Great Bear Nature Tours
“We put a lot of effort into making sure we’re sustainable,” says Tom Rivest, operator and part owner of Great Bear Nature Tours, located in the Central Coast of B.C. “We minimize our footprint in every aspect of our operation.” The operation’s lodge draws power from solar, wind and small hydro as much as possible. Guides and clients tread as lightly as possible on the wilderness that is their primary resource and minimize the potential impact that their presence may have on the grizzly bear population. Great Bear Nature Tours also supports initiatives that strive for sustainable use of wilderness resources, so that future generations may enjoy them as well.
“We put a lot of effort into making sure the bears are comfortable,” Rivest says. “We do the same thing every day. We’re predictable. When the bear sees us coming he knows, ‘Okay this guys going to do this, this and this.’ All our guides act in the same way and so the bears don’t even look up when we arrive now. If we thought we were having a negative impact on the bears we wouldn’t be doing this.”
To make sure that all bear viewing operations reflect a similar philosophy, Rivest helped found the B.C. Bear Viewing Association in 2000 and is currently president. “The cumulative effect could be huge on the bears,” he says. “It’s important we all behave in similar fashions in each of our areas.” Together with eight other commercial bear viewing operators, many of them Wilderness Tourism Association members, industry best standards for bear viewing and guide criteria were developed, with two priorities in mind: To protect the bears and the industry’s image for safety and experience.
Guides must complete a training course and then work as an assistant for 90 days before they become certified. “There’s a lot to learn,” Rivest says. “You have to be able to recognize potential situations and deal with them quickly,” pass on all the biological information and deal with clients simultaneously.
However, a more pressing concern is ensuring that the bears are around in the long term. Unanimously, the Great Bear Nature Tour guests have opposed B.C.’s annual grizzly bear hunt. The guests, along with Rivest, donated and fundraised money to support the Raincoast Society’s buy out of Leonard Ellis’s commercial hunting tenure just outside the tenure of Great Bear Nature Tours. “We want to eliminate the bear hunt on the coast,” Rivest says. “We have issues with its ethics and its sustainability.”
Rivest also supports Raincoast's efforts to connect intact ecosystems along the coast of B.C. "There is a tremendous amount of wilderness and wild lands in BC,” he says. “However, grizzly bear's long term survival depends upon a relatively small percentage of that total – river estuaries and salmon river valley bottoms mostly – and bears need to have wild travel corridors between those areas. So even if great land areas are protected, if those fertile areas aren't included then bears are in trouble in the long term. Much of the coast is rocks and ice up high, neither of which bears eat.”
The recently signed Central Coast Land and Resource Management Plan is a great first step, Rivest says. “But there are big chunks not linked together. If we want sustainable wilderness that has to change.”
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