Tourism grad helps end BC grizzly hunt

December 18, 2018
Photo by Josh Reimer, Tsylos Park Lodge

To Katherine MacRae, the hunting of grizzly bears never made sense.

“Why kill something for the sport of it?” she says. “When you are not eating it and it’s just a trophy on your wall or a rug on your floor?”

As a marketing director and manager at a resort on Clayoquot Sound near Tofino, MacRae never thought she would help end the hunt of the province’s largest bears.

But she had an essential role in convincing the government to close the grizzly hunt a year ago—and she says her decision to pursue her Master of Arts in Tourism Management at Royal Roads University was key to the outcome.

MacRae began her master’s program in 2015, and she says it “opened up her way of thinking.” She began to more fully appreciate the role of conversation in the tourism industry in a province where many tourists come to enjoy BC’s natural beauty.

“For my thesis, I started researching about the effect wild salmon have on tourism, because of course it is the keystone species on our coast,” she says.

Her internship at a tour operator brought her in another direction.

“My internship employer told me they were part of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association (CBVA) and were looking for an executive director, and they thought I would be perfect for the role,” she says.

The CBVA represents eco-tourism operators who take tourists to view bears in a manner safe for both the bears and humans. Its board had a mission for the new executive director: to lead the lobby to end the grizzly hunt.

“My learning curve on politics, government relations, grizzly bears, bear viewing, everything, was the steepest learning curve known to mankind,” she says with a laugh. “And I was doing my research for my thesis.”

Her thesis, “Grizzly Bear Viewing vs. the Trophy Hunt: The Critical Success Factors to End the Hunt” became the association’s game plan.

“The three things we learned we needed to focus on were educating the public and government, having a champion within government, and having public support,” MacRae says. “That’s exactly what we ended up gaining, and that was exactly what my thesis said. And it worked in the end.”

“Kathy’s experience with wilderness tourism and bear viewing gave her an enormous amount of passion on this topic, which shines throughout her thesis,” says Prof. Brian White, MacRae’s thesis supervisor and program head for the Master of Arts in Tourism Management program.

“That knowledge and enthusiasm was certainly recognized by government and no doubt influenced the decision to close the grizzly hunt.”

The grizzly bear sport hunt ended in BC Dec. 18, 2017.

Katherine MacRae

“It’s setting the stage for what Destination British Columbia markets to the world: British Columbia is bear country,” MacRae says.

MacRae graduated in June 2017. She says other lessons she learned from her master’s program help her daily.

“What it really did was cement the needs for collaborative learning, and I’ve taken that into my role as executive director of the CBVA,” she says. MacRae is working with colleagues in the Yukon, Wyoming and Montana regarding ending their grizzly hunts.

MacRae is also planning her own next steps.

“The PhD tickles the brain but I don’t think that will be for a few years yet,” she says. “Taking the bear viewing association nationwide is my five-year goal—I started two years ago, so I have three years left!”