Bella Bella, 2001
We all wore waders, we split up into three groups and headed up the river, as far as we could go. Ian and Chris went WAY up there. Erica and I began our trek just at the mouth of river, and followed a trail up the steep cliffs. We crossed a rippling brook before the trail curved downward, and suddenly we were in the beautiful estuary of the Kschwann River.
The river flat which was dominated by Black Cottownwoods and Spruce, Western Hemlock and Alder, was flooded due to the high rains of the last week and most of the bear trails were under water, making our search for the elusive wolf scat difficult.
But a number of things came our way. Much to our delight, we hiked along the edges of beaver dams, which went on for miles and miles and we peered through the shallow waters at the first wolf tracks we’d seen all day, but still no scat to be found. We followed grizzly bears by watching what they were eating along the way, as the trails were very patchy. We saw where the bears had eaten small flowered bullrush and twisted stalk. We found high bush cranberries in their scat and then we traveled high again, up onto a ridge, but the only signs of wildlife we saw were two squirrels who got very angry with us for disturbing their territory, and a very dry porcupine den, in spite of the wetness of the last few days.
Back down the river damn, Erica spotted a baby toad, and then another, and then we realized that there were hundreds and hundreds of little toadlets. You could not take a step without stepping on one.
It was time to head home. We were wet and cold. On our walk home we noted two orchids and a winter green mint and another saprophydic species called pine sap. Just as we were getting back to the estuary , we found our first wolf scat, full of shiny black beaver fur. It was located immediately beneath a rubbing tree and in the footstep of a grizzly marked trail, nestled in the moss. Then we found another, and another, and another. We radioed wolf biologist Chris Darimont immediately. We could hear his smile as we informed him of our find. He wisely said: “anything boys can do, girls can do better.”
August 20 – The Tilsup did some wild storm sailing on the outside off Banks Island. It was blowing over 60 knots, which is storm force. The radar was down, both outboard engines on their zodiac were broken, they were sailing with just the headsail, going over 10 knots. They are looking forward to a calm anchorage…
The Nawalak is definitely the wolf boat of the two. Before getting to Prince Rupert we have seen 13 wolves, 4 separate pups, including one amazing morning at Grenville Channel when we saw 8 wolf pups howling and playing right in front of the boat.
August 22 – Rendezvous with Tilsup at Barnard Harbour. Paul Paquet and our wolf team went to cocktail hour at the King Pacific Lodge where we transformed the evening into “wolf night.” Paul even had all of the guests out on the deck later in the evening, howling for wolves. Next time we’ll be together we’ll be in Prince Rupert where we’ll switch crews.
In Mouse Creek an incredible 20,000 pink salmon in 200 yards of spawning area reach. Ian cleaning freshly caught coho salmon on board for a luxurious dinner of pesto salmon.
August 24 – Khutzmateen Inlet
It was a great feeling to go an area protected for the bears. We met Fred and Mildred Benard, wonderful folks who were the caretakers of the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Conservation Area.
At Khutzmateen Inlet. It was a great feeling to go an area protected for the bears. We met Fred and Mildred Benard, wonderful folks who were the caretakers of the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Conservation Area.
August 26 – The Kshwan is our northern most point for wolf study sampling. It is an eerie sight after the effects of the nearby copper smelter. The Kshwan was raging full flood after 10 days of solid rain. Chris and I were able to take the zodiak up 3 kilometers. It was our hardest day of scat collection yet, and it took us a full day before we finally found a sample.
August 27 – Rode the front of the changing pressure system to Alice Arm (Dave’s boat cushions went flying and I rescued them in the zodiak). We pulled into Alice Arm and Chris and Karen went to talk the locals. The rest of us went to the estuary. Chris and Karen met Charlie and Dana Fleener who it turns out are hunters and trappers living in Alice Arm for 10 years, new transplants from Idaho. Charlie and Dana proved be a goldmine for genetic samples as they actively hunt and trap wolves. Just the previous year Charlie killed 6 wolves in the Alice Arm area;
When Chris inquired about getting genetic material in the tissue from Charlie, he responded “Sure, come on up to my cabin, I’m using wolf heads for prawn bait.” Chris went out to pull the prawn taps and sure enough, there they were.
More sad news was that Dana has picked out a female grizzly bear to kill from the Stagoo as she wants a bear rug for her home. It was tough for us be in the Stagoo watching the grizzly bears feeding on salmon because we knew that they only had weeks to live before they were to be targets for Dana Fleener. It was disturbing to watch the grizzlies in the Stagoo because we knew they were under a death sentence.
It really brings home the frustration of seeing the grizzly bear moratorium overturned.
The Stagoo river is just one of a number of key salmon grizzly bear watersheds that remain unprotected and threatened by West Fraser Timber.