Saturday, September 26, 2015

Gear Review: Sigma 24-35 f2 Art Lens

First, full disclosure: I'm sponsored by Sigma Canada. They give me free lenses (like my Sigma 120-300mm f2.8) and let me test out new lenses when they come out on the market.

Second, a disclaimer for the disclosure: I only review lenses I like. So if you see a review for a lens (or anything) on here, it means I like it...usually a lot.

So that brings me to my quick-and-dirty review of the Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 Art Lens, which I took for a test drive in southern Nunavut with me last week to test out on the northern lights, as well as into Kananaskis Country to test on some Rocky Mountain scenery.

As many of you already know, my reviews do not get overly technical. All I care about when I test a new lens is whether or not it's a) sharp, b) produces accurate colours and good bokeh, and c) performs well (good AF, easy-to-use, etc.).

And for a-c, the Sigma 24-35 is a stunning entry into the wide angle lens market for the price (it's $1199 Cdn). In fact, it's a stunning entry regardless of the price, as it produces equivalent sharpness to my Zeiss 21mm f2.8 at f2.8, which up until now was my sharpest wide angle lens. That the Sigma 24-35 is even in this ballpark for sharpness wide open is truly remarkable for a zoom lens.

Buller Pond in Kananaskis Country with the Sigma 24-35mm set at 32mm, f5.6 -- razor sharp from corner to corner

At f5.6-f8, where one would expect the Sigma to be at its sharpest, it's spectacularly sharp. But where it really shines in my opinion is in astrophotography at apertures from f2.0 to f2.8. I was really pleasantly surprised to see how sharp it was in the corners at f2.0 in the dark, and by the time I opened up the lens to f2.8, the lens was almost as sharp as it was at f8 in full daylight (click on the following photos to see them at a slightly larger size)!

5 sec exposure at 24mm, f2.0, ISO 2500 (see following two photos for 100% views at full resolution)

100% view of the center of the frame at full resolution, noise reduction and jpg sharpening applied

100% view of the top right corner of the frame at full resolution, noise reduction and jpg sharpening applied

Northern lights over Ennadai Lake, Nunavut -- Canon 5DIII, Sigma 24-35 at 24mm, 5 sec, f2.0, ISO 2500

Northern lights over Ennadai Lake, Nunavut -- Canon 5DIII, Sigma 24-35 at 24mm, 2.5 sec, f2.5, ISO 2500

My only issue with the lens for astrophotography is that, like many of its competitors, it doesn't include an easy way to dial in/set the focus to infinity. So I had to spend a bit of time figuring exactly where the sharpest infinity mark was on the lens during daylight hours, and then dial that in manually each night and do several back-of-camera checks to ensure I truly was on the infinity mark.

Buller Pond, Kananaskis Country -- Sigma 24-35 at 35mm, f8

For general daytime scenics, the lens is wonderfully sharp and produces excellent colours. While it's not as wide as some of the zoom entries from Nikon or Canon, it's considerably sharper than both the Nikon 14-24 f2.8 and the Canon 16-35 f4 (which I consider to be quite a bit sharper than the 16-35 f2.8) when wide open.

Spillway Lake and the Opal Range, Kananaskis Country -- Sigma 24-35 at 24mm, f8

The Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 Art Lens is small and compact; similar in size to the Canon 16-35 f4 lens. This was the first of the new Art Lens line that I've gotten my hands on, and I came away extremely impressed with both the build quality and the sharpness.

I would highly recommend this lens as a regular wide angle lens, and I would recommend it even more highly to anyone looking for an excellent wide angle astrophotography zoom lens.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

And the Winners Are...

Well, we did it! You did it!!

Not only did we raise the $13,000 I set out as our goal for the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter fundraiser for a new truck, but we actually raised a staggering $23,757.60 in the final five days!! As our totals climbed dramatically throughout the week, I was privy to some truly wonderful text messages and emails from the Shelter's founders, Peter and Angelika Langen:

3 hours into the fundraiser:
Angelika: "$2600 so far, I am speechless!!"

5 hours into the fundraiser, when we hit $3,000, meaning that Hauser Bears would automatically contribute an extra $15,000:
Angelika: "We did it!! We matched the challenge. Now we have $30,000+ towards a new truck, I am so excited if my leg didn't hurt so bad I'd be dancing! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

The first night, after we'd raised almost $5,000:
Angelika: "I am crying tears of joy, this is so exciting! Exciting may be a huge understatement!"

The second night, after another $2,000 in donations:
Angelika: "WOW, we are SO happy!!"

The third night, after yet another $2,000 in donations:
Angelika: "This is so amazing! We just can't believe it!"

On the final night:
Angelika: "We are over the goal! SO, SO awesome!! We did it!!"

So yes indeed, we ALL did it! The truck fundraiser as a whole, including the incredible matching contribution of $15,000 from the UK charity Hauser Bears, raised a whopping $54,254.14 (you can check out the entire breakdown here on the Shelter's website). This means that Angelika and Peter and their gang of incredible volunteers at the Shelter are going to have a new ride soon (they're currently in negotiations with a truck dealership in Prince George, British Columbia) and that the Shelter will continue to be able to save bears and other orphaned wildlife from across the province long into the future!

Your incredible support means that little guys like this will continue to receive help from the NLWS in the years to come!

Congratulations to everyone involved, especially to those of you that donated directly or were able to share the fundraiser contest on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

Here is a comprehensive list of all of the winners of the various prizes we had up for grabs in the fundraiser. If you see your name on this list, please contact me directly via email so that we can arrange your prize details.

Grand Prize Winner -- A Trip for Two for the Great Bear Chalet in Bella Coola, BC
(thank you once again to Jefferson Bray and the Great Bear Chalet for this incredible prize!)
Marcella Kyrein - Prince George, BC

A Day in the Field Photographing with John E. Marriott (to the highest donation):
Esther Snow - Cranbrook, BC

A Day's Private Visit at NLWS (a prize we added for the second highest donation):
Daniella Kohl - Miami, Florida

30"x45" Glossy Acrylic Print of 'All in the Family' by John E. Marriott
Gregory Heath - Calgary, AB

One Full Set of signed and personalized Coffee Table Books by John E. Marriott
Lorelei Stevenson - Cranbrook, BC

12"x18" Glossy Print of 'Grizz Family Bums' by Cai Priestley
Susan Macdonald - Livingston, West Lothian, UK

12"x18" Glossy Print of 'Startled Cub' by Cai Priestley
Jane Potter - Calgary, AB

12"x18" Stretched Canvas of 'Tuxedo Cubs' by Brandon T. Brown
Margaret Johnson - Maple Ridge, BC

12"x18" Stretched Canvas of 'Mister Mud' by Brandon T. Brown
Rosa Jongsma - High Level, AB

16"x24" Glossy Print of any of John E. Marriott's grizzly bear images -- your choice!
Dawn Minerick - Republic, Michigan

16"x24" Glossy Print of any of John E. Marriott's grizzly bear images -- your choice!
Loretta Stadler Franklin Lakes, NJ

24"x36" Glossy Print of any of John E. Marriott's grizzly bear images -- your choice!
Marlie Kelsey - Chemainus, BC

24"x36" Glossy Print of any of John E. Marriott's grizzly bear images -- your choice!
Heather Sapergia - Prince George, BC

Angelika at the NLWS also had this to add to the prize pile:
"We had many donations that did not meet the $50 mark, nevertheless your support is very important and much appreciated. To show our gratitude for all of these smaller donations that added up to a very large amount, we decided to have a special draw for a 16"x24" glossy print of any of John Marriott's grizzly bear images (your choice) out of all of the donations we received of less than $50!"

Special Draw Winner, 16"x24" Glossy Print by John E. Marriott
Tammy Vanderwijk - Grande Prairie, AB

Thank you once again, everyone, I don't think any of us could have imagined that the fundraiser would be so successful!

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Win Big Prizes and Get NLWS a New Truck!

How would a gorgeous, gigantic acrylic print of one of my grizzly bear photographs look hanging in your house or office? Or perhaps you'd rather win a trip for two to a grizzly bear viewing lodge in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada?

Raise your paw if you'd like to help rehab orphaned grizzly bear cubs AND win some amazing prizes!

That's right, everyone, it's FUNDRAISER time! And once again we're giving away a pile of prizes for donations to my beloved Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter (NLWS) in Smithers, British Columbia (the only grizzly bear rehabilitation facility on the planet -- they have successfully rehabbed and released 18 grizzly cubs to date, along with more than 350 black bears!), so that they can continue saving bears from around the province (and beyond, if officials in Alberta, Montana, and Wyoming start cooperating as public pressure mounts to save orphaned grizzly bear cubs).

This time around, the NLWS is in desperate need of a new truck for transporting bear cubs to and from their rescue locations. The old truck is on its final legs (actually, it's more like it's on life support at this point) and for the past month, the NLWS has been running an indiegogo campaign to raise $40,000 Canadian dollars for the purchase of a new truck capable of driving long distances and towing bear trailers. While the campaign has been successful to a degree (it has raised $12,050 to this point on August 17th), it remains far short of its ultimate goal.

However, it's not quite as bleak as it may seem, because rather than having to raise $28,000 more in the final week of the campaign, we only have to raise $13,000 ($10,000 less than what our original NLWS fundraiser raised back in April 2014!). The other $15,000 is going to come courtesy of the amazing British animal charity, Hauser Bears, which has agreed to match the first $15,000 in the campaign dollar-for-dollar, meaning if we can raise another $3,000 in the next five days, Hauser Bears will instantly chip in $15,000 Canadian towards the end goal of raising $40,000!

But we're not setting our sights on just raising that extra $3,000; rather, we're aiming for the full $40K, which means we need to raise $13,000 in five days.

And this is where we step in with a slew of prizes so amazing that it will make it even more worth your while to donate to this incredible cause.

How to Donate to Help Orphaned Grizzly Cubs

Here's how it's going to work for the donations (and note that because the NLWS is a non-profit charitable organization, ALL Canadian donators will be provided with a tax receipt for their donation):

[Note: All donations will be through Canada Helps rather than via the indiegogo campaign, as the NLWS has to pay 9% on all indiegogo donations and we'd much rather they keep that 9% for the new truck! You can donate to the General campaign for NLWS, or directly to the Going the Extra Mile for Wildlife campaign from the drop-down menu -- both will be used for the prize draws]

Donate $50 -- automatic entry to win any of prizes below (including any of the Grand Prizes) in a random draw administered by NLWS staff on Monday, August 24th.

Donate $50-$499 -- one entry for every $50 you donate  for the Grand Prizes listed below (for instance, donate $250 and get 5 entries into the draw for any of the Grand Prizes listed below), and one entry to win any of the other prizes below.

Donate $500 or more -- two entries for every $50 you donate for the Grand Prizes listed below (for instance, donate $750 and get 15 entries into the draw for any of the Grand Prizes listed below), and one entry to win any of the other prizes below.

Highest Donation -- win a Day in the Field with me, photographing grizzlies or wolves, or whatever you want to try to find, from dawn till dusk in the Canadian Rockies in 2016 (dates and locations to be arranged between myself and the highest donator). This prize will also be transferrable, if you choose.

So the bottom line is, if you want to win ANY of these amazing prizes, then donating a mere $50 gets you into the game for the Grand Prizes and gets you equal odds for any of the other prizes. And the more you donate, the better your chances are for the Grand Prizes or for the Day in the Field with me.

The Prizes

[Note: these prizes are available to all donators, including those outside the US and Canada]

Grand Prize #1 - a 2-night/3-day All-inclusive Bear Viewing Trip for Two to the Great Bear Chalet in Bella Coola, British Columbia in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. I've personally photographed grizzlies in the Bella Coola area five times in the past decade and have to say that this is one of the premier grizzly bear photography and viewing locations in the world. Thanks to the generosity of owner Jefferson Bray, this trip will include airport shuttle to and from the Bella Coola Airport (if required), transportation/fuel costs for all excursions, accommodation (private suite with 3-piece bath), gourmet meals prepared with local, fresh ingredients, and professionally guided bear tours (all Guides are accredited members of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of B.C.).
Value: $2400 Cdn.

The Grand Prize: an all-inclusive Trip for Two to the Great Bear Chalet in Bella Coola, British Columbia

Grand Prize #2 - a 30"x45" glossy acrylic print of 'All in the Family', one of my most popular grizzly bear prints. Ready to hang and shipped right to your door anywhere in Canada or the U.S. (and for those of you outside of Canada or the U.S., we'll figure out a way to get the print to you, too, though it may be a regular non-acrylic print to make shipping easier).
Value: $1095 Cdn.

Win a 30"x45" glossy acrylic print of All in the Family by John E. Marriott

Highest Donation: Day in the Field with me, photographing grizzlies or wolves, or whatever you want to try to find, from dawn till dusk in the Canadian Rockies in 2016 (dates and locations to be arranged between myself and the highest donator). This prize will also be transferrable, if you choose.

The Highest Donation wins a Day in the Field with me chasing grizzlies and wolves and whatever else we can find!

All Other Prizes:

One full set of signed and personalized John E. Marriott coffee table books, including Banff & Lake Louise: Images of Banff National Park, Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies: A Glimpse at Life on the Wild Side, and The Canadian Rockies: Banff, Jasper & Beyond. Value: $100 Cdn.

A full set of coffee table books by John E. Marriott

12"x18" glossy print of Grizz Family Bums by Banff/UK wildlife photographer Cai Priestley (visit Cai's website or follow him on Facebook or Instagram). Value: $150 Cdn.

12"x18" Glossy Print of Grizz Family Bums by Cai Priestley

12"x18" glossy print of Startled Cub by Banff/UK wildlife photographer Cai Priestley (visit Cai's website or follow him on Facebook or Instagram). Value: $150 Cdn.

12"x18" Glossy Print of Startled Cub by Cai Priestley

12"x18" stretched canvas of Tuxedo Cubs by Canmore wildlife photographer Brandon T. Brown (visit Brandon's website or follow him on Facebook or Instagram). Value: $200 Cdn.

12"x18" Stretched Canvas of Tuxedo Cubs by Brandon T. Brown

12"x18" stretched canvas of Mister Mud by Canmore wildlife photographer Brandon T. Brown (visit Brandon's website or follow him on Facebook or Instagram). Value: $200 Cdn.

12"x18" Stretched Canvas of Mister Mud by Brandon T. Brown

16"x24" glossy print of any of my grizzly bear images, your choice! Value: $225 Cdn.

16"x24" glossy print of any of my grizzly bear images, your choice! Value: $225 Cdn.

24"x36" glossy print of any of my grizzly bear images, your choice! Value: $450 Cdn.

24"x36" glossy print of any of my grizzly bear images, your choice! Value: $450 Cdn.

The Thinker by John E. Marriott -- 16"x24" and 24"x36" prints available to be won

Please consider donating today: the fundraiser ends at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, August 21st, 2015. All draws will be made by NLWS staff on Monday, August 24th, with winners announced on this blog at that time.

Thank you to everyone involved, particularly to those of who have donated items or money to this worthy cause. And a very special thank you to the wonderful and amazing staff at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter, we can't wait to see you riding around in your new truck soon (though we hope it's not because more cubs have to be rescued)!

[UPDATE on Day 3 -- we're now halfway through the fundraiser and we've raised just over half of our goal of $13,000. Please keep those donations coming in, we need another $6,500 in the final two and a half days!]

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Two Yellowstone Cubs in need of Help

The internet furor over Cecil the Lion and his killer, Walter Palmer, has subsided a bit this week, only to be replaced by a tragic wildlife situation south of the border in Yellowstone National Park. On Friday, August 7th (one week ago), 63 year-old Montana hiker, Lance Crosby, was attacked, killed, and partially consumed by a female grizzly bear known locally as Blaze.

Yesterday, after six days of deliberation, Yellowstone officials decided to "euthanize" (aka KILL) Blaze, and send her two young cubs off to a zoo in the eastern United States, essentially doubling down on the tragedy of Crosby's death by not only killing Blaze, but also sentencing her two cubs to a life behind bars.

As a result, a number of prominent nature photographers in Canada and the U.S. have begun an overnight online campaign calling for the cubs to be rehabilitated in the world's only grizzly bear rehabilitation facility, the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada -- the very same rehab facility that I have been working with closely since May 2013.

Following is an impassioned plea from wildlife photographer Simon Jackson (follow him on Facebook at Ghost Bear Photography), along with images provided courtesy of Sandy Sisti with Wild at Heart Images. A huge thank you to both of them for their actions in this fight.


Simon Jackson, Ghost Bear Photography:

This morning, it was announced that both of the grizzly cubs involved in last Friday's fatal attack in Yellowstone will be sent to the Toledo Zoo. Not a rehabilitation facility - not even a sanctuary for orphaned cubs - but a zoo.

In a tragedy that is continually being compounded by decisions that make this entire mess worse, it is confounding as to why Yellowstone refused to do their due diligence and at least explore rehabilitating and re-releasing these cubs-of-the-year into the wild.


Blaze with a young cub - Photography by Sandy Sisti, Wild at Heart Images

Yesterday morning, Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in BC offered to rehabilitate the cubs. Though there were hurdles to clear with moving the bears across the border, their track record of successfully releasing 18 grizzly cubs back into the wild spoke for itself. People of all walks of life offered to help and make the crossing possible, all it required was for Yellowstone to reach out to Angelika from Northern Lights.

Angelika waited all day for a phone call that never came.

Then Yellowstone announced the cubs would never return to the wild, but be placed in a zoo for life.

According to media reports, the cubs won't be on "display" for at least another month, but in the meantime will be gradually introduced to humans and feeding times. This means the window to reverse the decision is closing rapidly as soon these bears might be too habituated to rehabilitate.

It's unclear how involved the Toledo Zoo was in discussions with Yellowstone on the fate of these cubs, but it is critical they realize that they didn't save these cubs from death. Their only act - even if their hearts are in the right place (and I'm sure they are) - has been to deprive these animals of the right to full lives as wild bears. Not to mention, they are depriving a genetically isolated population of grizzly bears two reproducing females, critical to advancing the overall health of the ecosystem.

It must be said, that if the Toledo Zoo does not rescind their offer to take these cubs and encourage Yellowstone and the National Park Service to embrace the proven track record of rehabilitation, they are complicit in this disastrous series of poor decisions. Their reputation - which is already very poor after a sloth bear they had on loan died of dehydration while under Toledo's care - will be forever tarnished by preventing these grizzly cubs from living in the wild.

We urge you to contact the Toledo Zoo (Email: and Phone: 1-419-385-5721) and ask they change their minds. We ask that you contact Yellowstone and the Secretary of the Interior (as well as your representatives) and urge them to re-think this well intended, yet awful decision.

And, of course, this issue is really just starting. The elephants in the room are the questions that linger.

Why won't Yellowstone embrace the proven concept of rehabilitation, given their mandate to protect and enhance the grizzly population?

Simon Jackson asks, "Why won't Yellowstone embrace the proven concept of rehabilitation?" - Photo by Sandy Sisti

Why aren't new protocols for handling bear cubs involved in attacks being put in place?

Why haven't new rules been drawn up to make bear spray mandatory, potentially saving the lives of people and bears?

Why was Elephant Back trail re-opened immediately, even with new grizzly sightings being reported? Has no one learned anything from this tragedy?

Ultimately, we're not the best suited to lead this fight and are working to find the right voices who have the expertise to lead the campaign. But we will continue to do everything within our power to ask the questions, get the answers, and advocate for positive change to ensure this grizzly sow did not die in vain.

Thank you for your ongoing support. 

Simon Jackson


Blaze with her two young cubs in 2015 - Photograph by Sandy Sisti, Wild at Heart Images

For more information and the full story behind Blaze's death and how you can help contact officials involved in the decision-making on this, please read Simon's blog post, Outrage in Yellowstone, here:

Do: Sign the petition to rehabilitate the cubs:

Do: Call US Senator Danes office in Bozeman 1-406-587-3446 and ask him to help get these cubs relocated into a rehabilitation center.

Do: Contact the Toledo Zoo (Email: and Phone: 1-419-385-5721) and ask CEO and Executive Director Jeff Sailer and the Board of Directors to change their minds.

Read: Article from Animal Justice:

Read: Article from Psychology Today:

Photos: Sandy Sisti - Wild at Heart Images-Wildlife and Nature Photography

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Cecil and Brutus: The Legacy of Cecil the Lion

For any of you that have been living under a rock for the past few days, it may come as a surprise to learn that the internet's latest sensation is not a Beiber or a Kardashian, but rather a Palmer. It seems while most of us were going on living normal lives and perhaps even doing good for our planet, an American dentist named Walter Palmer was off doing idiotic things in Africa, bribing local guides with $55,000 Ben Franklins for the chance to bow-hunt a protected male lion named Cecil.

Screenshot from

As it turned out, Cecil was probably the last lion on earth that Mr. Palmer should have pointed his moral-less compass at, as Cecil was one of the world's most famous, most photographed, and most known lions.

The uproar has been fast and furious, as well it should be when an animal of Cecil's stature is murdered. Palmer now finds himself at the center of one of the internet's greatest shaming campaigns of all time. His business is in trouble, his life is in tatters, he's in hiding, and he's sorry. Oh my, is he ever sorry. Mind you, he's not sorry that he killed a lion in the most gruesome of ways, he's just sorry that he killed a famous lion. And he's particularly sorry that his grievous actions have brought more attention on him than any of his previous egocentric activities ever had in the past.

And Cecil? Well, Cecil is dead. Killed to be a trophy hanging off this f**king you-know-what's wall to go along with an assortment of other heads of animals he's murdered around the world.

There has long been an argument in the guide-outfitting community internationally that the hard-earned dollars these great white hunters spend on trophy hunts of lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinos helps the local villages to survive, providing them with food and jobs and money for development projects, while at the same time furnishing conservation initiatives. The truth behind these arguments is startling: just three percent of those trophy hunting revenues ever reach the communities located near the hunting grounds.

The real value, it turns out, is in having these great animals like Cecil alive and part of a thriving ecosystem, so that they can truly bring in revenue to a local community, dollars that arrive over the lifetime of the animal in the form of tourist dollars. So while there is no shower of $55K at a time, there are thousands of dollars that flow in each year, adding up to far more than $55K and leaving the animal alive and well to foster new families, leaving a legacy behind in the wild for our children..

Which brings me to Brutus the Bear. Brutus lived for almost thirty years in the protected Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in British Columbia, Canada. What would the outcry have been if someone had discovered Brutus' mangled corpse with a bullet-hole in it? With an arrow sticking out of his shoulder?

Brutus the Bear lived for almost thirty years in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in British Columbia

There are 40-50 grizzlies in the Khutzeymateen. Approximately 400 bear viewers a year pay an average of $750 a day (for an average stay of three days) to get the chance to view Brutus and his brethren up close in the protected estuary, while another 5,000 a year pay $200 a day to view grizzlies in the greater inlet, which is also protected. So while a guide-outfitter like Prince Rupert's own Milligan's Outfitting might charge $15-20,000 for the rights for a dentist like Palmer to come shoot one of our bears like Brutus, the bears of the Khutzeymateen bring in direct ecotourism revenues of $1.9 million dollars annually, most of which goes right back into Prince Rupert and the surrounding communities. Guide-outfitters in the area would need to kill 95 grizzlies a year (comically impossible in a population of 40-50) to keep up revenue-wise, essentially cleaning out the Khutzeymateen and all the neighbouring inlets within a few years.

Yet the Khutzeymateen remains Canada's sole grizzly bear sanctuary. Outside of Alberta (which has a grizzly hunting ban in effect), fewer than 10% of Canada's grizzly bears live in protected areas. And even of the ones that do, like Brutus, most of them stray outside the protected areas during their lifetimes because our protected areas simply aren't big enough.

For the rest of those grizzlies that do not have the luxury of living in a protected area, they're at the mercy of sociopaths like Walter Palmer who pay to come up and assassinate our bears. And we continue to let our own resident hunters go out and slaughter our grizzlies, too.

Let's be clear about this: this is not hunting for food, it is hunting to kill for the sake of killing. These so-called hunters do it so they can go home and brag about how they stalked and killed a great bear (using a high-powered rifle from 400 meters away) and display its head up on their wall like some great trophy. Do it with a bowie knife and maybe then you're some kind of great hero, though even that would still beg the question, "Why do you need to kill a grizzly bear?"

Some of you may scoff at all of this and think that what happened to Cecil surely couldn't happen here in Canada. We've got a great conservation officer service throughout the provinces that keeps a handle on poachers, right? Think again. British Columbia's top hunting guide in the Guide-Outfitter's Association for 2015 was just found guilty of hunting a grizzly using bait. That's illegal. That's poaching. That's the guy who just won the most prestigious award as the top guide in the province.

It's time for more grizzly bear sanctuaries like the Khutzeymateen

The hunting community is running out of excuses standing up for this senseless slaughter. The grizzly bear hunt does not have a leg to stand on scientifically, economically, or ethically. It is time for it to come to an end, just as it is time for all trophy hunting of all species to come to an end.

We are better than this. We are better than Walter Palmer. It's time we started voting this way in our elections and getting governments in that will listen to the majority of us that want an end to trophy hunting forever.

It's time for more Khutzeymateens and more support for ecotourism worldwide. It's time for Cecil the Lion to leave a legacy that we can no longer ignore.

Fired up and want to do something tangible to help put an end to the grizzly bear hunt in British Columbia once and for all? Then please Share this post across your network of friends on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and Twitter to help get the word out.  Donate to organizations fighting the hunt like Pacific Wild, Raincoast, or Bears Forever. Or Email our Canadian politicians: British Columbia Premier Christy Clark ( and Steve Thomson, the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations ( and send them this link along with your views on the trophy hunt. 

#CeciltheLion #bantrophyhunting

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

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 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 (Prentice) and (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.


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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' --

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:

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.


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):

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 ( 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 ( 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

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


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