Photo: Living with Bears tour comes to B.C.

(Painting by Robert Bateman)

By Faisal Moola, director general, Ontario and the North

"What if bears themselves could be free to live as they were meant to, enjoying nature's splendour and not fearful of gun-bearing humans?"

~ Renowned bear advocate and author Charlie Russell

Perhaps no wildlife species in North America is as emblematic of our poor relationship with nature as the grizzly bear.

Only a century ago, this iconic species ranged from the Arctic to as far south as Mexico, occupying a stunning diversity of ecosystems, from temperate rainforest to arid grassland.

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Today, the species has lost more than 53 per cent of its historical habitat on the continent. Healthy populations of grizzlies are now largely restricted to the B.C. coast and the great northern wilderness of Canada.

In addition to habitat loss, hundreds of bears are legally killed every year in B.C.'s controversial trophy hunt, which opens this week across much of the province despite overwhelming public opposition.

The continuous loss of grizzly bear habitat and ongoing deaths from hunting, poaching, animal control and collisions with vehicles and trains is indicative of decades of failed government policy to manage our relationship with grizzlies better. Some provinces, including B.C., have official strategies to conserve the species, but a lack of political will has kept these plans from being implemented. Instead, successive governments have relied upon a largely laissez-faire approach to management, which has done nothing to slow the decline and inevitable extinction of some populations in southern Canada.

Because of this, grizzly bear advocates like renowned expert and award-winning author Charlie Russell argue that we need to change our attitudes toward the bears, not just our government policies.

Charlie Russell has lived, studied, photographed and written about grizzlies, brown bears, black bears and kermode "spirit" bears in the wilds of the Russian Far East and across Western Canada for more than 50 years. During this time he has observed them in close quarters and has come to believe that our irrational fear of grizzlies is partly to blame for mismanagement of the species.

For example, some big-game groups justify grizzly trophy hunts by arguing that the bears can become dangerous and unpredictable if they lose their fear of humans. (This is known as "adverse conditioning".) Russell's research shows otherwise. He believes that if we treat bears with healthy respect and don't intentionally harm them, we can co-exist.

Russell's ideas are provocative and controversial but provide a much-needed perspective on how we can better live alongside the species.

If you're in the B.C. Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island, you can hear Charlie Russell speak about his life's work trying to better understand bears by attending the Living with Bears Tour on April 14, 19, 20 and 23 in Whistler, Qualicum Beach, Victoria and North Vancouver.

Through striking photography and heartwarming tales, Charlie Russell will discuss his unique journey of exploration, adventure and discovery into the heart of wild bear country.

Renowned artist Robert Bateman will accompany Russell on-stage (April 20th only) and I have the honour to MC the evenings on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Tickets can be obtained from

April 1, 2013

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