Until recently, grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest ran at the first sight of humans.
Since new protections for B.C.’s northwest coastal land came into place in 2006, ecotourists have replaced many hunters and the effect on bears’ behaviour is noticeable, says Maureen Gordon of Maple Leaf Adventures, headquartered in Victoria.
Bears often ignore gawking tourists, and female bears may be using their onlookers’ presence to their advantage.
“Some male bears do try to kill cubs but the big males are very security conscious … so if humans are watching a sow with her cubs, they’ll tend to stay away from her,” explains Gordon. “The mothers have figured this out, we think, so they’ll happily keep their cubs around us, and they’ll even go further away from their cubs fishing than they would if we weren’t there.”
The bears’ growing comfort leads to great viewing opportunities and has spin-off benefits for the rainforest, she argues.
Tourists gain an appreciation for the wildlife, she says. “You really do feel like you’re a guest in the kingdom of the bears.”
It’s also spurring a growing ecotourism industry.
Two locally owned tour operators in Victoria lead excursions into the Great Bear Rainforest.
“The Great Bear is one of those places that is just being discovered and the number of people interested is growing every year,” Gordon says.
It’s part of the reason Maple Leaf Adventures co-founded the Commercial Bear Viewing Association to help shape a responsible industry.
Ecotourism provides an alternative economy to logging, says Valerie Lager of Forest Ethics, a non-profit dedicated to protecting wild areas.
The Great Bear Rainforest is the size of Ireland, and has room for ecotourism operators to grow and work with First Nations whose territories they share, she said. But, she warns, “too much of anything isn’t good.”
Lager has engaged First Nations to craft best-practices for all operators.
“One of those aspects is what we call carrying-capactiy,” she said. “At what point are there too many boats … or too many people hiking?”
Maureen Gordon speaks about her adventures in the Great Bear Rainforest, tonight (March 11) at 7:30 p.m. at Camosun College’s Young Auditorium, Room 216.