14 Dec 15 Minutes
So we have had our 15 minutes of fame.
One quiet middle-of-the-week night last month the story of how Kristin and I first came to Wild Bear Lodge (then Grizzly Bear Ranch), turned it into a struggling eco-business, and our on-going efforts to end the grizzly bear hunt in BC hit primetime on Channel 5’s New Lives in the Wild with Ben Fogle.
The programme had barely begun to air when emails came bouncing in in their dozens, our sleepy Twitter account twitched into life, and even our Facebook wall, a real plodder, became unusually animated.
For a couple of days Kristin and I abandoned all else to reply to the questions coming in.
Some were technical.
Several viewers queried how Kristin was expected to get safely back to the main lodge after accompanying Ben Fogle to his distant cabin “to protect him from the bears”.
One or two wondered how we managed to squeeze two tents and enough gear for three days of bush-whacking into a couple of tiny rucksacks.
A few questioned whether Ben Fogle really had to arrive at the ranch in a raft at the height of spring run-off when the river is at its most voluminous and treacherous.
All good and valid questions.
Others had been won over by the beautiful cinematography and scenery and asked whether it might be possible to come and stay. We were happy to welcome them and a few will be coming to the ranch next year.
Yet others wrote to say how disgusted they were that grizzly bear trophy hunting was still allowed in BC. I made sure, of course, that once the show was aired I got a copy off to BC’s politicians pronto.
Ironically that very day Christy Clark, BC’s premier and the most stalwart defender of the grizzly bear hunt, was in London receiving an accolade from the Queen for her efforts to help BC’s environment.
Be that as it may, the New Lives in the Wild episode seems to have finally spurred some progress in our efforts to close down the grizzly hunt.
It had taken nearly a year of lobbying, conniving and cajoling – and many more years of behind-the-scenes consensus-building – but just a few days later one of BC’s two leading political parties declared it would ban the trophy hunting of grizzly bears.
That is – if it wins power in elections next May. And with certain, not unimportant, caveats. But still.
The announcement was made by John Horgan, leader of the New Democrats, the NDP, in Vancouver, after some hard last-minute behind-the-scenes bargaining.
The NDP wanted to continue to allow the hunting of grizzly bears for meat, a sop to the hard-line hunters whose votes they were courting. I told them that they had to ban it entirely if they wanted the support of the province’s bear-viewing operators.
They dug their heals in but did agreed to consider technical restrictions that would make it harder for trophy hunters to masquerade as food hunters. In the end we agreed to compromise.
It’s a mucky business, politics, even in a country as clean as Canada. And our year of political wheeler-dealing has taught us a thing or two.
In theory ministers and legislative representatives are open to meeting the people they represent at any time. Just call the number listed on the government website, request a get-together and you are free to air your grievance or push your political point.
In reality without attending a fundraiser or two you might find your cause never makes it off the bottom of the pile.
In BC the going rate is $10,000 for a place at dinner with the ruling Liberals – the more conservative party in BC – and $2,500 with the NDP, the leftist opposition.
So we went to both. I donned one of my Dad’s old business suits – it was cut in the 1970s and I looked a bit like a cop out of The Sweeney.
Kristin ditched her jeans for something silky and elegant. We flew down to Vancouver, sipped cheap wine, elbowed our way into conversations, and schmoozed.
And shortly afterwards, miraculously, ministerial schedules began to open up and meetings began to materialise.
There was a visit to the ranch from one of our local parliamentarians with her family. Then one day Mr Horgan himself turned up with a photographer, videographer and media adviser.
We had to pay a local bush pilot to fly him in, but that was a bargain after the price of the dinners. We took the whole entourage rafting down our beautiful blue-green river.
The Liberals – in power and therefore, presumably, busier – haven’t made it to the ranch yet, although vague promises have been made.
But they did invite us for meetings in Victoria, the provincial capital. More air fares and expensive hotel nights. But if you want change things, you have to play the game, and you have to pay.
In tandem with all the politics, we have also been pushing hard to bring the issue to the attention of the public.
Fully 90 per cent of British Columbians say in polls they oppose the hunting of grizzly bears, but for many urbanites the issue is a long way from their everyday concerns.
As well as the Ben Fogle documentary, we have working with Lush, a Vancouver-based cosmetics company, who are also against the grizzly hunt. One result of their efforts is a documentary outlining the arguments for a ban. (You can see the documentary by clicking here.)
With all this activity on our side of the fence, the trophy hunters, who for so long have had the run of the province, have been getting a little hot under the collar. Their executive director called the NDP’s announcement “disgusting”.
The fight is far from over yet. We still only have one side of the political spectrum on side, and even the NDP’s policy could be more clear-cut.
But we have at last seen the first shift in the terms of the grizzly hunting debate in more than a decade.
So thank you all of you who donated – both through the $100 our guests who come in the autumn pay as part of their trip to the conservation fund, and especially to those of you who added a little on top.
This next year might just be be an exciting year for grizzly bears in BC. I can’t promise we’ll deliver a final victory, but we are making steady advances.
In the meantime, we would like to thank all our former and future guests and friends. And Ben Fogle. Without you we couldn’t have got this far.