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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Friday, June 20, 2014

One Year Later: The 3:21 a.m. Story

3:21 a.m., Thursday, June 20th, 2013

"John! Jenn! It's Cassia...from downstairs...we're being evacuated."

It was one year ago today, in the middle of the night, that my wife and I got that fateful knock on our bedroom door from our downstairs tenant.

"What do you mean we're being evacuated?" I exclaimed. "For what?"

"The creek...behind the house...can't you hear it?"

And for the first time, my wife and I turned off our bedroom fan and opened our bedroom window to listen. I will never accurately be able to describe just what we heard that night, other than to say it sort of sounded like a jet plane was rushing through our backyard.  We rushed downstairs and out onto our deck and in the dim light of early, early dawn, we realized that our tiny little baby of a creek, Cougar Creek, a whopping 2 centimeters deep at the best of times (and without water at all for 360 days of the year), was an engorged torrent almost 40 meters wide raging against the outer edges of our property.

The moment was surreal. One year later, I can still vividly recall everything about that night, from our dazed and confused periods of simply standing there staring at the creek as it raced towards our house eating away at the bank minute-by-minute, to our frenzied gathering of everything we thought we needed to save, shoving our pets and computers and hard drives and family pictures into our vehicles until they were stuffed like sausages.

In the meantime, our sleepy little mountain town slowly began to awaken and the streets came alive with a throng of activity as our neighbours struggled like us to comprehend the situation and to get organized...we really had no idea what we were even organizing (case in point, when we finally were ready to leave our house, a person that I did not know that had just been in our living room helping us grab art off the walls asked if we had our marriage license and passports and documents like that -- the thought of grabbing such vital paperwork had never even occurred to us in the flurry of anxious gathering and moving).

Our vehicles were packed by 4:30 a.m., but because our 'flooding' situation was so different than what the rest of Alberta experienced (rather than overland flooding, we were watching the banks of our yard cave in against the rushing water), we continued to remove items from our house and transport them to a neighbour's house across the street until 7 a.m.

7:36 am in our backyard, June 20th, 2013

Shortly before 8 a.m., while standing on the street in front of our house in the pouring rain, I finally got in touch with my insurance agency and was stunned to discover that neither our house insurance or my business insurance covered any potential damage from the flood (Canada remains the only G8 nation that does not offer flood insurance). Within moments, I had frantically posted a message on twitter and facebook asking anyone and everyone in the area to come and please help me remove the $300,000 in product inventory (my books and greeting cards) that I had stored in our double-car garage.


What happened next still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.  An entire neighbourhood galvanized behind my messages and within minutes trucks and vans and friends I hadn't seen in years and people I had never even met before started arriving in front of our house, all intent on transferring 422 boxes of books and 54 boxes of greeting cards to safe havens around our town far from the creek. It was something I will never forget and will forever be grateful for.

By 8:30 a.m., we were officially evacuated.  The creek was now at our property lines, just 9.5 meters from our houses. The banks had already eroded an astonishing 35 meters and the creek was now taking down full-grown trees at the back of our yard.

At 10 a.m. I got permission from an RCMP officer to go back into our backyard to quickly document on video what our yard looked like.

10 a.m, in our backyard

9:52 a.m, June 20th, 2013

For the next two days, we sat on pins and needles in our neighbour's house across the street.  The three of us, my wife, myself and our neighbour Wade Graham (thanks Wade!), had decided early on the 20th that we were not going to evacuate our neighbourhood and not go to the evacuation centre: we informed the RCMP that we were not leaving and explained that we felt we were safer to stay out of the lower elevation downtown core where the centre was in favour of the higher ground of our neighbourhood.

We sat drinking and eating, laughing and crying, watching the rain pound down around us, and listening to that damn torrent roaring across the street. We were at times despondent (at 1 p.m. on June 20th, a firefighter came from the back of our house and said, "I'm really sorry, the water is halfway up your basement door") and at times jubilant (an hour later, the same firefighter told us the water had changed course and wasn't even against our house anymore).

I remember doing scores of interviews with outlets like CTV and CBC and with Canadian news icons such as Ian Hanomansing and Peter Mansbridge, and I recall not even calling CNN back at the height of the drama so I could console my wife when we thought our house was going to be lost (at one point the creek raged right below our house undercutting our foundation).


Looking back now, I honestly can't even remember the final moments, the realization that it was finally over after several days of anguish. I guess the rain slowly dissipated and the creek began to subside, but I can't really remember much of that time.

In the end, our house stood strong, as did many of our neighbours' houses. We all lost our backyards and we all suffered varying degrees of damage to our house.  We lived in a hotel for two months while our foundation got repaired, but we know just how lucky we were.  Our house is still standing, and for the first time in my life, I truly now know the phrase, "Home is where the heart is."

Some of our friends were not so fortunate.  Houses on our creek have been torn down, while others still sit in a state of disrepair a year later.


The night of June 20th, 2013 will not soon be forgotten in this household or in this town. But one year later, we have a lot to be thankful for.


As much as the past year has been a nightmare for our personal lives and for my business, it has also allowed us to the see the best that humanity has to offer in times of need.  It began with those selfless people that showed up in our driveway at 8 a.m. last year and continued through the following days as RCMP from across the province helped local firefighters help us get through the crisis at hand. The National Army showed up on our doorstep to chip in, and within a day the Red Cross had mobilized and was setting up aid stations.

While I fought like a demon with the Town of Canmore during the event itself (I actually got told to stop phoning the Emergency Help Line at one point -- long story best told over a case of beer), a year later I find myself calling John, Andy, Sally, Lisa, Aleric, Felix, and Greg friends of mine. To say they did a fantastic job of managing the situation over the past year would be to understate the work that these amazing people have done in the aftermath of the flood.

Solara Resort stepped up big-time and offered us a hotel room to stay in for two months with our dog and cat at just $1350/month in the middle of summer when the room would have normally cost $295/night. The Rotary Club of Canmore distributed three aid payments to households like ours that were affected by the flood, all based on the generous donations that people like you gave them over the past year.  And the Province of Alberta paid for our foundation repairs in their entirety.

To me, one of the things I will never forget is how this community stood behind us and helped us when we were down.  The support from our friends, family, and neighbours like Wade, and from people that I barely knew via my Facebook page or my Twitter account was truly heart-warming and honestly kept my wife and I going through thick and thin in the past twelve months. Thank you.

In recent months, I've often been asked by media questioning me if there are any silver linings in this for us residents of Cougar Creek.  And perhaps that's what I'm most thankful for of all, because of course there are silver linings that bring a smile to my face whenever I think of them.

Those f%#@ing trees that were blocking our view are now gone.

That bigger deck we've always craved is soon to be a reality.

We now know our neighbours. We always knew Gerald and Debbie and Dan and Christie, but now we also know Peter and Colleen and Gus and Marion and Alaina, along with hundreds more.

And finally, perhaps most importantly of all (tongue sorta firmly implanted in cheek),  the legendary Marriott fire pit, host of many a late-night gathering over the past five years, will once again soon be surrounded by merriness and laughter with family and friends, just the way it should be.

It's finally one year later, and while we will never forget, we're so very happy to be moving forward.

Thank you everyone,

John

Monday, May 12, 2014

And the Winners are...

I am extremely excited to announce that my two-part fundraiser for the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, British Columbia raised an amazing $22,888 for the shelter, which is well beyond any of our expectations.  The shelter owners Peter and Angelika Langen were overjoyed with the number of donations and the success of the campaign and would like to personally pass along their thanks to each and every one of you that donated or promoted the contest through your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  In total, over 7 days in June 2013 and 10 days in May 2014, 163 of you donated money towards the care and rehabilitation of little guys like Norman (pictured below on Friday, May 9th when I visited the shelter on the final day of the fundraiser) so that they can be released back into the wild in their home ranges (Norman will be released back into the Penticton area in Spring 2015).

Norman photographed in his enclosure at the Shelter on May 9th, 2014

I was overwhelmed with the generosity of all of you and honestly had no idea we could have such a positive impact on the shelter.  Not only will this provide much-needed funding for projects such as the completion of their volunteer staff quarters and the new grizzly bear enclosure, but most importantly it gave Angelika and Peter and their staff the money they needed to purchase milk for all of the babies they'll be taking in over the coming months (milk is one of the Shelter's most costly day-to-day expenses).

So as a huge 'thank you' to all of you, it's time to announce the various winners of the fundraising contest!  The Shelter staff did a draw on Sunday morning to determine each of the winners, and they are as follows:


Day in the Field Photographing with Me (which automatically went to the highest donation):

- Corrine Tocher of Shawnigan Lake, BC

The Trip to the Shelter (drawn out of all donations of $100 or more -- and sponsored by Hawkair and Chez Josette Bed and Breakfast):

- Noriko Hessman of Edmonton, AB

20"x30" Photo Prints (drawn out of all donations of $25 or more):

- Candice Hueppelsheuesr of Blackfalds, AB

- Dietlinde Wall of Calgary, AB

- Shirley Anderson of Pentiction, BC

And I also added two additional 20"x30" prints to be drawn from all donations of $200 or more (because of the number of large donations the fundraiser received, I felt it was only fair to add a few more prizes for some of the biggest donators).  The winners of these two additional prints are:

- Kyle Breckenridge of Calgary, AB

- Jonathan Huyer of Canmore, AB

Congratulations to all of the winners, I'll be in touch with each of you to arrange your prize when I return from my Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Photo Tour after May 19th/20th.  And thank you once again to Hawkair and Chez Josette B&B for their generous donations towards the Trip to the Shelter for our winner, Noriko Hessman!  I would highly recommend either business to any of you traveling to the Smithers region (for Chez Josette) or flying from Calgary or Vancouver to Smithers, Terrace, or Prince Rupert (I use Hawkair each year for my Spirit Bear Photography trips).

Thank you again everyone, wish me luck on my grizzly bear trip!!

Sincerely,

John

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Win Bear Prints and a Trip for Two!

Do any of you feel like hanging one of my beautiful 20" x 30" bear photographs on your wall? How about spending a full day in the field with me photographing bears, wolves, and whatever else we can find here in the Canadian Rockies? Or perhaps you'd rather enjoy an exclusive weekend being whizzed up from Vancouver or Calgary on a flight with Hawkair to help feed and care for all of the baby wildlife at the Northern Lights Wildlife Society's (NLWS) shelter in Smithers, British Columbia?

Would this look good hanging on your wall in a 20" x 30" print? Then keep on reading for a chance to win it!

If any of those three things sound like they're up your alley, then read on for all the details on how you can win these prizes in the next ten days as part of the second half of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society fundraiser I began in June 2013 to help raise money for the world's only grizzly bear cub rehabilitation facility and one of Canada's best orphaned wildlife rehabilitation shelters.

As I just mentioned, we started this fundraiser last June and fully intended to wrap it up by June 30th, 2013. However, Mother Nature had other plans: at 3:21 a.m. in the early hours of June 19th -- a week into the contest/fundraiser -- my wife and I got a knock at our door from the Canmore fire department and were asked to evacuate our house immediately. For the next two days, we watched in horror as the tiny, meter-wide creek behind our house turned into a raging torrent that tore out the Trans-Canada Highway and caused over fifty million dollars in damage to our town (you can watch my videos of the event as it unfolded here and here and here on my youtube channel).

Now that things have finally settled down on the flood front and the first bears of the year are starting to appear after a winter's worth of sleep, I thought now was as good a time as any to revive the final ten days of the fundraiser and start doling out some pretty cool prizes to those of you that choose to donate to the shelter to help them add to their amazing legacy as the world's premier rehabilitation facility for orphaned black and grizzly bear cubs (and baby foxes, beavers, otters, raccoons, mountain goats, deer, moose, and a host of other big and small creatures!).

I was extremely fortunate last May to get a chance to visit the shelter firsthand (the shelter is closed to the public) 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 300 bears back into the wild in British Columbia (check out the video I took of the shelter last year).  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 Society has rehabbed and released more than 300 bears back into the wild since 1990!

When I was there last year, I got to spend an incredible four hours touring the facilities and seeing their 2012 bears (32 black bears and 3 grizzlies) just weeks before their 2013 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 needed as of June 2013, with notes for this year accompanying the list:

- 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 [Angelika says this remains one of the shelter's biggest needs in 2014]

- funding to help with bear releases and captures.  This is one of the shelter's largest ongoing costs, as they have to ship the current group of black bear cubs back to their home ranges across British Columbia and collect new cubs as they are called in [the shelter currently has 10 black bear cubs that will need to be released back to the wild in Spring 2014]

- 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 [this is now under construction in 2014, though additional funding is still required]

- 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

- 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 [this continues to be a cost that the shelter needs help with in 2014]


The Prizes
And here is how we're going to raise money for the Shelter (this is where you win the prizes!):

1. Donate $25 or more for a chance to win prints

The fundraiser is set up to be as simple as possible.  Between now and midnight on the night of Friday, May 9th, if you donate $25 or more to the Shelter (donate here and make sure you select the 'John Marriott Fundraiser' from the drop-down menu), 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 and I'll ship it anywhere in the world!

How would this one look on your wall at 20" x 30"?

2. Donate $100 or more for a chance to win a weekend trip to the Shelter this summer!

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 2014.  Between now and midnight on the night of Friday, May 9th, if you donate $100 or more to the Shelter (donate here and make sure you select the 'John Marriott Fundraiser' from the drop-down menu) you will automatically be eligible to win a full weekend at the wildlife 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).  Thanks to the generosity of the flight specialists over at Central Mountain Air and Hawkair, we'll fly you over to Smithers, British Columbia from Vancouver or Calgary, and then thanks to Chez Josette B&B in Smithers, we'll put you (and your partner if you're willing to share a bed) up for two nights so you can spend your weekend helping the baby animals (Angelika says she's hoping the lucky winner will get to feed baby moose and deer with bottles!). This is an incredibly unique opportunity; 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 this is a fantastic prize for one lucky donor, a once-in-a-lifetime trip! Note that this is fully transferable, so if you win it and want to gift it to someone else, you can!

A huge thank you to Central Mountain Air and Hawkair in BC/Alberta for donating flights!

3.  Donate for a chance to win a full day in the field photographing with me!

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 midnight on the night of May 9th, 2014 (make sure you select the 'John Marriott Fundraiser' from the drop-down menu).  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 transferable as a gift to someone else.

 
The highest donation during the fundraiser will win a full day in the field with me chasing wolves and bears


I really hope many of you will consider donating by midnight on the night of May 9th.  The Northern Lights Wildlife Society is a charitable organization in Canada, so as an added bonus, Canadians will receive a tax receipt for any donations you make.  But perhaps the best part of your donation for each of you 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 Society's larger projects.

Thank you very much to all of you that already donated in June 2013 in the first half of this fundraiser (you are of course eligible for all of these great prizes depending on how much you donated).  We've already raised a substantial amount of money and I'm excited to see if we can beat our totals from last year in the next ten days.

Sincerely,

John

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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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