Sustainable Tourism In the Great Bear Rainforest

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

John Czornobaj

Spirit Bear Lodge is located in Klemtu BC, a remote community that has been home to the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people since the glaciers of the last ice age started to retreat about 15,000 years ago. The Kitasoo/Xai’xais people have always been stewards of this land we now call The Great Bear Rainforest, they learned long ago that if you take care of the biosphere it will take care of you. The story of how the spirit bear came to encourage respect for the environment, and a warning to remember how easily the scales can be tipped out of balance.

In the beginning, the world was frozen and life was hard. Then Raven the creator came and told the people that he will turn the world green, making it rich and full of life. Raven told the people he would turn one in ten black bears white to remind them of a time when life was hard and the world was covered with ice. This is how the spirit bear got its white coat.

Today the Kitasoo/Xai’xais are still the stewards of their land and waters and maintain a deep connection with nature. Spirit Bear Lodge shares the responsibility to care for the environment and respect nature. We are constantly striving to lessen our impacts on the environment and wildlife, making a conscious effort to be as ethically responsible as possible. It is also important to note that without Spirit Bear Lodge and its economic contribution the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people would not have been able to protect over 50% of their traditional territory and would likely need to look to resource extraction for economic survival. This means by visiting the lodge you are contributing to conservation in the GBR.

Ethical tourism put simply is tourism that benefits the communities and environment of the destination you are visiting. The following are some examples of why Spirit Bear Lodge is considered a highly ethical tourism operator, thus being beneficial for the local community, local economy, environment, and visitors. It is important to continuously evaluate and reduce our negative impacts and increase our positive impacts as a business.

Spirit Bear Lodge is a community owned business, which means some of the profits will be reinvested into the business and the rest is put into a fund for local social and economic development projects. These days most resorts and lodges in BC and around the world have been bought up by massive conglomerates or the super-rich, meaning they provide little local economic benefits other than a few largely seasonal jobs. Spirit Bear Lodge employs 90% local staff and continues to build capacity and provide training while striving to be 100% locally operated.

Spirit Bear Lodge is a hub for many things in the small village of Klemtu, with about 400 residents. We support local programs like Spirit Bear Research Foundation, The Coastal Guardian Watchmen, various school programs, the Súa Cultural Education Foundation, the Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards program, Kitasoo Stewardship Authority, and other conservation organizations that do work within The Great Bear Rainforest. We also help community members with anything we can from transportation, access to resources, and various other things. In a small village isolated in the GBR we all look out for each other.

We are constantly striving to lessen our impacts on the environment and wildlife, making a conscious effort to be as ethically responsible as possible.

Spirit Bear Lodge has acted on reducing environmental impact and increasing environmental protection within Kitasoo/Xai’xais traditional territory. We have stopped using single use plastics, started composting and recycling, reduced the amount of fossil fuels consumed, buy local and organic whenever possible, use sustainable low impact cleaning products and toiletries, and we are powered by a small hydroelectric power-plant that does not impact fish habitat. We also donate trips to different organizations to raise money for various conservation campaigns, and provide learning opportunities to other tourism companies that want to become more ethical and sustainable. What we are doing now is great but we have big plans for the future, such as electric boats, purchasing carbon credits to offset guest flights, buying recycled, and providing more support to conservation campaigns and cultural revitalization. Starting in 2020 we have implemented a conservation fee in our package price, 100% of which will go to fund local conservation efforts and cultural revitalization.

When we are in the field we follow leave no trace principles and take an unapologetic conservative approach to wildlife viewing. We aim to have little or no impact on wildlife behavior or the wilderness landscapes we have the privilege of spending time in. We do not pursue wildlife, if you ask to get closer the answer is likely no. Our guides take great care to read wildlife behavior and cause as little disturbance as possible. We allow the wildlife to decide how close they want to get to us and don’t force our own agenda of up-close interactions on wildlife that do not wish to permit such an experience. In the wildlife viewing industry it is all too common to have guides and operators push to close to wildlife to satisfy their guests. We make it very clear wildlife is a big part of what we do and the GBR rarely disappoints, but SBL is much more than just charismatic mega-fauna. We want to educate our guests about wildlife, conservation, and ecosystems as a whole. We also make the effort to share the ancient culture of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people and try to show guests everything The Great Bear Rainforest has to offer, from the moss to massive humpback whales we want to show our guests the interconnected and exceedingly complex ecosystem of the coastal temperate rainforest.

So, the next time you start planning a vacation, think about the ethics of your holiday. What kind of an impact does it have locally and globally, and if you want truly transformative experience consider coming visit us at Spirit Bear Lodge.