Friday, July 24, 2015

Review of the Canon 5DS R Camera Body

When Canon Canada's Alberta rep Brad Allen called me up last Friday and said, "Want to test out the new Canon 5DsR body next week?" my answer was short and sweet and may have sounded something like, "Yes, please," though with a little squeal of glee attached.

The next best thing to getting free gear is of course getting to test out new gear hot off the presses, and while I hadn't necessarily planned on buying the new body, an opportunity to test it out to see if it was a worthwhile purchase for a wildlife and nature photographer like myself was something I jumped at. Plus, I figured, what better way to be able to tell all of my workshop and tour clientele that they NEED to get out and buy the latest and greatest from Canon (or vice versa, that they don't need to and can instead use that money to go on their 53rd trip with me).

Canon announced this splashy new 50.6 Megapixel camera body (there are actually two camera bodies, the 5DS and the 5DS R) as the "world's highest resolution full-frame camera" back in February, and the initial reviews have been favourable (my favourite in-depth review of the new camera bodies is over on the The Digital Picture by Bryan Carnathan).

The 50.6 MP Canon 5DS R camera body

So let's cut to the chase. I got the 5DS R body (identical to the 5DS body except that the low pass filter effect is cancelled on the R body, which when translated to normal english means that it's slightly sharper but may have some funky patterns going on in the background from time to time) on Tuesday of this week and promptly raced down to Kananaskis Country to see what I could find that a) was breathing, b) was moving, and c) was not human.

My entire goal, much like my review of the Canon super telephoto lenses back in December 2012 (the 400 vs the 600 and why I chose the 500 over the 400/600), was not to go into great technical detail about the camera body, but simply to test it and see if I liked it for real world photography. Is it sharp? Is it functional? Will it make me a better wildlife photographer? Can I see it also being useful in my landscape photography or for northern lights work? Would I ditch one of my beloved Canon 5D III workhorses for a 5DS R? And was this the trip into K-Country that would finally reveal the Yeti that I long suspected slept in the bathrooms at Highwood Pass after hours? Almost all valid questions that I wanted answers for....

So in case you don't really care about seeing the images and just want to know if you should go drop $4,300 Canadian on a spanky new 5DS R, my final findings can be summed up as such: Will this camera make you a better wildlife photographer? No, it will not. Would it be a useful tool in a photography kit for a wildlife photographer? Absolutely. Would it be a useful tool in a photography kit of a landscape photographer? Even more absolutely.

Straight out of the box and into my hands, the 5DS R is basically the 5D III with a different name on it. It feels the same, looks the same, and has similar menus and controls. It took me all of three minutes to customize this model to the specifications I wanted (for instance, I always change the Depth-of-Field Preview button so that it becomes a toggle between AI Servo and One Shot AF mode...that way I can be shooting in One Shot mode and if the animal starts moving, I hold down the Depth-of-Field Preview button and I'm instantly shooting in AI Servo mode tracking the movement of the beast -- this mimics what back button focusing accomplishes, which is good since I was never able to train myself to do back button focusing).

There were two things I was really impressed with off the bat with the 5DS R (besides drooling over the thought of blowing up a 50.6 MP wolf shot to the size of a small house and still having it be tack sharp): one, the redesigned shutter/mirror is super quiet even in regular 5 fps mode (1 less fps than the 5D III), which is a phenomenal improvement for wildlife photographers like me that hate those machine-gun clackings of bodies like the 1DX and the Nikon D4s. It's substantially quieter than even the 5D III in regular high-speed drive mode.

And two, the in-camera crop feature is one of the sexiest things I've ever seen in a camera. The ability to flick a menu 'switch' on the fly and move between full-frame (50.6 MP), 1.3x crop (30.5 MP) and 1.6x crop (19.6 MP) is addictive, ridiculously fun, and extremely useful for wildlife photography purposes. It's basically like having a 50 MP landscape body with a 7D II built into it (the 5DS R has the same AF system as the 7D II -- which is fantastic for wildlife shooters), since the 1.6x crop leaves you with the exact same size file as you'd get out of a 7D II.

So what does 50.6 MP look like when you first pull an image up on screen? If it's a sharp image (more about that later), then it looks out-of-this-world good.

A bighorn sheep ram in Kananaskis Country shot handheld ISO 640, 1/1250th at f5.6 with the Canon 5DS R

Click on the eyeball above to see a full 100% crop of this

Because of the size of the sensor, you do have to be cognizant of the fact that movement in wildlife photography gets amplified even more than it normally does, so I was already aware that getting sharp images with the 5DS R was going to require slightly higher shutter speeds and real attention to proper lens technique. But with that said, I still didn't really have an issue handholding my 500mm down to 1/500th of a second with the 5DS R, which is pretty close to what I handhold it at with my 5D III (I can get sharp shots down to about 1/320th sometimes handholding the 5D III).

As I believe I mentioned above, the in-camera crop factor is absolutely spectacular. Check out these two samples of what you can do in-camera, moving from full-frame to 1.3x crop to 1.6x crop all within a few seconds (click on the photos to see larger versions).

Full frame to 1.3x to 1.6x (click to enlarge)

1.6x to 1.3x to full frame (click to enlarge)

Now of course there's nothing stopping you from cropping a full frame shot after the fact in Lightroom to get the desired tighter shots, but there is just something about doing it in-camera that I found to be extremely useful in framing and composing shots. Plus, it's fun. Really fun.

Another aspect that I didn't realize regarding the in-camera crops was that you still get the full file. What this means is that you can go in and fix mistakes by re-cropping from the full frame file, even if you shot in 1.6x crop mode. Wish you hadn't cropped so much off the left side? Fix it in Lightroom from the full frame file after the fact! You can even un-crop if you find yourself wondering what the file would look like if you hadn't used the 1.6x crop mode.

My original shot of a pika, shot in 1.6x crop mode

The crop and full frame file in Lightroom, so I can now adjust my crop if I want to


The final crop, adjusted slightly so the pika is now dead center of the frame

I un-cropped this shot a bit, because I found it too tight and not quite sharp enough as I had composed it originally

Another feature of having such a large sensor to play with is that when I found myself shooting at high iso (iso 2500) late in the evening and getting shots that were quite noisy and not as sharp as a daytime shot might be, I was able to downsize them to the size of a 5D III file and eliminate most of the noise and sharpen up the image at the same time. Here's a sample of that:

Full frame moose at 50.6 MP, 100% view, not the noise and lack of sharpness (click to enlarge)

Downsized moose with noise reduction, 100% view, note increased clarity and sharpness (click to enlarge)

The final image, which would print well from 12"x18" up to 24"x36" -- 1/400th at f4, ISO 2500 -- 5DS R and 500mm

Overall, I was much more impressed with the Canon 5DS R camera body than I thought I would be. It's AF performance was fantastic, the files are absolutely unbelievable, and the ISO performance was only a step below the 5D III and a step above the 7D II. At 5 fps, it's still fast enough for wildlife photography, and I think anyone selling a lot of prints and/or looking to get into the high-end fine art wildlife print market should absolutely be picking one of these camera bodies up for their own kit.

Likewise, while I haven't had a chance to use the body for landscapes yet (I'm hoping Canon Canada will loan me one for my two back-to-back landscape photography workshops in the Bugaboos in early August so I can test it out some more -- any of you wanna-be nature photographers looking for something to do the week after next, the wildflowers are CRAZY this summer in the Bugs and we still have a few spots left in one of the workshops!), I can already see where the 5DS R would be a phenomenal landscape camera on par with many medium format cameras already out there.

Handheld with 500mm and Canon 5DS R at 1/1250th f5.6, ISO 640

Let me know if you thought this review was helpful or not in the Comments section below. Thanks everyone.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Banff's $67 Million Dollar Joke

As usual, it is a rant that gets me back onto my blog train. This time around, it's the federal government's announcement last Wednesday, July 15th, that the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park is going to get a $67 million dollar facelift widening its shoulders to create a bike path between Banff and Lake Louise (under the guise that the changes will make it safer for cyclists and motorists, alike).

Fresh on the heels of a series of government sell-outs/development approvals in the core of our mountain national parks -- the ridiculous Skywalk at the Icefields in Jasper, the Mt Norquay gondola in Banff, and the Marmot Basin ski hill expansion in Jasper in the heart of endangered mountain caribou range -- this decision to widen the Bow Valley Parkway reeks of business interests getting their way once again within our national parks at the expense of ecological integrity (y'know, that minor thing the entire parks system was created to protect).

Will wildlife sightings along the Bow Valley Parkway become a thing of the past?

Who does this "infrastructure improvement" benefit? Certainly not the wildlife along the Bow Valley Parkway. Anyone that has driven the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Canmore in recent years can attest to the extraordinary popularity of the new Legacy Trail (a paved bike path that runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway between the two resort towns) and it's easy to count the impact it's had on local recreation between the towns. Yesterday, I drove that stretch of highway at 2:30 p.m. and counted 113 cyclists, runners, mountain bikers, skateboarders, and roller skiers using the 21-kilometer pathway. So now imagine how many recreational users are going to take advantage of the proposed new bike path along the Bow Valley Parkway, with broad, paved, 2.5-meter shoulders, and a leisurely, winding route through gorgeous montane and subalpine forests and meadows. It will be a zoo. A zoo without any animals in it, that is.

A number of years ago I was invited by Parks Canada to be on a Bow Valley Parkway (BVP) stakeholder committee to determine the future direction of the BVP in terms of wildlife management and visitor engagement. Specifically, one of our key tasks was to help determine whether or not Parks Canada should close certain parts of the Parkway during key times of the year to protect wildlife.

The process was long and drawn out over years worth of meetings, research, and communication between stakeholders. I held a unique position on the committee in that I was a member of the business community (I had business relationships with all three resorts on the BVP), yet I was also a vocal environmental advocate in the community, so I had close ties to many of the Parks representatives and the environmental organizations.

In the final meeting of the committee, I abstained from attending and instead submitted a seven-page letter which I had the chair of the committee read out loud. I knew that I was a potential 'swing' vote and I also knew that my decision was likely going to alienate myself from either the business community or the environmental community. Yet my choice was clear, despite the fact that closing the BVP during critical times of the year would impact my photography business directly financially, I was 100% in favour of the closure and chastised those who were putting their own business interests ahead of the interests of the park's wildlife.

From April 1st to June 25th each year now, the Bow Valley Parkway is closed to all traffic (including bikes and pedestrians) from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. each night to "give animals free rein to use the area and feed in the critical spring months following winter hibernation." Designed specifically to provide some relief to grizzly and black bears to forage on the BVP's wide right-of-ways that green up early each spring, the closure has also benefited local wolves, cougars, elk, and deer, among others.

The BVP closure was implemented to allow animals to feed freely along the roadside

The committee that I was a part of never did discuss widening the Bow Valley Parkway or making a designated bike path along it. Safety was not an issue, nor was increasing recreational use. After all, we had just agreed to decrease use. What we did discuss was how to make the BVP more wildlife-friendly so that visitors could see more wildlife along it: light more prescribed burns, create more meadow-like habitat using selective logging and thinning, add speed bumps to reduce speeding. 

We definitely did not discuss how we could turn the BVP into a wildlife-free zone during daylight hours, which is exactly what this proposed bike path and widening of the road will do for all but the most habituated animals. It's not hard to see that there will be a dramatic increase in bike and foot traffic, and that wider roads with broader shoulders will likely lead to an increase in speeding and reckless driving from locals and tourists. And it's critical to note that widening the Parkway will take away at least 5 meters of vital right-of-way, this same valuable roadside foraging habitat that the mandatory spring closure was supposed to allow animals easy access to.

So with more traffic, more disturbances (roadside wildlife reacts far more negatively to cyclists, for instance, than to vehicles), and less roadside forage for animals to eat, the end result is going to be a Bow Valley Parkway with a lot fewer wildlife sightings. It's a lose-lose situation: park visitors that drive the BVP to see wildlife lose out on that chance, and park wildlife loses out on getting to eat the fabulous roadside buffet of grasses, dandelions, willows, and berries that currently exists on the Parkway.

And that doesn't take into account the enormous, disruptive impact the construction process would have on everyone (wildlife and humans) for several summers in order to widen the road.

Would the widening of the BVP make it safer for motorists and cyclists as the July 15th federal announcement highlights? Absolutely. The road that has never had a cycling OR vehicular fatality on it would continue to be just as safe as it always has been, maybe even more so (a number of cyclists wondered aloud on Twitter this week why an already safe road needs to be made even safer). Meanwhile, the 1A highway west of Morley in our federal riding really does not have shoulders on it (the BVP actually already has shoulders and is quite easy to pull over safely on, particularly given the 60 km/hr speed limit) and is a constant source of fatalities, yet not a dime will be spent on that piece of infrastructure which runs through the Stoney Nakoda reserve. Maybe that's not as sexy as announcing big funding for our premier national park with the national election around the corner?

And what's being missed in all of this is that our national parks should not be prioritizing road biking over ecological integrity. People can road bike anywhere in the world, they cannot drive a beautiful, scenic 60 km/hr road and have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see bears and wolves anywhere in the world.

If the federal government really wants to spend that $67 million on something useful, then I suggest they use it to enrich existing wildlife habitat along the Bow Valley Parkway to truly enhance the visitor experience for everyone from wildlife photographers like myself to the family of five from India that is visiting Canada for the very first time in the hopes of seeing a wild bear in the mountains.  Spend that money on clearing the right-of-ways along the Icefields Parkway so that visitors and locals alike can see more wildlife along there and avoid collisions with animals that can step straight onto the road from the dense cover that lines that road for much of its length. Or take those valuable dollars and continue to build wildlife fencing along Highway 93 South in Kootenay National Park, which has long been a killing field for everything from moose and wolves to deer and bears.

And if you really have to build a bike path between Banff and Lake Louise, do it where it belongs: right beside the Trans-Canada Highway just like the existing Legacy Trail.

Got a Comment? Agree or Disagree? Let me know in the Comments section below.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Death by a Thousand Cuts

RANT time: great article in yesterday's Red Deer Advocate illustrating just how devastating snaring is to wild wolves (http://tinyurl.com/pb6qht4). Imagine this gorgeous wolf slowly choking to death over the course of three or four days, because that's exactly what happens thousands of times across Alberta each winter.

The Red Deer Advocate reports that neck snares lead to "a painful, agonizing death...in blood-spattered snow."
It's time Alberta stepped into the 21st century with its wildlife management, so please consider doing three things right now to Take Action:

1. Sign the petition (http://tinyurl.com/nbneupo) asking for an immediate end to the wolf cull in Alberta (the Red Deer Advocate article http://tinyurl.com/pb6qht4 explains why this cull is so wrong, as does my blog entry from January titled '1000 Dead Wolves and Counting' (http://tinyurl.com/lkfbocv) -- here's the official petition if you haven't already signed it: http://tinyurl.com/nbneupo

2. Join Wolf Matters on Facebook and stay abreast of what's going on with wolf management in Alberta. They also have a website at www.wolfmatters.org This is a fledgling organization that I have become a part of, so please consider supporting them in any way you can.


3. Email the premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice, and the Minister of the Environment, Kyle Fawcett, and let them know you are against the wolf cull and strongly against the use of snaring and strychnine poisoning to kill wolves (again, read that article above if you want some grisly visions in your head before writing your email) -- they can be emailed at premier@gov.ab.ca (Prentice) and calgary.klein@assembly.ab.ca (Fawcett).
 
Please let me know what you think of all of this in the Comments below and please consider 'Sharing' this link on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to expand its reach. Thank you everyone for helping get the word out.

John

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Alberta's Coyote Killing Contests

WARNING: Extremely graphic images included below.

After my recent posts about British Columbia and Alberta basically having an open season on wolves these days, perhaps it comes as no surprise to anyone that Alberta is playing host to a number of legal coyote-killing contests this winter.

Kodiak Lake Hunting & Fishing's 10th Annual Furbuster Coyote Derby in Barrhead is this weekend

Alberta Beach, Grande Prairie, Leslieville, and Barrhead are all communities within Alberta taking part in these barbaric contests -- Grande Prairie just hosted the "3rd Annual Whack 'Em 'N Stack 'Em Coyote Derby" last weekend (if the name of this contest doesn't sum up the collective mentality of these contests and their participants, then I don't know what will!), while Barrhead is hosting their 10th Annual Furbuster Coyote Derby this coming weekend on February 7th, 2015.

The Grande Prairie coyote-killing contest ran last weekend

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was talking about gay and lesbian issues when he was recently quoted nationally and internationally as saying that he was fearful Albertans were going to be portrayed as "hillbillies," and one can't help but think that his words couldn't possibly be any more applicable than they are to these wildlife killing contests across the province, in which the sole aim of the contest is have a bunch of rednecks get together and gun down wildlife like coyotes and red foxes so that they can stack them up and take a bunch of pictures afterwards.

Last year's Furbusters 'harvest' -- http://www.kodiaklake.com/photos/coyote-derby-photos

To date the Alberta government has been decidedly silent on the topic despite a rash of negative publicity that Coyote Watch Canada was able to drum up surrounding the Alberta Beach coyote-killing contest near Edmonton three weeks ago ("Coyote Kill Contest in Alberta Provokes Environmentalists' Anger" and "Hunters, Conservationists Square Off Over Coyote Hunt").


"Hillbillies" indeed. Wolves, coyotes and foxes killed in the 2012 Furbusters Derby

So let's break this down and be very clear about what is going on in these contests: men, women, and children are going out onto public and private lands and are slaughtering our coyotes, foxes, and even wolves. They are doing this out of hatred for predators. And they are doing this because they love to kill. These contests have absolutely nothing to do with population control, livestock protection, pet protection, or game management, as many of these hunters would have you believe, and they most certainly have nothing to do with hunting to put food on the table. Which begs the question, why is the rest of the hunting community not coming down full-force on these unethical contests? Why are the same people who spend hours telling me how much hunters put into conservation and wildlife management not up-in-arms about these murdering contests? Much like last year's Wolf Kill Contest in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, the hunting community by-and-large has disappeared from the scene, with very few hunters stepping forward to express their concern that our province still allows these contests and that this kind of hunting behaviour is still legal in Alberta.

So that leaves it up to you and me to do the dirty work and get these contests halted immediately.

See below for what you can do to help bring an immediate end to wildlife killing contests in Alberta

Here's what you can do to help put an end to wildlife killing contests in Alberta:

Sign the online petition, we need to get to 10,000 signatures, so please share this far and wide in your social media networks: https://www.change.org/p/honourable-kyle-fawcett-ban-wildlife-killing-contests

Write an EMAIL to Premier Jim Prentice (addresses and sample email below):
CC Coyote Watch Canada, as well as the Minister of Culture & Tourism, the Honourable Maureen Kubinec, the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the Honourable Kyle Fawcett, the Wildlife Manager at Alberta Sustainable Resources & Development, Matt Besko, and Alberta Public Affairs Officer Duncan MacDonnell.

To: Premier@gov.ab.ca
Cc: coyotewatchcanada@gmail.com, barrhead.morinville.westlock@assembly.ab.ca,
duncan.macdonnell@gov.ab.ca, esrd.minister@gov.ab.ca, Matt.Besko@gov.ab.ca

I've included excerpts from an email Calgary wildlife photographer Colleen Gara sent to Minister Fawcett on January 10th in response to the Alberta Beach coyote-killing contest. Please feel free to use similar wording for your own emails to the Premier (and thank you to Colleen for providing permission to reprint portions of this email):

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Dear Minister Kyle Fawcett,

I am writing to express my concerns over the DKD Coyote Tournament that occurred today, January 10, 2015 in Alberta Beach, Alberta. I do not believe that this event should be allowed in our Province. I believe that all contests or other similar tournaments which offer prizes or other inducements for the taking of mammals (such as coyotes), and other animals, for an individual contest or tournament should NOT be allowed. This practice is archaic, unethical and not in line with modern day views on wildlife conservation.

The offering of cash prizes in a contest setting is distasteful and unethical. It has also been shown that random, indiscriminate killing of animals such as coyotes (and wolves) alters pack behaviours and does not lead to a reduction of problem animals (which is what the contest organizer states to be one of the main reasons for holding the contest). In fact, evidence has shown that populations increase as a result of indiscriminate killing.

I note that California's Fish and Game Commission passed a decision on this same issue this past December. The Commission found that "permitting inducements for the unlimited take of furbearers and non-game mammals was unsportsmanlike". As a consequence of this finding, they are amending their regulations to prohibit such contests. They believe that by limiting this practice, it promotes respect for California's environment and provides for "conservation, maintenance and utilization of the living resources of the state’s wildlife for the benefit of all of the citizens of the state." This is a very important statement: Such contests are directed at a minority of the population. I believe that a far greater number of people in our Province believe in conservation and wildlife sustainability and would support the banning of such contests offering inducements such as cash prizes. These contests are archaic and the goal is not proper conservation and wildlife management. The prizes, such as those offered at the DKD Tournament, are offered for random reasons: the greatest number of coyotes killed and also for the smallest, largest and mangiest coyote brought in (http://coyotecontest.com/contest/4th-annual-dkd-coyote-tournament). It's reprehensible! In the Commission's decision, it was stated that "the introduction of prizes changes hunting behaviour by inducing competition beyond that which would normally occur" and I agree with this statement.

In several articles I have read on this subject, the Government of Alberta consistently states that they do not condone these contests and don't support them. In an article by CTV in April 2010 (http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/41-coyote-carcasses-discovered-in-southern-alberta-1.505298) a number of coyote carcasses were found in Southern Alberta that were likely the result of a bounty being offered by the Government of Saskatchewan at the time. When questioned about this activity, the Alberta Government stated that "...although it's legal to kill coyotes for a cross-province bounty, the Alberta government doesn't support it." When questioned about this month's DKD Tournament, Duncan MacDonnell, a public affairs officer with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said the coyote shoot is legal as long as participants have a licence and obey hunting regulations. He was quoted as saying: “We don’t endorse or condone these hunts, but also realize they are not illegal...but I’d hate for people to think this is a government policy. We are not involved...From our perspective, every animal has a place, and coyotes are part of the natural ecological balance."

But I argue that the Government is involved. By remaining silent in the Province's hunting regulations and environmental policies, the Government is being complicit in this mass killing. You are essentially condoning these types of contests and the indiscriminate killing of wildlife. This practice continues to occur year after year

and I think that it's time that the Government of Alberta stand up against these practices and calls them what they are - unethical and contrary to conservation practices. Follow California's lead and be a leader in this country in this important area!

The Wildlife Act allows the Minister to establish regulations relating to licenses and permits and to hunting in the Province in general. The Minister may specify activities authorized by or under such licenses. Therefore an amendment banning such contests can be enacted by the Minister. I would suggest that our hunting regulations be amended to disallow the practice of allowing these types of contests, similar to what has been done in the State of California.

On a side note, I also note that the regulations allow for the pelts of these animals (shot on private land) to not be recovered. Therefore, under the current legislation, a contest such as the DKD Coyote Tournament could allow for the killing of an unlimited number of coyotes and their pelts could all be wasted. There is no requirement for them to donate the pelts. I realize that the organizer of the DKD Tournament says that they will be donating the pelts, but they don't have to and who will be confirming that this was in fact done? It's wasteful on so many levels.

I believe this practice should be banned in order to provide Alberta's citizens with the enjoyment of its natural resources. The Government should be respecting ethical hunting and proper conservation.

I would very much like to hear what the Government's views are in light of what I've outlined above.

Thank you,

Colleen Gara
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Thank you everyone for helping put an end to wildlife killing contests in Alberta.

John

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Friday, January 23, 2015

'Beautiful' BC to Gun Down 180 Wolves

Hired snipers. Deftly-skilled pilots. And dead wolves. Lots of dead wolves. 180 of them by the time the snow melts in British Columbia in two select areas, the South Peace and the South Selkirks. And the best part? You're paying for it.

That's right, every single one of us tree huggers, conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, tourists, businesspeople, government employees, and general citizens are paying for the British Columbia government to gun down wolves in these two regions in a misguided attempt to save five different small herds of woodland caribou that are on the brink of extirpation (one in the South Selkirks in the southeast part of the province and four in the South Peace in the north).

Will we allow BC to follow Alberta's lead and waste millions of taxpayer dollars killing wolves?

You would think British Columbia would have gotten on the phone with neighbouring Alberta (they are talking, right? "Hey Christy, it's Jim, so about those pipelines...") and asked how Alberta's own lengthy wolf cull has been going.

In case you missed it on yesterday's blog, Alberta has killed more than 1,000 wolves since 2005 using a variety of super humane methods (take your pick from strangling to death in a trapper's snare, getting poisoned with strychnine, or being gunned down from a demon machine chasing you through the snow from above) in efforts to save the Little Smoky caribou herd in the west central part of the province. How successful has it been? To date they've spent millions of dollars (I'm guessing at this, as I believe ten years of hired guns and helicopters isn't cheap), killed a thousand wolves, and seen the Little Smoky caribou herd's population increase by almost...pardon me, what?! They haven't increased at all in that whole time?!

The facts surrounding the Alberta wolf cull in the past decade are sobering. The Canadian Journal of Zoology reported in November 2014 that Alberta’s wolf cull failed to achieve any improvement in Boreal Woodland Caribou adult female survival, or any improvement in calf survival, and as such had no effect on population dynamics. In other words, they're wasting money killing wolves with no scientific basis for doing so.

The South Peace caribou face local extirpation without a tough new caribou recovery plan

And British Columbia is now following suit. They have already begun killing wolves in the South Selkirks, where 24 wolves are targeted this winter in an effort to save a remnant herd of just 18 caribou. Another 120-160 wolves will be shot in the South Peace region to bolster four small herds of declining caribou there.

But as I pointed out in yesterday's blog, scapegoating wolves for the decline in caribou numbers isn't based in scientific reality. Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) National Executive Director Eric Hebert-Daly told the Canadian Press that “despite scientific information about the negative impact of industrial activity on caribou and the importance of planning for conservation before approving new developments, on the ground it appears to be largely business as usual [in British Columbia].”

CPAWS went on to reiterate exactly what I wrote about yesterday in relation to Alberta's wolf cull and farcical caribou recovery 'plan':

"In many instances where ranges are already highly disturbed, the primary cause for caribou mortality is wolf predation. But it is important to note that the increased predation is the outcome of habitat fragmentation, degradation and roads. After an area is logged, new growth attracts other ungulates such as moose and deer, which attract more wolves that indiscriminately prey upon caribou. … In some instances, caribou populations will be extirpated if predation continues unabated. But the killing of wolves in the absence of meaningful habitat protection and restoration is not a viable solution, and may further disrupt the natural balance of functioning ecosystems."

Killing wolves to save caribou doesn't work. Just ask Alberta.

Until British Columbia puts together a true caribou recovery plan for the South Selkirk, the South Peace, and other critical woodland caribou habitat in British Columbia, then this entire exercise in killing wolves is a moot point and a waste of money and time, not to mention ridiculously unethical -- how humane is it to chase wolves from a helicopter? I don't care how skilled those rented shooters are, there is no chance they kill instantly with every shot.

So what do I mean by a true caribou recovery plan? A few signs restricting snowmobile access into core areas? No logging in the final few drainages that are still intact in the South Selkirks? Sure, that's a miniscule start that's already in place, but a real plan will have gnarly, sharp teeth that will bite into every piece of habitat degradation that has gone on over the past century in both regions: immediately halting most logging, mining, and oil and gas activity in current and former caribou range, deactivating roads and atv trails and shutting down all recreational access, and immediately starting the process of restoring the habitat to suit caribou recovery for the long-term. Until that happens, until there is a real plan in place that is armed like those heli gunners, then anything the British Columbia government says or does is just lip service pretending that they care about saving caribou.

If British Columbia is allowed to continue down this path of murdering wolves from the air with no scientific evidence to support the cull, they will end up killing hundreds of wolves, year after year, just like Alberta has. And like in Alberta, the killing will make no difference to caribou recovery efforts. The only way to make a true difference in caribou recovery is to make the hard decisions that protect and restore the habitat. Until that happens, with or without a wolf cull, we will see a continued erosion of the habitat, zero short-term progress in caribou recovery, and, eventually, the extirpation of caribou entirely from the South Selkirks, the South Peace, and the rest of British Columbia.

So what can YOU do to help?

This time it's even easier to get on board and help than it was with the Alberta campaign.

Want to donate to help in the fight? Visit Pacific Wild's indiegogo fundraising campaign and consider putting some money into this (there are some amazing gifts to be given away to donators). They just launched the fundraiser this morning and are already almost at $10,000.

Want to sign a petition? Join the more than 90,000 people worldwide that have signed this week at https://www.change.org/p/save-b-c-wolves

Want to write a letter or email to government?  Pacific Wild has written a draft letter that you can use or modify and set it up so you can send it directly to the British Columbia government at http://www.pacificwild.org/site/take_action/wolf-action.html (halfway down the page, watch for the blue link 'Write a Letter/Send an Email').

Thank you for all of the support everyone, please share this link far and wide and help us get the word out.

John

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

1,000 Dead Wolves and Counting...

There it is on the Travel Alberta website: "Welcome to Alberta, home of the largest wolf cull in Canada, where the tax dollars our government gleans from your tourist visits pays for our hired guns to blast wild wolves from the sky, all in the name of psuedo-science."

Oh, I'm sorry, apparently that's not exactly what the Alberta tourism website says. After closer examination, the "Welcome to Alberta" part is correct, but the real wording goes on to gush about how "Alberta is an exceptional vacation destination you won’t soon forget, filled with unique activities, urban charms and cultural jewels." I wonder if those "unique activites" include the killing of over 1,000 wolves in the Little Smoky caribou range since 2005? Trapping, hunting, poisoning (who the F**K still allows poisoning in the 21st century?!!! YAYYYY, Alberta does!!), and once again this winter, aerial gunning, all paid for by me, you, and every single tourist that has ever stepped foot into this gorgeous province.

It's like we're stuck in 1970, killing wolves with poison and aerial gunning

So why are they killing wolves as fast and furiously as they can in the Little Smoky? All in the name of 'science', in order to protect one of the most critically endangered boreal caribou herds in the country.

The Little Smoky, a 2500-square kilometer area just north of Hinton, Alberta, is home to between 60 and 80 boreal woodland caribou, comprising the southernmost herd of boreal caribou in the province. Like most of their counterparts across BC and Alberta, the Little Smoky herd has seen a precipitous decline in their numbers over the past few decades, due to a striking increase in industrial development including roads, seismic lines, pipelines, cut blocks, and well sites, which in turn has led to higher mortality from wolves.

So how are the two connected? How has the mass-scale industrial expansion in the Little Smoky range led to an increase in caribou killed by wolves in the area? The increase in predator access and predator efficiency in industrially-developed caribou range can be traced to two key factors: first, the roads and seismic lines and similar linear features needed for oil & gas exploration, well site construction, and logging, make it easier for wolves to get into caribou range and increase their ability to hunt effectively (it's a lot easier walking on a plowed road than it is trudging through a meter of snow). Second, the removal of old-growth forest in the Little Smoky has caused a change in the prey-base of the area; the new growth in the cut-blocks has resulted in an increase in prey species like deer, elk, and moose, which in turn has led to more wolves coming in to the area. Combine those two factors and you have wolves suddenly living close to caribou with plowed roads and right-of-ways making their access to the area easy. Two hundred years ago the caribou survived by simply being in areas where there weren't many wolves, but now in the Little Smoky and across much of the woodland caribou's range in Alberta and BC, industrial development has changed the game. And caribou are losing.

Woodland caribou in the Little Smoky are perilously close to disappearing altogether, with just 60-80 remaining

Just how heavily developed is the Little Smoky? The Federal Government's recent recovery strategy for boreal caribou noted that just 5% of intact habitat still remains in the Little Smoky range.

Back in 2001 and 2004, researchers sounded the alarm for the Little Smoky herd, calling it a "population in imminent danger of extirpation" due to industrial development with "high levels of human disturbance resulting from forestry and oil and gas activity." Not surprisingly, the Alberta government continued to give out development permits to both industries despite these initial warning calls.

In the winter of 2005-06, the Alberta government initiated its first aerial wolf control program in the Little Smoky, despite once again continuing to hand out development permits for new well sites, new cut blocks, new seismic lines, and new roads.

At this point in 2015, the Alberta government has now funded the death of over 1,000 wolves since 2005 in an attempt to save the Little Smoky caribou herd. What they have not done is limit the all-encompassing industrial development in the region. Instead, they have stuck a very expensive band-aid (how much do you think it costs to send hired guns into the air in helicopters and kill 100 wolves a year?!) on a gushing wound and expected us all to turn a blind eye to the blood pouring from the edges of the bandage.

Killing wolves in the Little Smoky is nothing more than a smokescreen for much larger industrial development issues

The real issue, as I think everyone knows at this point, is that the Alberta provincial government has been ignoring conservation groups, scientists, and even federal calls for a caribou recovery strategy (they are already a year late with no plan in sight) and continues to this day to allow new development in the Little Smoky. We're now at a point where we may be up to thirty years away from being able to effect a habitat change that would truly benefit caribou enough to see a population increase (provided of course we kill every single wolf in the region until then).

Worst of all in this issue is that the provincial government in Alberta is using wolves as their scapegoats for a human-caused problem, killing wolves and their families en-masse on my dime and on your dime, using taxpayer and tourist dollars.

The bottom line here is that not only is the current wolf cull in the Little Smoky unethical (poisoning and aerial gunning, really?!), but it's also unscientific. Researchers from Alberta's own University of Alberta agree:
 
"The underlying issue is one of habitat loss which affects caribou... Wolf-control programs...do not provide a long-term solution to counter caribou declines. Studies in Alaska, the Yukon, and northern British Colombia have shown that this method resulted in only short-term increases in ungulate populations because wolf populations increased shortly after culling was ceased (e.g. Boertje et al. 1996, NRC 1997, Bergerud and Elliot 1998, Hayes et al. 2003). The management strategies currently in place have the potential to increase caribou survival if applied continuously but they do not address the main issue of habitat loss, habit degradation, and habitat fragmentation."

The most up-to-date research is showing that the wolf cull "has barely managed" to keep the Little Smoky caribou herd stable, despite the deaths of a thousand wolves at an untold financial cost to taxpayers (though I would venture that it must be in the millions of dollars at this stage). CBC News reported that many of the province's top caribou scientists found that the wolf cull has allowed the Little Smoky herd to hang on, but that the habitat is indeed more than 30 years away from being restored and that restoration in many parts of the Little Smoky has not even begun. In fact, industry's footprint has continued to grow in the area, even in recent years, and industrial leases continue to be handed out throughout other endangered caribou ranges in Alberta.

Caribou aren't going to survive in Alberta without a sharp-toothed long-range recovery plan

Originally when I first entered this debate, I felt that until the provincial government comes up with a legitimate plan to save the boreal caribou herds like the Little Smoky, then we should be fighting this inhumane wolf cull tooth-and-nail. And I definitely still feel that way, however, there's a problem with focusing solely on shutting down the wolf cull.

If we fight vigourously to get the cull shut down, wolves and other factors will almost certainly very quickly wipe out the remainder of the Little Smoky herd. Oil and gas and forestry will have their way, the caribou will be gone, and industry will continue to run rough-shod over the Little Smoky and the remaining viable caribou ranges in the province. Are we willing to let that happen?

I can say one thing for certain, I'm not willing to sit around and do nothing while I watch the Alberta government continue to plunder away our money while murdering wolves as a stop-gap measure allowing the Little Smoky herd to 'exist' on the fringes of extirpation.

What I believe we need to call for is a comprehensive plan moving forward that not only immediately stops killing wolves in caribou recovery areas, but immediately enacts long-range plans for habitat mitigation measures that are tougher than anything industry has ever seen on this continent. The Premier of Alberta claims we need to be environmental leaders or risk being left behind, so let's show them how it's done, Mr. Prentice. No more logging in caribou habitat, no more roads, no more recreational access, no more oil and gas development. Deactivate and remove many existing roads, and well sites. Limit all recreational access, no atvs, no snowmobiles, no skiing.

Are we willing to take these seemingly drastic steps? If we are, then we can also begin a large-scale captive rearing program that will reintroduce caribou back in to the Little Smoky range 30 years from now when the habitat has been restored, and in the meantime we can all sleep well at night knowing that we didn't bear witness to the slaughter of thousands of wolves as a stop-gap measure that never did work. There is no point in killing wolves now to let these caribou in the Little Smoky survive when they have no future there right at this moment in time.

A long-range caribou recovery plan would stop scapegoating wolves and provide a win-win-win in the big picture

We may pay a price in the short-term financially, but if we enact a tough new plan that recovers that habitat, the environmental benefits will be through the roof. A long-term caribou recovery plan with sharp, biting teeth will ensure that other herds in Alberta that aren't yet facing the same dire circumstances as the Little Smoky herd can not only survive, but quickly thrive in their newly protected habitat; safe from human disturbance, and by default, safe from wolves (without the roads and logging, there simply won't be many wolves in these areas). As these caribou populations stabilize and eventually start to grow, we can put our caribou rearing program into place and slowly start to reintroduce caribou back in to the Little Smoky and any other restored areas that they had disappeared from.

It's a win-win-win...caribou win big and survive in the province. Wolves win and are no longer persecuted unfairly as a scapegoat in a fight they didn't start. And best of all, Alberta and the rest of the world wins BIG. If we can convince the government that this is the plan we need, then we will truly be the environmental leaders that our premier hopes we can be.

So what can you do to help?

Sign the petition:
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Jim_Prentice_Premier_of_Alberta_Immediately_halt_all_lethal_wolf_control_in_Alberta/

And better yet, write to or email the Premier of Alberta, call his office, or send him a message on Facebook or Twitter, and let him know that you want the wolf cull stopped and a long-range caribou recovery plan implemented immediately. Feel free to tell him that you'll stop visiting Alberta and spending your money here if you feel strongly enough and are from out-of-province. If you're from Alberta, tell him how it makes you feel knowing that your taxpayer money is killing wolves while stalling on delivering a real strategy for caribou recovery. Send him this blog link and see if he responds. And tell him that you truly hope he does turn Alberta into environmental leaders in the world with a decision moving forward that will reap benefits for all of us.

Premier Jim Prentice
307 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 427-2251
Email: calgary.foothills@assembly.ab.ca or Email Form
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Prentice.Jim
Twitter: @JimPrentice

Be sure to include the Minister of Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation and the Minister of Alberta Enviroment and Sustainable Resource Development on your correspondence if you email or write a letter to the Premier.

Honourable Maureen Kubinec
Minister of Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation
229 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 422-3559
barrhead.morinville.westlock@assembly.ab.ca
Twitter: @MKubinec

Honourable Kyle Fawcett
Minister of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
420 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 427-2391
calgary.klein@assembly.ab.ca
Twitter: @KyleMLA

Want to do something more simple than writing an email or letter? Then go put a few Comments down on the AESRD's government web page about the wolf slaughter/cull, where they actually try to justify using poisoned baits, snares, and hired gunners: https://aesrd.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/wolf-population-management-protecting-little-smoky-caribou/ 

And of course, the more Comments we get below, the more ammunition we have to present to the Government of Alberta, so please feel free to voice your opinions below.

Stay tuned tomorrow for an in-depth look at British Columbia's equally disheartening wolf culls that were recently announced by the BC Government, including some solid action you can take to help in that fight. If you want to get started early, go sign the petition started by Pacific Wild at https://www.change.org/p/save-b-c-wolves

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Canadian Geographic Cover - Wolf Photo

News and Notes for January 2015 - Happy  New Year everyone! I left on holidays on December 20th and got back into the office last week and it seemed like the world devolved more than just a little bit in the short time that I was away. I returned to Canada to news of a coyote killing contest in Alberta Beach near Edmonton, of an extended wolf cull in north-central Alberta, and of a newly proposed wolf cull in two separate regions of British Columbia. And as many of you already know, I don't usually sit around and let news like this waft past with me without first giving it the sniff test. If it smells like sh*t, then I'm usually on it trying to toss it out the door, so stay tuned this week for a number of blog posts regarding wolf culls and predator killing contests and what you can do to help.

In the meantime, I wanted to quickly catch you all up on a few tidbits from the past few months. For those of you in Canada, you can see my work on the cover and interior of the latest Canadian Geographic magazine on newsstands now throughout the country. The feature article is a timely piece about the state of wolves in Canada, titled "Beauty or Beast: Exploring our Love-Hate Relationship with the Wolf."

Cover photo of the January/February 2015 Annual Wildlife Issue of Canadian Geographic magazine

There's also an interesting blog entry on the Canadian Geo site that talks about how they chose the cover image out of the three images they had narrowed it down to (fortunately for me, all three choices were photos of mine for the second time in three years for the Annual Wildlife Issue).
Canadians can also catch my work on the cover of the November-December 2014 issue of Canadian Wildlife magazine, along with an article inside featuring my photos of Littlefoot, the grizzly bear that got a new lease on life courtesy of the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in British Columbia last spring. Canadian Wildlife's sister magazine for kids, WILD, also published an article featuring my photos of Littlefoot in their December-January 2015 issue.

Canadian Wildlife magazine featuring a photo of mine from one of my grizzly bear photo tours

In British Columbia and Alberta, those of you that fly with Hawkair, Central Mountain Air, or Northern Thunderbird can catch a full feature written and photographed by me in their excellent in-flight magazine Northern Routes. And since not all of you are in BC or Alberta, here's a pdf of the article, A Visit to Remember, about the contest winners of my fundraiser last spring for the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter.

A Visit to Remember, the winners of last year's fundraiser get to visit the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter!

And finally, for those of you in the United States, I've started working with Ranger Rick magazine again and you can find an image of mine on the back cover of the December/January 2015 issue.

Back Cover of the current issue of Ranger Rick magazine (sorry about the quality of the scan!)

Note that I recently had a cancellation on my Jasper Wildlife Photography Workshop from February 17th-22nd in Jasper, Alberta, Canada, opening up one spot. If you're interested in learning how to track and photograph wildlife with me and a small group of like-minded photographers, then please check it out and let me know if you're interested in attending. The cover shot of Canadian Geographic magazine above was taken on this workshop in 2014!

Want to photograph giant bighorn rams with me? Check out the opening on my February workshop.

Thanks everyone, good luck in the New Year and stay tuned for lots of wolf news in the coming days.

John

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

News and Notes & A Dramatic Bear Rescue

Fresh on the heels of a wonderful trip to the subarctic to photograph tundra colours, northern lights and the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd in Nunavut (my wife and I got back late last night), I'm at home for just two more days before my next fall trip, my Spirit Bear Photo Tour to the Great Bear Rainforest.

In the meantime, some news for those of you following along on the blog to get you up-to-date on summer happenings and what's in store for the rest of 2014 and 2015, along with the story of a dramatic bear rescue near Golden, BC on Thursday.

I did two test trips this summer to new locations in the hopes of starting up photo tours to them for Summer 2015.  The first was to Somerset Island in the arctic at 74 degrees north (!!), almost 800 kilometers above the arctic circle.  The trip was designed to coincide with the arrival of thousands of beluga whales in the inlet next to our lodge, but unfortunately the pack ice was a week late this year and we did not get to see even a single beluga.  Fortunately, though, the island was packed with all kinds of other interesting flora and fauna which we focused on in the 24 hours of daylight, including muskox, arctic hare, arctic fox (we had a den with 13 pups in it!), and snowy owls.

The vast landscapes of Somerset Island in the high arctic are home to hundreds of muskox

The trip was loved by everyone in my group and I've already begun arranging two dates for next summer (though slightly later in July and at the start of August to make sure we also catch the belugas). If this kind of trip interests you and you're fit and willing to raft, ride atvs, and hike 6-10 kilometers a day with your gear, then please go indicate your interest in next year's trips over on my tour website's contact form and I'll then keep you posted on 2015 trip itinerary, dates, and costs when they come available. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go with a small photo group to the high arctic and I wouldn't be going back if I didn't think it was worth the time and money!

Following the arctic trip, I whizzed off to Smithers, BC with the two winners of my fundraising contest for the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter. Noriko Hessmann and Katie Mooney from Edmonton, Alberta were the lucky winners, and they were treated to quite a show at the shelter. They got to bottle-feed a baby deer, play with two baby beavers, watch a feeding of six baby black bears (from a hidden location so the bears couldn't see them) and a grizzly bear cub, and take part in the wild release of a flock of ducks and four baby foxes.  It was quite the whirlwind weekend, and for those of you that fly with Central Mountain Air or Hawkair in British Columbia, you'll get to read all about it in the Northern Routes in-flight magazine this fall.

Noriko Hessmann feeding Brock, a baby deer being rehabilitated at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter

In early August I headed back to Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) for my fifth landscape photography workshop in the Purcell Mountains south of Golden, BC. Once again it was sold out and once again, we visited areas that had my mouth agape in wonder. It truly is one of the most spectacular wild areas in British Columbia and if you feel like being whisked around in a helicopter like a rock star so you can take photos from this ridge and that one, then stay tuned for details on next year's workshop in the coming weeks.

My 2014 photo group at CMH in front of some of the ugly scenery in the area

Shortly after I got back from CMH, I got a call from Angelika at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, BC asking me if I'd like to be involved in the release of a grizzly cub called Littlefoot back into the wild. Angelika and the International Fund for Animal Welfare needed someone to take photographs and video of the release for national and international media, so I hired my buddy Hendrik Boesch and we traveled deep into the wilderness north of Fernie, BC with two Conservation Officers and the NLWS crew to release this 145-pound yearling back into the wild. It was the highlight of my year to date, which says a lot considering that I've been to the arctic twice already! And as usual, I simply can't say enough good things about the shelter, which continues to be the only grizzly bear rehabilitation center on the planet. Littlefoot was the 13th grizzly bear cub they've released back into the wild since they started with grizzlies in 2007. If you've got a few dollars to spare, there isn't a better wildlife cause to give your money to -- you can donate here.

Taking part in Littlefoot's release back into the wild was a highlight of the year so far!

Here's a superb video that CTV News put together about Littlefoot's release using my video footage. And here's a great blog entry from IFAW staff about the release along with another video using my footage from the day.

Speaking of the NLWS and their fabulous work, check out the amazing day my friend and NLWS volunteer Wendy Chambers had on Thursday, September 4th when she was an integral part of a dramatic bear rescue near Golden, BC after a mother black bear was hit and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway. It's a gripping read and again, if you want to help out with raising these cubs for their release back into the wild next spring, then please go visit the NLWS website and donate.

After the excitement of Littlefoot's release, I did an abrupt 180 and found myself sitting poolside in Las Vegas with my wife sipping (ok, maybe chugging would be a better word) margaritas less than 24 hours after I'd been deep in the British Columbia wilderness.

This 5-day test of my liver for a friend's 40th birthday party did little to prepare my wife and I for another quick turnaround from Vegas to the vast and extremely remote tundra we found ourselves in at Ennadai Lake in Nunavut last week for another test photo tour with clients in search of the aurora borealis and migrating caribou. The trip also proved to be a huge success, so again, if this kind of arctic trip interests you and you're fit and willing to hike 2-4 kilometers a day with your gear (this trip doesn't have as much hiking as the Somerset trip, but it still does require a good level of fitness), then please go indicate your interest in next year's trips over on my tour website's contact form and I'll then keep you posted on the 2015 trip itinerary, dates, and costs once everything has been finalized.

A giant caribou bull checks us out on Day 5 of my early fall arctic adventure (last week) to Nunavut

The coming weeks promise to be just as frantic as this summer has been, as I'm off on Tuesday for spirit bears, followed by two weeks of grizzlies in the Chilcotin right after that. Then it's off to Winnipeg for two days to press check my third printing of my Banff & Lake Louise book, followed by a landscape photography workshop with my pals Dave Brosha and Paul Zizka in Lake Louise from October 16th-18th, then a wildlife photography workshop in Whitehorse from October 24th-26th. I'm exhausted just thinking about it, haha!

Thanks everyone for following along, please let me know if you have any topics you'd like to see me cover on my blog in the coming months.

And for those of you on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, please be sure to follow me on those social media platforms to get photo updates and news tidbits on a regular basis (I post to Facebook 2-3x a week, to Twitter 3-4x a day, and to Instagram 1-2x a day):

Facebook: John E. Marriott Photography
Twitter: @johnemarriott
Instagram: @johnemarriott

Cheers,

John

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

What really happened to Grizzly Bear 64?

She was big, she was beautiful, and she was one of Banff's most famous locals. Grizzly bear #64 was a fixture on the Banff landscape for the past decade, particularly on the west edge of the Town of Banff early in the spring, on the Sunshine Road later in the spring, and on the Bow Valley Parkway in the summer each year.

And then, last fall, she disappeared, leaving an unsolved mystery, and three two year-old cubs, behind.

Grizzly Bear 64 with her cubs in June 2011 in Banff National Park

Last week the Calgary Herald published an article, "Grizzly No. 64 leaves a legacy in Banff National Park," that failed to address what likely really happened to bear 64. The first paragraph states, "One of Banff National Park’s most researched grizzly bears hasn’t been spotted since last fall, leading wildlife specialists to suggest she either died of natural causes or was killed by another bear." It also conveniently avoids stating the obvious: that in a national park plagued by train and vehicle collisions that kill far more adult grizzlies than mother nature does, it's much more likely that beloved Grizzly Bear 64 was hit by a car or train and struggled off into the bush to die unseen.

So why wouldn't Parks Canada wildlife 'specialists' even mention that it's a possibility that she died from unnatural causes, particularly given that one grizzly has already died in Banff this year on the Icefields Parkway and another was hit by a train this spring?

64 with cubs in 2008 along the Bow Valley Parkway. Did she die of natural or unnatural causes? We'll never know.

The answer, unfortunately, lies in an underhanded new media policy for Parks Canada coming straight out of Ottawa, reported on recently by the Rocky Mountain Outlook: "New Parks policy limits information." The new policy basically does what it says, it limits information, meaning that we (the media or the public) no longer have instant or direct access to important wildlife mortality news. Everything will now be filtered through Ottawa, so the days of local Banff wildlife managers giving up-to-the-minute updates on bear and wolf mortalities are now long gone.

The wolf that got hit on the Trans Canada Highway near the Sunshine interchange this spring? Never reported because the media never got wind of it. Photographers with a vested interest in whether the wolf survived or not waited and waited for answers, but never got any from Parks. We got our answer when the pack showed up with one less member. The wolf never did appear again. Editor's Note: another wolf was reported hit on the TCH near the Sunshine exit on July 15th. There has been a known weakness in the Sunshine exit's wildlife crossing gate for over five years now, yet Parks has still not fixed it.

What about that grizzly bear that got hit by the train that I referenced above? The CBC article was from July 3rd, reporting on a grizzly that got hit on May 11th, almost two months prior to the article. That grizzly has never been mentioned since by Parks Canada in various grizzly news, particularly any reports referencing how many bears have been killed in the mountain parks this year.

Which brings us back full circle to the story of what really happened to Grizzly Bear 64. Do you we choose to believe Parks Canada and assume she was killed by another bear or died of natural causes? Or do we start looking at all news coming out of the Banff Parks office with a grain of salt and wondering if indeed something else could have happened. A real pessimist might even wonder if she got killed on the highway or by a train and the information has been withheld because of the shit storm that it would stir up in the media (Parks already got a taste of that back in 2008 when the most famous wild wolf in Canada was struck down on the Trans-Canada Highway). Why stir the pot when Parks is already fighting a rash of negative publicity centered around their recent decisions in favour of expanding development in our most cherished national parks (the Mount Norquay summer expansion, the Brewster skywalk, and the Maligne Lake hotel proposal)?

Is the truth about Grizzly Bear 64's disappearance sitting on a desk in Ottawa?

The truth is out there somewhere, but with Parks Canada's new policy limiting our access to information, we will likely never know what really happened to Grizzly Bear 64. Maybe she really did wander off and die alone and we can continue to hold on to our romantic notions that Banff's most beloved bear survived for 25 years in the shadow of the country's busiest national park resort town and passed away peacefully on a hillside.  Or, maybe, the truth is sitting on a Parks desk in Ottawa, never to be revealed.

At the very least, Parks Canada wildlife specialists should not be sugar-coating their statements to the media...it is far more likely that Grizzly Bear 64 died of unnatural causes in this national park than of natural causes.

To paraphrase fellow photographer Hendrik Boesch as this new age of information screening is upon us, we can expect to continue paying our annual fees to our publicly-funded national parks, just don't expect to actually know what's going on in them.

[Note: Grizzly Bear 64 has not been seen since last fall.  It is still possible that she's alive and avoiding humans, but it seems extremely unlikely given her territory and disposition.]

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