Bear Viewing Eco-Tourism

As the largest intact tract of coastal temperate rainforest left in the world, the Great Bear Rainforest has attracted a lot of attention over the past few decades. Many of Canada’s iconic wildlife species call this 400 kilometer-long stretch of coastline, home. As such, coastal British Columbia has become an international wildlife-viewing destination. Increasing in popularity since the 1990s, wildlife-based tourism has become one of the main reasons why visitors choose to vacation in British Columbia.

Between May and October each year, upwards of ten thousand people visit the Great Bear Rainforest in search of the animals that the title suggests, bears; coastal brown bears (grizzly bears), black bears and Kermode or “spirit” bears, to be specific. The commercial bear-viewing industry was born in response to this global attention and the growing demand for the ability to view these bears in their natural habitat.

The Commercial Bear Viewing Association of B.C.

In the 1990s, bear viewing became an organized tourism activity that had promise of being both sustainable and financially-beneficial to the province of British Columbia (if care was taken to grow and culture the industry). As with all natural resource use (including wildlife viewing), guidelines were needed in order to prevent exploitation and potential harm to the bears that were now in the spotlight. The Commercial Bear Viewing Association of B.C. (CBVA) was created to:

“promote sustainable bear viewing in British Columbia and aid in the protection of wild bears and their ecosystems.”

The CBVA, which now has over 14 member companies, developed a set of Best Management Practices and a Code of Conduct to reduce and manage potential negative impacts on bears being viewed in the GBF. A guide certification program was also created, focusing on the biology and ecology of bears and, most importantly, safety in bear country.

Promoting Sustainability and Conservation

The commercial bear viewing industry has grown rapidly and continues to do so, with over 53 companies currently operating in the GBF. Total annual ‘bear-related’ visitor expenditures in British Columbia had reportedly grown to $15.1 million by 2012; echoed by global interest, the industry has continued to expand. Now visitors can choose between many methods of bear viewing: waiting quietly in strategically placed platforms or blinds, floating down rivers and through estuaries in boats and kayaks, covering larger areas of the coast on sail or motor-powered vessels, or hiking through forests and along salmon-bearing rivers. With tour and vacation options tailored to suit different budgets, ranging from shoestring to luxury, almost any BC adventurer can enjoy a sighting of a bear at the right time and place.

Commercial bear viewing contributes to the social, economic and ecological health of British Columbia through the development of a industry based on sustainable, non-consumptive resource use. As a result, bears and other wildlife now have an increased monetary value in a financially-driven world. The industry continues to draw attention to the necessity for species and habitat protection and provides funding, access and opportunities for scientific research. The work of the commercial bear viewing industry promotes conservation and respect for wildlife by demonstrating that humans and wild animals can coexist, and that coexistence can be mutually beneficial.