Two exclusive British Columbia resorts have been quietly offering grizzly hunters free stays but only if they agree to put down their guns.
The campaign, called "'Bullets for Binos," the short form for binoculars, was started by the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort on B.C.'s Central Coast in 2015.
Hunters who hand in a grizzly "tag" or hunting permit, and who sign an agreement to never hunt grizzlies again receive an $11,000 three-night grizzly viewing package for two in exchange.
"Our owner-operators, Fraser and Becky Murray, work closely with conservation foundations around the Broughton Archipelago and they saw a lot of amazing work being done to try and stop the trophy hunt," said Nimmo Bay guest co-ordinator Brianna Sloan.
"Nimmo Bay is uniquely positioned in grizzly bear territory and in hunting territory and they thought, 'What can we do?' That's how they came up with Bullets for Binos."
'What can we do?'
Grizzly tags are won through a twice-a-year limited entry hunt lottery. If selected, a B.C. resident pays $80 for a grizzly tag, while non-B.C. residents are charged $1,030 each. First Nations hunters do not require tags.
Sloan says two hunters exchanged their tags for grizzly viewing packages last year. Another five grizzly tags have been handed in, and those trips are in the process of being scheduled.
Tweedsmuir Park Lodge near Bella Coola joined the Bullets for Binos program last year. So far, one hunter has exchanged a grizzly tag for a trip.
Message of conservation
"We didn't hesitate to jump on board," said Tweedsmuir director of sales Tim Wilkinson, noting the lodge is in the Great Bear Rainforest. "We've always been opposed to the trophy hunt — our message is one of conservation."
Like Nimmo Bay, wildlife viewing is one of Tweedsmuir's main attractions.
"Not to get political, [the program] is just saying to someone who kills bears that there is a better way. It's promoting bear viewing instead of hunting," said Livingston.
Neither Nimmo Bay Resort nor Tweedsmuir Lodge advertise the Bullets for Binos program, nor do they mention it on their websites.
"We're focusing on word of mouth on this," said Sloan. "I'm not really in touch with all the politics, I just know it's not something we're shouting to the heavens. We're happy if exposure comes our way but we're not out looking for it."
Grizzly hunt off brand
Sloan said they've received nothing but support for the program, especially from European visitors.
"The optics of grizzly bear hunting aren't good. It's just not in line with British Columbia's general tourism image and brand," she said.
Wilkinson says Bullets for Binos is just good business.
"You can look at the statistics and the facts: bear viewing just brings in so much more money to B.C.," he said.
"It's a renewable resource. It just makes so much sense."
With files from Lito Howse