Simon saw his first bear in the wild when he was seven. There was "a moment that captured my imagination and gave birth to my passion for bears". By the age of 13, his love for bears became a fight, a fight for one particular type of bear known as the Kermode bear, also called the spirit bear (Ursus americanus kermodei). It is a breathtakingly unique bear that lives only in Simon’s native British Columbia, Canada. Its white fur is what makes the bear appear to be so ghostly, hence the nickname 'spirit bear' or 'ghost bear'.
To protect this majestic animal from loss of habitat by loggers, Simon chose to create a coalition. He grouped his friends and classmates together and formed an association, which eventually spread globally through sending letters and uniting people that wanted an active group attempting to save the bear. Simon was truly astounded by the global response from "millions of young people – most of whom had never heard of this bear, nor will ever see it – [they] took the time to add their name to the fight".
On 1 February 2016, the government of British Columbia announced a new land use agreement for Canada's west coast, the final piece of the puzzle needed to save the white Kermode or spirit bear.
Simon says his age played a key part at the time in provoking interest from people. He noted that "when young people take a stand to create positive change in society, it becomes a good news story that opens doors, makes people listen, and often shines a brighter spotlight on the issue they’re trying to address".
However, this eventual success did not come without challenges. For one, "my parents were lukewarm on my pursuit; some teachers actively tried to stop my work on the campaign; I was bullied and battled depression".
But he didn’t give up. "I knew that success was possible and that the alternative – the loss of this bear from our world – was simply unacceptable." He combatted many obstacles throughout his course of action and thanks to his efforts there is currently no more threat to the spirit bear. A nature reserve known as the Great Bear Rainforest was created which bans logging, hunting and is managed accordingly.
Now, after Simon’s great success, he has been working on various other projects to share his love for wildlife. He is the co-founder of Ghost Bear Photography, which encourages people to get close to nature.
“I believe the camera can freeze moments that inspire a wired world to appreciate the interconnectedness of all life,” Simon notes. In our current world with news and facts spiralling around us all the time, he tries to take people back to where they came from through his art. He finds that photos have a power for "engaging the unengaged in the quest to protect the true wilderness". It is a different direction to make people more inclined to connect with nature because photos affect them in a different way.
His message to anyone willing to do as he has is to "celebrate the small successes". His inspiring outlook on pursuing your own passion is that "everyone has the capacity to act; an ignition is all that is needed".
Article by Arusha Fleming, a youth intern with IUCN’s Global Protected Areas Programme