The sound of the grizzly’s jaws crunching down on the bones of a salmon echoed up and down the Koeye River Valley. As we watched from our canoe, drifting silently on the water, the beautiful female bear devoured a big chum that she had corralled in a side pool created by a fallen tree. She had felt comfortable enough to leave her two cubs sitting close to us on the bank while she moved up the river, knowing as long as we were there, no male bears were likely to wander into the area.
Her fuzzy, roly-poly cubs sat quietly on the bank, one of them gnawing on the remains of a pink salmon. High overhead, a flock of sandhill cranes flew in formation against the crisp blue sky, beginning their southern migration. A quartet of hooded mergansers cruised past our boat on their way downriver, and the shattering of salmon bones echoed once again. Time stood still in this perfect moment.
My Raincoast colleagues and I were in the Koeye for two weeks, conducting the first study of contaminant levels in BC’s coastal grizzly bears. This was the fifth time in a week we’d seen this family of grizzlies on the river. A couple of days earlier, the cubs were play-fighting by standing on their hind legs and cuffing each other with their forepaws, emitting little huffs and grunts as they challenged each other. As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder what future awaits them.
There are a multitude of threats that loom on the horizon for these bears and all coastal grizzlies as a result of decisions being made by the provincial government. Sport hunting will be allowed in all new parks and protected areas throughout the Great Bear Rainforest. As long as a grizzly is over two years old, hunters are allowed by law to shoot it, which means it is only a matter of months before those playful cubs are targeted as trophies for someone’s wall.
Sixty percent of critical grizzly bear habitat has been left unprotected by the land use recommendations put forth by the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Plan table. In addition, current land use proposals will leave over seventy percent of salmon stocks unprotected. Salmon is the primary prey species for coastal grizzlies; protecting the fish is crucial to protecting the bears.
As I paddled away from these cubs on our last day in the Koeye, I silently promised I would do everything possible to secure a better future for them.