest wildlife encounter of my career, my 15 days of glory with 2 lynx -- a mother and her kitten.

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The first day was the hardest.  I had let myself get soft in the final month of winter here in the Canadian Rockies, watching too much hockey on tv and skipping the gym in favour of taste-testing new beers I had picked up on my travels in the months prior.

"Just...one...more...step.  Just keep going.  You can't give up now. You can't give up NOW."

I was three hours into slugging my way through the thigh-deep, lightly-crusted snow and I was beyond exhausted. In the fluster of excitement at the first sight of the mother lynx and her kitten, I had moved into the deep snow in the forest in just my Sorels (no snowshoes), carrying both my 70-200mm lens and my big 500mm telephoto. Worse yet, I had not yet had a chance to 'gear down' as I normally did as the day warmed -- so I was still wearing my -15 C (0 F) layers, including two pairs of long johns.

Within twenty minutes of following the lynx, I was soaked through in sweat. But as anyone else would do, I plunged onwards deeper and deeper into the forest, the adrenalin coursing through my veins.

Unlike most of my wildlife photography encounters, this time I was not alone. That day, of all days, my wife had convinced me to take her friend's daughter, a Canmore Collegiate high school student, along for a morning wildlife cruise in the hopes of seeing wolves.  Up until 11 a.m., Alex had seen nothing more than a few distant goats.  Five minutes later she was waist-deep in crusted powder following two lynx through a forest.

We had joined up with my friend and colleague, Brandon T. Brown, who had found the lynx earlier that morning and had sent an ominous text that had floated around in cyberspace for two hours before finally landing on my cell phone:

"Get here now!!"

And so there we were, the three of us following a mother lynx and her kitten through the snow, half-expecting the encounter to end at any moment -- but it didn't. In fact, long after our adrenalin stocks had gone the way of the dodo bird, long after Alex had lost her hiking shoe in the snow (we swore we'd look for it when the encounter was over, but we never did come back to find it), and long after I had given up dreaming of water and food and nap-time, we were still plunging through the crust keeping the lynx in our sight.

For an astonishing six-and-a-half hours (eight for Brandon!), we followed the lynx pair through a winding crash course in a-day-in-the-life-of-a-lynx.

It was the most physically-draining thing I have ever done, but it was worth every exhilarating minute of it. On one hand, Brandon and I both came out of the day with more than 100 GBs each of lynx photos; and on the other hand, we were both so tired and sore at the end of that first day that neither of us could get out of bed the next!

But then we did finally get out of bed again two days later, and astonishingly, we found the lynx again. And then we found them again two days after that.  And again five days after that.  And finally, in one last glorious hurrah, I spent four final hours alone with her and her kitten in late March.

The encounters truly have produced a lifetime worth of stories and photographs.  But as I often do, I will save most of both for another day and another time, sharing with you all just a taste of what made these encounters so special for both Brandon and I.

Enjoy!!

'Mom' - the most beautiful lynx I have ever seen

'The Kitten' - the cutest lynx I have ever seen

'Wachful Eye' - the kitten watching a squirrel in a tree above

'On the hunt' - the kitten prowling about the forest

'Together' - mom and the kitten pause for a moment in the forest

'Cuddle Time' - mom and the kitten cuddle up for a nap

Want to see 28 more beautiful, full-screen shots?  Check out my brand new photo gallery section over on my website and look for the What's New - Lynx gallery. 

Thanks everyone, please feel free to leave your 'Comments' below.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Lynx Fight

The first three words I blurted out were swear words.  Which is fine if one is not in the middle of chatting on a walkie-talkie radio with paying clients on a photography tour.  But I was....

And not only did I swear on the radio in front of paying clients, but I did so with a tremendous amount of gusto and volume.  It was high-pitched, it was even feverish.

Thankfully, none of my clients remember a thing about me reciting several of the most commonly used words in the English language into the radio.  I guess that's what happens when you're driving along and suddenly come upon a couple of lynx on the side of the road.

You know...just a couple of lynx. Nothing major, right?

And now let me provide a little insight into what goes on a professional wildlife photographer's mind when a couple of lynx are encountered on the side of the road:

What the wow get your window down no open the door no stop the car park pull over sh%t no time please please stay there grab camera open door no window down no door theyre crossing the road mother of pearl change aperture focus oh my gosh theyre gonna fight get both in should i change lenses no do it no concentrate stop shaking get both in wow theyre gonna fight get both in get both in GET BOTH IN!!!!

So that was what happened in the first half second or so.  Haha!  Note that I did not think even once of what exactly my clients were doing or if they were even getting shots (ulp, forgive me John, Kim, and Don!).

In all, the photo experience was probably two minutes worth of lynx, though it seemed like an hour in comparison to the rest of my lynx encounters over the years.  This time I actually had time to think (sort of) and managed to get my breathing and shaking under control (though it took me most of the two minutes to do so!).

I'll never be sure, but I think the two big males were squaring off in what was either a fight over a lady or a territorial dispute.  For much of the encounter it looked like they would fight right there in front of us, but instead they wandered back into the bush where we could hear them screaming and howling at each other (at one point we attempted to follow them in, but the snow was too deep). I don't know if they actually fought, but it sure sounded like they did!

The first male hustles across the road right between our cars, I shot this with a 500mm hand-held out of my car door
 
As the first male walked up onto the snowbank opposite us, it became obvious that he was pretty ticked at the other male!

At this point he was visibly upset and was hissing loudly as the other male approached him

Still shooting with my 500mm, the first male changed his body position and continued to stare down the male below him

Getting very aggressive now, feet splayed out, scowling and hissing!

Face-to-face hissing away at each other!

Taking a swipe with his front right paw

Head-to-head making a bunch of angry noise!


Walking away into the trees, two minutes after we first spotted them

Thanks for looking everyone, let me know which ones are your faves in the 'Comments' below.  Happy shooting!

John

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Royal BC Museum talk - March 27th

For those of you out on the west coast of British Columbia and on Vancouver Island, I will be speaking at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria on Wednesday, March 27th at 7 p.m. as part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit.

"A Day in the Life of a Wildlife Photographer" - Wednesday, March 27th at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C.

Please join me for a fun evening of tall tales and lots of wild images!

John


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Jasper Wolf Tour - First Image!

After nearly two weeks on the road in Jasper National Park and beyond, I'm finally back in the office today full of tall tales and great new images from my first-ever officially unofficial 'wolf photo tour' with a few friends that happen to also double as some of my best tour/workshop clients.

And while I'm going to save the tallest tales and best images for another post (for those of you that follow me over on my Facebook wildlife and nature photography page, you already know that we came across not one, but TWO wild lynx in Jasper, and I've got the photos to prove it!).

A beautiful wild wolf photographed in Jasper National Park last week
While you're waiting for the next images and post, please take a moment and sign a very important online petition from wildlife photographer and colleague, Brad Hill, asking the BC Government to put an end to the use of wolf killing snares (please see my original post about just how dangerous and unethical these snares are to wildlife) and to see an immediate shift in how wildlife is managed on our public lands in BC (so that instead of protecting private businesses like ranches, the government moves to a management model that puts a priority on developing, maintaining, and protecting natural ecosystems that include apex predators such as wolves).

Again, you can check out the petition at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-the-use-of-killing-neck-snares-against-wolves-in-b.html Please take a second and sign it and please feel free to pass it along. The petition will be active until the British Columbia elections begin in May of this year.

Thanks everyone, happy shooting!

John

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Wolf Solution - Wolf Week Wrap-up

As my self-proclaimed Wolf Week here on my blog and on my Facebook photography page winds to a close, I wanted to thank all of you for your support and feedback and offer up some final words as potential solutions to the problems wolves face in Alberta, British Columbia, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

It saddens me that in today's more enlightened, environmentally-conscious society we still legally allow wolves to be snared, trapped, baited, called-in, chased, and shot with impunity across vast swaths of our wild regions (just last Wednesday, Montana's governor swore in a new bill continuing to allow wolf hunting on Yellowstone's border claiming that the new bill was supported by "sound science"). It's incredulous that two main lobby groups, sport hunters and ranchers, have wielded such power over the political process when it comes to wolf management (an oxymoron if ever there was one in the northwest!), creating this battleground that festers now between wolf lovers and wolf haters.

What does the future hold for our wild wolves?

I knew a week ago that I wanted to direct this Wolf Week series of blog and facebook posts towards an end goal: to get people like you to help demand change from our state and provincial wildlife managers and agencies in how our wild wolves are perceived, treated, and managed.

But before I get to that, I wanted to quickly recap the past week's posts for those of you that are just finding this for the first time:

On Day 1, Wolf Snares in my Backyard tackled a local problem here in the Rockies where Conservation Officers recently set out wolf snares intended to choke wolves (and anything else unfortunate enough to get ensnared -- including your family dog) to death on public crown land, effectively using our taxpayer dollars to fund a private business (a ranch) on public land because the business had complained about a small, neighbouring wolf pack (meanwhile, here in Canmore, I complained about having other photographers competing with me and so far not a single one of them has been snared by the government, go figure!).

On Day 2, A Wolf Kill Contest Update looked (once) again at the barbaric wolf kill contest in Fort St. John, B.C. that I covered back in November and December and noted that Pacific Wild, a British Columbia environmental organization headed by friends of mine, is threatening to challenge the contest's legality in court. [Thank you to everyone who donated to Pacific Wild's cause, if anyone would still like to donate, you can do so here -- I'd love to see even more of you match my donation of $250.  For Americans that would like to donate to a worthy cause in the U.S., please consider donating to WildEarth Guardians or to WolfWatcher.]

On Day 3, I stepped away from the bad news for a day and showed off some wild wolf pictures along with a few stories in a post entitled, My Favourite Wolves.

Day 4 was back to the issues at hand, as Debunking the Wolf-Livestock Myth took an in-depth look at the lies behind the cattle industry's blatant war on wolves across the northwest. The science and data all point to the same conclusion: wolves are not a threat to the livestock industry.

And finally, Day 5 was perhaps the most contentious post of the week, as Hunting and the Big Bad Wolf examined the slippery slope of half-truths and misrepresentations that the pro-wolf hunting lobby floats to the public to rationalize killing wolves to boost big game populations.

Why do we continue persecuting wolves when science shows they are not a threat?

I hope that these posts enlightened many of you to the real issues at hand here: that wolves are being unfairly persecuted across our provinces and states and that it's time we changed our wolf management policies.  As my posts have clearly shown, wild wolves are not a threat to human safety, to the livestock industry, or even to the sport hunting industry.  Rather than having our politicians ignore the science and continue to listen to the loudest lobby groups, I think we have a chance to effect real change with our own lobby group of wolf lovers, admirers, photographers, and biologists.

And while I would love to see an end to wolf trapping and hunting across the board from my own moral standpoint, I'm also not naive enough to think that will happen and nor do I think it needs to happen in regards to having sound scientific wolf management plans in place.  Rather, I want to aim for more feasible goals, beginning with no-hunting, no-trapping buffer zones set around all of our national parks like Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper, Waterton, Glacier, and Yellowstone to not only protect wolves, but also to protect the burgeoning tourism industry in these areas.  It is estimated that Yellowstone's wolves alone bring in more than 35 million dollars to the local economies, so it only makes sense that if we're still going to have wolf management that protects the interests of ranchers and sport hunters, then we also need to even the playing field and protect the interests of businesses that host the millions of tourists that flock to these World Heritage Sites in the hopes of seeing wild wolves.

How big should these buffer zones be?  Well, let's put it this way: in 2012, Banff National Park protected 6,697 square kilometers (2,564 square miles) of the Canadian Rockies -- it's an enormous swath of wilderness that takes over an hour to drive across from east to west, and almost two hours to drive across from south to north.  Yet in 2012, Banff National Park was home to exactly two wild wolf packs that did not have to deal with the threats of trapping and hunting on the park's edges.  Just two secure packs!  In fact, add in all of Kootenay and Yoho national parks, too, and we're still left with just two secure packs.

[Editor's note: For a fantastic resource on what we need in terms of buffer zones (and a great wolf resource website, period), check out Just Beings Wolf Conservation.]

Our national parks in Canada and the U.S. are not large enough on their own for secure wolf habitat


Other changes I would also like to see in future wolf management plans include:

- making wolf kill contests illegal
- making wolf hunting from snowmobiles (in a chase) illegal
- making wolf hunting with baiting or calling illegal
- making wolf hunting tags mandatory
- limiting the authority of wildlife management agencies to kill wolves except in the case of verified livestock losses and/or broader programs aimed at threatened or endangered species recovery (e.g. a broader program for caribou recovery in Idaho, B.C., and Alberta might include a wolf cull of entire packs known to prey on caribou IF the program also included an extensive habitat recovery phase limiting ATV use, snowmobile use, oil and gas exploration, etc).

and

- significantly bolstering our livestock reimbursement programs in terms of both funding and personnel (so that claims are dealt with quickly, efficiently, and accurately and so that verified claims are fully reimbursed across the northwest).

So what do you think of my suggestions?  What did you think of Wolf Week? And what changes would you like to see in wolf management in B.C., Alberta, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana?  Please submit your Comments below to let me know.

Or better yet, why not submit your comments to the politicians in charge of our wolf management plans and ask for buffer zones around our national parks along with some of the other suggestions I mentioned above:

For British Columbians, you can email:

Honourable Steve Thomson—Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources

To: Steve.Thomson.mla@leg.bc.ca
CC: rich.coleman.mla@leg.bc.ca; terry.lake.mla@leg.bc.ca; sunletters@vancouversun.com; info@pacificwild.org, adrian.dix.mla@leg.bc.ca, info@wildernessprints.com

(be sure to include reference to the buffer zones, to government workers snaring wolves (Day 1 post), to the wolf kill contest (Day 2 post), and to strengthening the livestock reimbursement program)

For Albertans, you can email:

Honourable Diana McQueen -- Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

To: ESRD.Minister@gov.ab.ca
CC: vermilion.lloydminster@assembly.ab.ca, info@wildernessprints.com, office@albertaliberal.com, asyslak@cpaws.org

@DianaMcQueenMLA (twitter)

(be sure to include reference to the buffer zones, to the fact no tag is required to hunt wolves, to the value of wild wolves to tourism in Alberta, and to the strengthening of the livestock reimbursement program)

And for those of you in the U.S.:

Visit WolfWatcher's Take Action page to see what you can do right now to help Yellowstone's wolves (including phone numbers and emails for Montana's governor -- be sure to reference the value of wolves to tourism in Montana and the critical need for buffer zones).

That's it for now, everyone. Thank you again for all of your support. 

John

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Hunting and the Big Bad Wolf - Wolf Week - Day 5

For months now, since I called for a tourism boycott of the Alaska Highway in response to a wolf kill contest going on in Fort St. John, British Columbia, I've been getting emails from people in northern British Columbia telling me just how bad their wolf problem is. According to some locals, the problem has gotten so bad that the wolves are decimating herds of native moose, elk, sheep, caribou, and deer, threatening human safety, and killing large numbers of livestock.

Being a wildlife photographer with a university degree in Wildlife Management and a deep, personal interest in wolf biology and behaviour, I was suprised and saddened to hear that their perceived wolf problem had led many members of the community to get together and sponsor a wolf kill contest to eliminate as many wolves as they could.

Every time a wild wolf gets killed, disrupting the pack dynamics, it leads to a host of problems from a human perspective

But before I spoke out initially back in November, I decided that I should do some research to see if there were any facts backing up their wolf overpopulation claims. Despite my wildlife background and beliefs, I felt that it could still be possible that there were simply too many wolves in northern British Columbia and that they were indeed causing havoc with the communities, with the game populations, and with the ranchers.

I began with a quick check of the Draft Management Plan for the Gray Wolf in British Columbia and discovered that they did not have current numbers, beyond wide-ranging estimates, for the population or population trends of wolves in northern B.C.  So I moved on to a trusted secondary resource and checked with a few friends/outdoorsmen living in northern B.C. (and in particular, in the Peace Region where the wolf kill contest is being run) to get their thoughts on whether or not there is currently an overpopulation of wolves in the north.  Each of them confirmed to me that there are indeed lots of wolves in the north and that it's a very healthy population. 

As far as I was concerned, that confirmed the first part of the northerners' plea: that there are lots of wolves in northern B.C.  The second part, however, the part that makes up the gist of their arguments in favour of indiscriminately killing wolves (as many as they can), is where their 'wolf problem' cries began to fall apart for me.

When I examined their arguments for going as far as offering up prizes for the biggest and smallest wolf killed in a much-publicized wolf kill contest, I began to find gaping holes in their logic.  There was no statistical evidence, there was no scientific argument, and worse yet, there was no ethical or moral stance behind the blatant need to kill more wolves.

Their first argument for killing wolves was that wolves up there are killing too much livestock.  As you read yesterday in Debunking the Wolf-Livestock Myth, that was an easy one to discredit. That's not to say that there aren't problem wolves up there killing some livestock, but as I'll explain later in this post, killing random wolves actually exacerbates the problem, it doesn't solve it.

[Editor's note: I believe that if wolf kills of livestock are verified on private land repeatedly, then the wolf pack should be targeted and removed entirely and the rancher should be fully compensated for his/her losses. However, if it's on public land, I believe the rancher should be fully reimbursed but that the pack should be left alone -- consider it to be the cost of doing business on public land]

The second argument put forth was that human safety is compromised with so many wolves on the prowl around their communities.  So I did an extensive search online for wolf attacks on humans in northern British Columbia and could not find one single verified report of an attack.  The statistical truth is that there have only been two fatal wolf attacks in North America in the past one hundred years.  There have not been any fatalities from a wolf attack in British Columbia over that period -- not a single fatality in the past century.

The third argument is perhaps the most sensitive of all, as it deals with one of the most prominent lobby groups in the country: sport hunters.  That argument is that the perceived "overpopulation" of wolves has lowered ungulate populations across the board in the north, killing too many moose, deer, elk, caribou, and sheep, effectively making it harder for said game hunters to find and kill meat for their kitchen tables.

However, even this argument is fairly easy to disprove on several counts.  For starters, wolves are an apex predator, which means they occupy the top rung of the food chain in most wilderness areas and share that spot with humans.  Countless wolf literature shows that wild wolves regulate their own population numbers, so if their prey base is shrinking, then so too does their own population.  As a rough example, in an area rich with prey, a wolf pack will likely have lots of pups, many of which survive to adulthood.  By contrast, in an area scarce with prey, a wolf pack may only have a few pups and may not see any reach adulthood.

Do wolves kill too much big game in the north?

So let's ask that question again: do wolves kill too much big game in the north?  From a biological perspective, as I've just explained, that isn't possible beyond a natural cyclical series of highs and lows (moose populations go down after wolf predation, then rebound when wolf numbers go down in response to the lower moose numbers, then the cycle repeats itself).

If wolves really were capable of depleting moose and elk and deer populations so readily, then why don't we see that effect in our national parks in Canada?  Why can I still drive down the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff and see deer and sheep and moose on a daily basis? Why haven't the wolves killed them all and why aren't there wolves everywhere?  Why are there even any moose and deer and so on left on earth if wolves are so capable of killing too many of them? 

For a real answer as to what's going on, let's turn to the WildEarth Guardian document I shared with all of you in yesterday's post, Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves: A Public Policy Process Failure -- How Two Special Interest Groups Hijacked Wolf Conservation in America.

They asked the same question about elk in Montana:

"Do wolves kill too many elk? 

No, despite the claims of some sportsmen’s organizations. Human hunters have much greater negative effects on elk populations than wolves, according to a host of biologists, who published their findings in peer-reviewed science journals.

In fact, the level of human off-take of elk populations is considered “super additive” – that is, human-hunting pressures on elk far exceed the levels of mortality that would otherwise occur naturally. Further, human hunters generally kill prime-age, breeding animals, whereas wolves prey upon older, non-breeding elk. Wolves do hold elk populations at levels that mediate starvation, weather, and other stochastic events."

Again, the science simply does not back up the claim that "too many wolves" is leading to "too few ungulates."

So why then does British Columbia (and Alberta) allow an open season on hunting for wolves.  Why are things like this wolf kill contest legal?  Why are there not buffer zones around our parks so that wolf families can grow and stay intact?  And why are our governments listening to two bipartisan lobby groups when neither has a real argument in favour of indiscriminately killing random wolves.

Here's the real kicker.  Every time a wolf hunter goes out and randomly kills an alpha wolf, like Wolf #832F in Yellowstone, thinking that they have just lowered the wolf population by one, what they've actually done is potentially increased it ten-fold.  In the case of the Lamar Valley pack that Wolf #832F was a leading member of, that family has now disintegrated and the adult wolves have all dispersed/disbanded...seven different females and one male; all could potentially find mates and have pups this spring.  So within a few months, the hunter that shot #832F could actually find not just one pack of wolves on the landscape, but EIGHT different packs!

Every time a wolf hunter kills a random wolf in a pack, they risk disrupting the social structure of a pack that may have lived in harmony with livestock and with game populations.  They risk throwing that family of wolves into a state of flux -- suddenly a wolf family that only preyed on moose may have lost one of its best hunters, so they turn to easier prey and begin targeting livestock.

So when will we figure this out?  Killing wolves for sport is not acceptable anymore.  It does not do any good, it does not breed tolerance or acceptance of wolves among wolf hunters.

Simply put, hunting and the big bad wolf no longer belong in the same sentence.  There is no big bad wolf, and they should not be hunted indiscriminately any longer.

John

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