I'm standing in the middle of the Stewart Cassiar Highway in northern British Columbia, a route that thousands of tourists each spring, summer and fall travel on their way to the Yukon and Alaska," says Canmore wildlife photographer John Marriott in a video clip, speaking directly to the camera.
"Yet just 15 metres from the middle of this road," he says, then walking silently for a mere six seconds until he stops on the rough grass of the rural highway shoulder where he resumes speaking, "right here, I can shoot a grizzly bear."
Stooping to one knee, with his back to the camera, he raises a rifle and takes aim.
"Powch!" he mimics the sound of gunshot. Looking over his shoulder right at the camera, he asks, "How's that for fair chase and ethical?"
With that provoking scene, on Jan. 21 Marriott launched his new web series, EXPOSED with John E. Marriott, a documentary-style, straight-shooting web series tackling wildlife issues in Canada and beyond.
It was the first of 17 main episodes that will air in 2016, each ranging from six to 20 minutes long. Each covers topics that are both provocative and inspiring, including visits to his favourite locations and subjects, and tips and how-tos for aspiring photographers. The main episodes are being released every three weeks, shorter segments more frequently.
The meat of the series, however, is found in the episodes that tackle some tough and unsavory subject matter, including B.C.'s current laws that allows trophy hunting of grizzly bears, and Alberta's controversial wolf-cull program.
One of Canada's premier wildlife photographers, Marriott has been shooting professionally for 20 years, during which time his images have appeared in National Geographic and Canadian Geographic magazines, as well as five best-selling Canadian photography books.
The series, Marriott said, is designed to challenge viewers to examine the ethics around current wildlife conservation and management policies, and hopefully engage and inspire people to take action.
"There is a lot of injustice out there when it comes to how we protect our wildlife and I wanted to do something about it," Marriott said. "EXPOSED deals with these injustices in a very raw and honest way. I'm not going to pull any punches."
Through the course of the series he will take viewers across Canada, including the Arctic. The episodes, which began to be released on Feb. 4, will introduce Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, Canada's only grizzly bear sanctuary on the B.C. coast — it allows just 400 visitors a year, plus another 10,000 on strictly monitored boats touring the inlet. An upcoming hard-hitting episode will tackle Alberta's wolf cull, currently being conducted by poison and shooting from helicopters.
"In the last 10 years in Alberta, we've spent $2 million a year killing 1,000 wolves, and it's not even working," Marriott said. "I think a lot of people are going to be upset to learn that in 2016, we're still poisoning wolves. Wolves just fill in the gaps. They maintain their population based on prey supply."
The genesis for the series dates back to 1992, and Marriott's first experience witnessing a grizzly in the wild in Banff National Park.
"I was fresh out of university and it was my third day in Banff," he recalled. Jobless and staying at the hostel, he learned from the Parks Canada Information Centre that a bear known as Field had been hanging around Storm Mountain lookout. With a few friends, he drove to a lookout where they were fortunate to watch the grizzly. It was a life-defining moment for the aspiring young defender of wildlife. Sadly, within days, that bear discovered some food at the Johnston Canyon Campground, and two relocations later, she was shot by a conservation officer.
"Within a week, she was dead. It was a rude awakening," Marriott said.
Since that day, he's never stopped thinking about how to use his knowledge, experience and photography talents to advocate for wildlife. The web series grew from a conversation three years ago with Kim Odland, president of Edmonton-based KO Productions, with whom Marriott has partnered to create EXPOSED.
"I'm now at a point in my career where I'm comfortable enough (that) I'm willing to be outspoken," Marriott said.
Accompanied by an alternately mellow bluegrass and more dramatic soundtrack, and Marriott's gorgeous images of majestic grizzlies and irresistible cubs, his inaugural episode, titled Stop the B.C. Grizzly Trophy Hunt, accomplishes just that.
The area surrounding the Cassiar Highway has the densest grizzly bear mortality in all of B.C., he explains in the video, largely as a result of hunters being legally permitted to hunt grizzlies just a few steps from their vehicles.
These serious issues are important and warrant more public attention, he said.
"I want to use the platform I have to change the public attitudes around these issues that are near and dear to my heart," Marriott said.
"In that sense, EXPOSED really is the culmination of my life's work. I feel as though I'm in a position to stand up and advocate for these animals that I've spent my life getting to know and love."
To learn more about the series, visit www.exposedwithjohnemarriott.com.