Ken Pugh shoots bears — with a camera.
The Chilliwack photographer, who is in favour of the province’s recent announcement to end grizzly bear trophy hunting by the end of November, thinks communities and businesses can still make a profit despite the projected drop in hunters and revenue that comes with them.
The B.C. government is ending grizzly bear trophy hunting effective Nov. 30. Pugh says the announcement was a long time coming.
“Grizzlies are a magnificent animal to observe and photograph. One grizzly can be admired by many, year after year. Shooting it with a gun hardly matches that experience,” he says.
Last year, Pugh took a group of nine photographers (including himself) up to Bella Coola for a five-day guided grizzly bear photo shoot. They’ll be returning again this year in mid-September.
The workshop, called Dances with Grizzlies, is through his business Ken Pugh Photography. Last year, the small group spent about $600 each in the tiny Central Coast community.
“This is just one group going up there and spending $5,000,” he says. “That’s accommodation, food, river guides, and gas. That’s what we put into the economy.”
He’s suggesting communities in bear country switch their focus from hunting to guided wildlife photo shoots and bear-viewing tours instead. With people heading to places like Bella Coola to take in the grizzlies for viewing or photographing, Pugh believes these bear communities can still make money, especially with the bear population expected to increase.
“When I take a group and we photograph grizzlies at Bella Coola, those grizzlies are still there the next year. In fact they’ve multiplied because they have been allowed to live to have young ones,” he says.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said it will take one or more hunting seasons to see how many fewer bears are killed once trophy hunters opt out of a system that allows them to take the meat but not the head, paws or hide of the bear.
The ministry estimates that 250 grizzlies are killed by hunters each year, with 80 of those shot by non-resident hunters participating in a lottery draw for grizzly hunting tags.
Revenue to the province from the grizzly bear hunt is estimated at $540,000 a year, with communities in hunting areas also benefiting from the spending of hunters, particularly from the out-of-province hunters.
Pugh says the money his group spends is “shared amongst the restaurants, hotels, guides, and stores… as opposed to paying a guide to take you out to shoot a bear [with a gun] and you’re paying one guide lodge. Ours is spread out amongst the economy more.”
When dining in the restaurants in Bella Coola, Pugh’s group chatted with the locals who were very happy to see them, informing them of the best places to find and photograph bears.
“It was the most friendliest place. The hospitality was just unreal from everyone. We didn’t have a single negative or grumpy person, it was all smiles and ‘how are you?’” he says.
But some businesses may need to make a few changes to accommodate photographers.
“[Bella Coola] hasn’t really discovered the potential of this yet, even though there are bear-watching and bear-viewing businesses in the area,” he says.
Photographers are already out shooting early in the morning and late in the evening due to the beautiful light.
“We go by the light and the activity of the day — 7 a.m. and in the evening is the hot time. Photographers, we want the morning light for the scenics,” he says.
None of the restaurants open before 7 a.m., and Pugh thinks if they open earlier, they’d get a lot more business and the hunters would soon be replaced with photographers.
Though currently there’s a lottery for out-of-province hunters to get a licence to shoot grizzlies, Pugh can see that coming into effect for those with cameras as photographing grizzlies becomes more popular. Photographers are more likely to head to an area where there are no hunters, he adds.
“I can see, some years down the road, that there will need to be a lottery to do what we do,” says Pugh.
~ with files from Tom Fletcher