The Fight to Save Big Momma

Her name is Big Momma, and she is a photo tour superstar. Each fall in the Chilcotin, when my clients and I arrive to photograph grizzly bears eating salmon, Big Momma gets some of the biggest gasps and stares — and for good reason, for she is gentle, she is beautiful, and she is big. Very big.

The gorgeous grizzly bear we call Big Momma — gentle, beautiful, and big.

In fact, Big Momma is so big that next spring, if the British Columbia government has its way, for the first time in her life, she will be at risk of being gunned down by legal bear hunters looking for the ultimate trophy as she emerges from hibernation and wanders her way down into the valley bottoms to graze on fresh vegetation.  After all, what self-respecting trophy hunter could resist the temptation to fire at a 700 lb. (320 kg) bear sporting a lush winter coat that would make a perfect rug? 

It is as ridiculous as it sounds: a gorgeous female grizzly that produces wonderfully well-behaved cubs every three years will be at risk of being shot next spring so that some loser with a giant truck and a tiny penis can brag about how he slayed a giant with his life hanging in the balance (in other words, he’ll lie — the truth is, he’ll shoot a big speck on a distant horizon with his high-powered rifle and then somehow claim that it makes him a better man).

Now I’m not here to argue that these grizzly hunters do need to strive to be better men; I suspect that that’s as clear as day to most you that have come to this blog to read about the fight to save Big Momma’s life.  What I am here to get very, very angry about is the proposal by the dimwits in charge of mis-managing British Columbia’s wildlife resources to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin this spring after it’s been closed for the past thirteen years.

[Steaming mad, yet?  Go ‘Register’ before December 20th (this Friday) at and leave your comments regarding why you are against this proposal to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin.  And keep reading if you want more ammunition to debate this proposal with….]

Want to know what happens in thirteen years without grizzly bear hunting and with a clamp-down on illegal grizzly killing by ranchers and poachers?  Strangely enough, wild grizzly bears start to show up on salmon streams and in distant fields, no longer afraid of being shot on sight. Bears like Big Momma start to show their faces in the day-time and shepherd their cubs along the banks of rivers and creeks where once they didn’t dare go in the past for fear of being hunted.

And soon enough, ecotourism operations begin to sprout up, with tourists from around the world showing up to spend their hard-earned money to see and photograph wild grizzly bears in their natural habitat. In fact, bear viewing in B.C. provides as clear a financial argument as one could desire when it comes to putting an immediate end to the proposal to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin (or to even have a hunt at all).  Last year, one grizzly bear viewing operation (Knight Inlet Lodge on the west coast) in B.C. brought in more money than all of the grizzly bear hunting outfitters in the entire province combined.  One versus all, and one crushed all.

Want a financial argument just for the West Chilcotin?  Last year, my photo tours there brought in over $45,000 in direct revenue to the lodge I work with.  That was half of the grizzly bear viewing business they did last fall.  And they are one of just five bear viewing operations in the West Chilcotin last year.  Extrapolate my figures and it’s not hard to see that bear viewing in the West Chilcotin is already worth up to $450,000 in direct revenue each and every year.  Couple that with the indirect revenue that gets spread throughout the Chilcotin, from the gas station at Anahim Lake to Safeway at Williams Lake to the charter planes flying out of Vancouver, and the direct and indirect financial impact of these five tiny bear viewing operations in the West Chilcotin is likely in excess of $1,000,000.

They are staggering numbers, particularly when compared to how much it would cost a resident of British Columbia to go hunt a grizzly bear in the West Chilcotin next spring: $32 gets you a hunting license, and another $80 gets you a grizzly bear tag (all grizzly bear hunting in BC is via Limited Entry Hunting).  So if you win the LEH lottery and get a tag, it costs you a whopping $112 in provincial licenses to go shoot Big Momma.  $112….

Big Momma in 2010 — grizzly bear viewing revenues dwarf grizzly bear hunting revenues in B.C.

[The same officials that have proposed the re-opening of the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin have also proposed re-opening the hunt in two different parts of the Southern Rockies in the Kootenay region, please go ‘Register’ before December 20th (this Friday) at and also leave your separate comments there regarding why you are against this proposal, too.  Keep reading if you want more facts to use in your arguments against both proposals.]

At this point, many of you may be wondering about the loud cries you often hear from the hunting community about how their licenses and fees go directly into conservation and into supporting wildlife management in British Columbia.  Their argument is that without hunting licenses and the money generated from them, we’d have no wildlife management and little conservation in the province.  So let’s break that down quickly, because surely that has some merit, right?

Nope, not really.  What it boils down to is this: the government chooses to take the money from hunting licenses and invest that back into wildlife management instead of into health care and road building.  They take the much larger amount of revenue generated from tourism and tourism components like bear viewing and pump that into the general coffers into things like health care and road building.  But if they wanted to, they could put it into wildlife management instead and the argument that the hunting community fosters the province’s wildlife conservation projects would be dead before it started.

That’s not to say that the hunting industry doesn’t play a role in conservation, because it often does. However, the larger truth is that wildlife management in British Columbia is geared almost entirely towards ‘management for hunting’, not towards actual conservation management.  And most hunting lobbies simply lobby to ensure they get more hunting opportunities.  Their lobbying often has little to do with conservation, as is clearly evidenced when one looks at the parks set aside in British Columbia: for the most part, the hunting industry had nothing to do with protecting any of the national park lands or the majority of the provincial park lands, and it definitely had nothing to do with preserving Canada’s only grizzly bear bear sanctuary, the Khutzeymateen (in fact, in some of these cases, the hunting community lobbied strongly against protecting these areas).

So back to the issue at hand, why on earth is the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations proposing to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin after thirteen years of no grizzly hunting?  It’s not a financial decision, so it must be a biological decision, right?  Maybe the bears are overpopulated, maybe they need thinning out?

Nope, not that either.  Though that’s what you’d be led to believe if you read the government website with the proposal on it:

These two management units are part of the Klinaklini-Homathko Grizzly Bear population Unit (GBPU); This GBPU is classified as viable. The LEH in these MU’s was closed in 2000 due to a combination of hunter kills and conflict bear kills along the northern and eastern fringe of the MUs where ranching and other human development is more widespread. As a result the mortality exceeded the Annual Allowable Harvest (AAH).  A new population estimate has been developed (184 grizzly bears) and the Annual Allowable Mortality has been set at approximately 4% or 7.4 bears per year. After removing 1% for unreported and problem bears there are approximately 5 bears per year for hunter allocation.

Anecdotal information from various stakeholders suggests that the grizzly bear population has increased which corresponds with the recently updated population estimates. . DFO personnel who work [in the area] have also observed substantial increases in bear sightings and encounters over [the] last 10-15 years.

So lemme get this straight…you’re telling me that after grizzly bear hunting stopped, the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) started seeing more bears on the rivers?  No SH*T!  Absolutely incredible information, truly ground-breaking stuff from the geniuses in charge of our wildlife management in B.C. [yes, that is sarcasm you can see dripping off of your screens].  And you’re telling me that your various stakeholders (read: ranchers, hunters, guide-outfitters, trappers) are telling you that they, too, are seeing more bears?  Wow! No personal stake in that one, is there?

I think we all stopped believing most ranchers crying wolf long ago (Vancouver Sun article, October 1, 2012) and I’m pretty sure that we’re not going to believe grizzly hunters, either.  So I decided to go straight to the source and ask Cedar Mueller, the grizzly bear researcher that knows more about the West Chilcotin grizzlies than anyone else on earth.  I wanted to know if the population estimate was accurate (nope), how it was determined (by manipulating her study data), and if she felt grizzly bears were stable enough in the region to hunt (putting aside the ethics of grizzly bear hunting for a second and speaking strictly from a biological standpoint, she unequivocally said NO).

Big Momma in 2012 without cubs — why should this gentle bear be exposed to hunting?

Mueller forwarded me her draft Final Report for her study, which referred repeatedly to just how critically important this small population was to an enormous area around it in terms of grizzly bear population stability.  She found that grizzly bears were coming from as far as 115 kilometers away to get to the salmon spawning streams and rivers in the West Chilcotin and that many of these bears were from sub-populations that are severely threatened — in fact, if you look at a map, the entire eastern edge of the area they are proposing to re-open to grizzly bear hunting is either considered to be a Threatened GBPU (grizzly bear population unit) or has had grizzly bears extirpated altogether.

Even if Mueller’s report concluded that there were 184 individuals in the West Chilcotin (which it doesn’t — it only attempts to determine populations in grizzly bear migration areas at certain times of the year, like the number of grizzlies using a particular stream or river during spawning season), the fact that this grizzly bear population unit is bordered by threatened and non-existent grizzly bear populations on its eastern side should be reason enough not to fool around with bear numbers via a  bear hunt.  So the fact that Mueller believes the catchment area for the fall grizzlies congregating to feed on salmon is actually in the neighbourhood of 41,000 square kilometers (FOUR times the size of Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks combined!) makes the number 184 look measly at best — consider that the Banff-Jasper contiguous national park area has between 200-250 wild grizzly bears in a quarter the space, yet that population is considered to be threatened.  So how is the B.C. government determining that this small population of bears in the West Chilcotin is now viable enough to have bears hunted from it?

The sad truth is that this is a political play from ranchers, hunters, trappers, and guide-outfitters putting pressure on the Ministry to re-open the hunt despite a lack of financial, ethical, or biological reasoning.  So what I need each of you to do is to make your voice heard on behalf of Big Momma and the rest of the West Chilcotin bears and Register and submit Comments at by this Friday, December 20th.

The government has purposefully made it as difficult as possible to voice your opposition to this, so please also contact the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, the Honourable Steve Thomson, at or on Twitter at @Steve4Kelowna or Facebook at and let him know your feelings on this issue.

Thank you to you all for your help with this.  With any luck, next spring will be just like the past thirteen springs for Big Momma and the rest of the West Chilcotin grizzly bears.

26 Comments on “The Fight to Save Big Momma

Carl Marshall
December 19, 2013 at 1:21 am

Tweet sent to Mr. Thomson. Hunting apex predators with low reproduction rates is bad management on its face. I cannot be rationalized.

December 19, 2013 at 5:28 am

I agree man with small penis and big gun! Certainly that is a fair fight! NOT! Extremely bad management! Fools ate creating and passing these foolish laws.

steven Rupp
December 19, 2013 at 10:31 pm

hmmm having flown the area for 30 years..and travelled extensively in the region there are as many bears if not more than 30 years ago…hmmm your arguments hold no water….giving names to bears is cute and heart warming however your "big momma " is safe as 90% plus harvested grizzlies are males..hmmm I also note your use of the word ethical…nothing unethical going on chum…this part of the management of these preditors….versus shoot shovel shutup used for problem bears that no longer have respect for ranches livestock and ranchers children..sound management decisions long overdue..and yes I did vote FOR the viable management implemention of a harvest.


Steven Rupp

December 19, 2013 at 10:31 pm

I get that not everyone enjoys hunting, but your immature choice of words does not add any credibiliy to you, I can assure you that.

December 20, 2013 at 12:06 am

Bears that don't respect ranchers, there livestock and children? If I choose to set up business in the worst part of town and get robbed, will the government open season on the perpetrators? Pat me on the back and cover my losses? Don't think so. Predators? If man had left things alone then nature would take care of herself. Man is the one that needs to respect nature, we continue to disregard how important nature is to our own survival as a species. Like everything this is all about money and politics, its certainly not about conservation.

December 20, 2013 at 1:50 am

Thank-you for opening my eyes to this issue. Many humans for some reason think that they are superior to other species, in spite of all evidence to the contrary; hence it is okay to mistreat them, and kill them. Read a newspaper or look at world history. We beat, rape, murder and destroy each other, and all other species, and the planet itself, on a daily basis. To see how low humans can sink, think of the Holocaust, as just one example. So why do we think we are superior? Could we survive, as bears do, without cars, grocery stores, homes, electricity, heat, hospitals? Are people's children more likely to be killed by a bear, or by a human predator? Anyone who suggests that bears should be killed to protect their children, or their business, should pick up a newspaper or perhaps look at some statistics. You are way more likely to be killed or lose money, due to human criminal activity. Do bears trophy hunt, or do they only hunt for food?? The answer to that tells you all you need to know about who is superior.

December 20, 2013 at 1:51 am

Well Steve I was hoping Grizzly studies would be a little more scientific than someone flying overhead and doing a quick head check. What evidence do you have to prove your statement "….there are as many bears if not more than 30 years ago" and are you talking Grizzlies? According to your information there was no need to start the ban on hunting Grizzly 13 years ago! Seems there are a few experts that thankfully disagreed. I have no problems with hunting and feeding your family. I think it is great that many put in the effort that goes into hunting….however I do know several hunters that will go after a bear just for the size! They will take what they want and honestly don't care if it is a male or female if it is a nice soft furry rug or trophy for them. Don't even try to contest the ranchers and families are at risk due to numbers….they are at risk due to archaic and antiquated methods of what you believe is "sound management of bears". Those problem bears that no longer have respect for ranchers livestock and ranchers children….please Boo Boo give me a break….we know why bears are causing problems. I would also like to say that Anthropomorphism has propagated the need for giving wildlife "cute" names to draw attention to one Grizzly in order to save more. This giant Mama bear is no more important to myself than all the other Grizzlies in Canada. There is a great deal more we need to accomplish to save and cherish not only the Grizzly but other wildlife at risk. I disagree strongly that sport hunting is a viable way to manage not only the Grizzly but other wildlife as well. We all need to adapt and change….not just the Grizzlies.

Janet Hudgins
December 20, 2013 at 1:51 am

I'm a little afraid you are exposing her to the dimwits, the cavemen that need to kill anything beautiful.

December 20, 2013 at 5:29 am

Using emotions and not science to swing over the uneducated is a great and famous way for the anti's to save something that does not need saving. In truth, the guy who wrote this is more worried about the $$$ that are brought in to his Eco-business than truely saving the bears. To name a wild creature shows that his emotions are what he thinks with. And, after a buch of years on the coast; Knights, Bella Coola, Doc Creek, Rivers and a few others, one thing I have learned is that habituated bears from all the "Eco Tours" are the first to get shot in camps, by legal hunters and by poachers as there is no fear of humans. So maybe we aught to ban the tours…….



December 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm

John, let me get this straight, youre on an anti hunting campaign; you think that hunting grizzly bears is wrong; hunting wolves are wrong and that capitalism is the way to solve all of it . . .

Okay, if even a portion of what you say is true, you should start a campaign to move canmore – formerly some of the most prime habitat in the rocky's, and the most critical migration coorador for a many, many kilometers up and down the eastern front, and yet you instead decide to help with the demise of the grizzly, and thew wolf, and the fish by not only building a home in what was formerly the best habitat, but also you build it in a river channel, which is really bad for fish . . . and now your getting bailed out by the government and still are doing nothing to address the real root of the problem and the single most important thing that determines the future of our wildlife, habitat loss and destruction. . . You're shooting blanks Marriott, you and your anti hunter buddies would do more good if you put your efforts into habitat . . . I'll bet you soup to nuts that if you threw a grizzly into calgary, or lethbridge you'd find out how much love grizzly's really have. The bears really want to be along those rivers, but they cant. . . the same people who say don't kill them, live where those bears want to live but cant because of people like you . . . pull your head out John . . . You guys are going to lose the best opportunity we have to make a real difference in the future of wildlife by picking on hunters and wasting your time provoking fights instead of doing the real work of conservationists . . .

December 20, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Steven Rupp, thanks for coming out, it's always good to see some comments from some of the halfwits on here. So really, you flying around a bit and so on counts as knowing that there's more bears, eh? Thanks for the scientific input. And you want ethics, how 'bout you tough guys go fight a grizzly with a knife…tell you what, I'll give each and every one of you grizzly hunters a tag and hand it to you personally if you have to go hand-to-hand with Big Momma with your knife. Now that would be a fair fight. PS – good luck! And final point, all of those ecotourism lodges sure seem to do fine withe the bears wandering about their properties, so why can't ranchers figure it out? Oh that's right, they're too damn lazy to even employ proper husbandry in their ranches these days…we watched a cow that had been lost for two years (how the F*** do you lose a cow for two years??!!) waddle through an area that should not have cattle in it, period. If the ranchers would do their damn job, there wouldn't be any issues.

December 20, 2013 at 7:32 pm

For the rest of you that want to add Comments, please do not hide behind your Anonymous arguments…either man up and login to make your comments, or I won't bother publishing them. I did put a few in there to give people a good idea of just how poor your arguments are in general…why is it that grizzly hunters can't spell or write? And judging from most of the comments, you also have trouble reading, because my scientific, ethical and financial arguments are all right there for you to READ. Plain as day, people, I'm afraid I'd much rather believe the grizzly bear researcher that studies these bears than some guy in an office in Victoria working for Fish and Game that's never even been to the Chilcotin.

georgia hunter
December 20, 2013 at 7:58 pm

To whom it may concern,
I would like to register my complaint/concern for the expected opening of grizzly bear hunting in the Chilcotin.
To be honest, it seems futile to register this concern to the government of Canada or B.C. because I don't think anyone is paying attention even though
this is suppose to be a country that governs by representing its people!
But because I believe WE MUST protect our wildlife then, once again, I will speak up.
DO NOT OPEN HUNTING in the CHILCOTIN or anywhere. It's not really hunting anyways, its only killing.

sadie parr
December 21, 2013 at 1:46 am

I enjoyed reading this blog and the perspective it gave. Thank you for speaking out for those who are not being given a voice in this and will ultimately pay with their lives. John's arguments are valid and have led to other countries banning trophy hunting completely, for ethical, ecological, and economic reasons. Keep up the important work John!

David A Buzzeo
December 21, 2013 at 6:33 am

With all due respect to all contributors, I am voting against the opening of grizzly bear hunting and the hunting of any other animals. For me, the term "Sport Hunting" is an oxymoron, where is the "Sport" in "Hunting" (Killing) a defenseless animal just for the trill of doing it.

December 21, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Disgusting, I cannot understand how we cannot leave this species alone. "Sport Hunting" is a despicable hobby, that does not benefit anyone. We need to stop these barbaric acts in other areas where hunting is still permitted unfortunately, and not open new areas. The bear is the star attraction of North American wilderness. My wife and I have already visited Canada and Alaska twice, our main attraction being bears. For sure, like the author is saying, ecotourism will gather pace and give returns without destroying the main attraction themselves. I appeal to the authorities not to be short sighted and open further hunting.

Danielle D'Ermo
December 23, 2013 at 5:25 am

Thank you so much John for advocating on this critical issue. Hunting is a sadistic activity that is hard to fathom. The hunters should put down their guns and pick up,a camera to enjoy the beauty of wildlife.

Corey Namura
December 23, 2013 at 5:26 am

Thank you for your blog. Hopefully we can mature and humans and learn to protect the animals. I might just go visit big mamma and snap a few pictures. Stay safe Big Mamma.

December 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm

People who build farms in areas that rightly belong to the bears and wolves and other wildlife have NO room to talk Period!!!! , if their cattle are getting killed by bears well guess what that's what they do naturally in the wilds and if the framer doesn't like it then sell the farm and get the hell out and leave the animals to do what they do naturally they are just trying to live they life they were born in to
just because we are the dominant species on this planet does not make it ok to go out and wipe out a good population of another species we share the planet with, this in Moronic thinking of uneducated minds, it's time we started learning how to share this planet and look after it properly with out always killing something we don't full understand or killing it because someone thinks it's head looks good above his fire place and can tell a big fabricated lie about how he heroically brought down the beast
it's time to leave behind the caveman mentality and strive to become better people and make a better future for those yet to come, if we keep killing precious species there will be none left for our kids and their kids to enjoy watching,when we are all old and grey and your grand kids ask , why are there no more of these beautiful animals any more, what will the answer be?
we can all do better than this, lets do the right thing for the future of not only the children of the future but also for a fragile ecosystem, that supports us all, just loosing one species throws off natures delicate balance and this can not be refuted , lets make a better future where our wildlife can live in peace with out he threat of man always destroying what he does not understand
Steve Woods

Tony Bynum
December 28, 2013 at 2:29 am

John, great photos! You wouldn't be just a tad biased now would you? ;-).

Thofik Nugroho
January 13, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Thank you so much John for advocating on this critical issue

James Billett
January 22, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Such beautiful animals. Would love to see these. Not much chance in the UK sadly.

February 4, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Amazing photos. How amazing to photograph these animals.

Susan Juby
February 5, 2014 at 1:06 am

I was incredibly disheartened to learned that the hunt has been reopened. I've written to Steve Thomson and encouraged everyone I know to do the same. Thanks for making people aware of this issue.

Fred O'Donnell
February 25, 2014 at 5:18 am

Fantastic blog, John! And the photographs are outstanding. I hope you win your fight.

January 12, 2015 at 1:58 am

Hi John, The Gov't of Alberta is proposing to slaughter more wolves in the Little Smokey area of northern Alberta as a desperate means of complying with the Feds who want action by 2017. I'm sure you've been following the story for years as the provincial gov't has killed 1000 wolves in this area over the past 10 years but hasn't increased the caribou population at all, meanwhile it's been selling land leases to oil and gas companies like there's no tomorrow, which has really been the cause of the caribou decline. I've been asked to forward this link on from ESRD to anyone who cares to read it and readers are encouraged to leave a comment at the end voicing their concerns. If you or any of your readers would agree to participate we are hoping that with enough comments opposing this proposal, it will be halted. Thank you for your assistance with this matter.


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