Hope springs eternal – at least that’s how it feels right now on BC’s c Central coast. The juncos, warblers and sandhill cranes have returned from their wintering grounds in the south. Hummingbirds are everywhere, searching out the sweet salmonberry blossoms. And grizzly bears have been awake and active for almost a month, gorging themselves on young skunk cabbage. Indeed, spring has descended on the Great Bear Rainforest in countless ways.
Forced to choose, I would say the ritual that best symbolizes the excitement and promise of spring is the return of the herring. Under quiet waters, massive rolling balls of herring – some of them weighing thousands of tones – are moving quickly to their spawning grounds here.
My son Callum’s Heiltsuk name is ‘ l ix’stu’ (sounds like gleykstu) given to him by Alistalah (Ed Martin) back when Callum was still learning that the sand on Koeye beach wasn’t fit for eating. In the Heiltsuk language, ‘ l ix’stu’ means “bright grey colour” – the same colour the water turns when the herring spawn in the spring. Callum’s bright eyes reminded Ed of this colour, and today the waters here are ‘ l ix’stu’ in many areas.
Last week I watched the Fish Trap wolf pack emerge from the forest, the first time we had seen them in four months. They appeared on an early morning low tide to feed on the herring eggs that looked like glistening gems on the fuseli sea weed. Further down Spiller Inlet, a black bear mom and two new cubs were also feeding on these herring egg treats, and out in the water three humpback whales were bubble-feeding, trapping tons of the little blue fish within huge circles of bubbles and then funneling them straight into their gaping mouths. Meanwhile, just off the shore, Heiltsuk families from Waglisla were harvesting herring eggs destined for local consumption and the Japanese commercial market.
These rituals of spring make clear the intimate relationships between species, the interconnectedness between all forms of life on the coast.
At Raincoast, we have spring rituals of our own. Boats are pulled out of winter storage, batteries are charged, nets and lab equipment are shipped to field stations. Charts and maps are scrutinized, radios tested, waders mended. Raincoast’s dedicated group of researchers and staff are gearing up for another eventful year, against the backdrop of constant discussion about scientific methods, study designs, logistics and most importantly, the weather.
This spring, Corey Peet and the Heiltsuk fisheries co-management team will continue sea lice research, collecting juvenile salmon to better understand the relationship between sea lice and wild salmon and to determine how salmon farms are contributing to wild salmon mortality. Biologist Chris Williamson is mapping out the migration routes of juvenile fish, which will help when implementing sustainable fisheries policies and ensuring salmon-farm-free migration routes for wild salmon. Nicola Temple has rejoined the crew of the Clea Rose as they set out on the third year of identifying new salmon runs throughout the central coast (last week they identified seven previously undocumented systems for a running total of 80)! Misty MacDuffee is preparing for year two of Raincoast’s grizzly bear contaminant research. And, right on schedule with the Fish Trap pack, Chris Darimont and the wolf research team will soon begin the sixth year of our ongoing study of coastal wolves.
The fate of the Great Bear Rainforest is as uncertain as ever, with a myriad of threats continuing to challenge this globally rare and precious ecosystem. For the time being, however, let’s celebrate spring. Let’s celebrate the ‘ l ix’stu’ waters filled with herring, and the wolves and bears and whales and people who rely on it. Let’s look forward to another year of hard work on behalf of the greatest place I know of on the planet.
At home in Bella Bella, BC