Bella Bella, BC
“OK, so you take these popsicle sticks and you use them to pick up some of the wolf scat. Then you put it in this tube, swirl it around with some ethanol and then take the rest of the scat and put it in a Ziploc bag”. Nathan, one of the wolf researchers, explains to me as we squat over some poop in the estuary. Meanwhile, I’m not sure that I will ever look at chopsticks and sandwich bags in the same way again.
This past fall, before the start of the small stream surveys, I had the opportunity to work along side scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Raincoast’s wolf researchers on the outer islands of the Great Bear Rainforest. I began training my eye to look for signs of terrestrial critters rather than sniffing out salmon carcasses for genetics samples. We spent most of the field season taking samples from songbirds, slugs, toads and rodents to study their genetic uniqueness.
As I crouched down to photograph a pure white banana slug, I was taken aback by how incredible it was to find this small, slow moving, salt-intolerant creature on an outer coastal island. It had taken us many hours to get here, traveling at 7 knots. What did the slug’s travel log look like?
Among the researchers, an unspoken competition for the best bear or wolf sighting evolved, and I was definitely in last place. The words “you just missed two pups playing in the estuary” or “the bear just went back into the woods, we’ve been watching it feed in the stream for an hour”, were getting tiresome. Some blamed my bright yellow rain jacket, but I was starting to take it personally.
Our two-week trip came to an end and I said my goodbyes, still without a single wolf or bear sighting to my credit. Soon after, I welcomed the salmon crew on board the Clea Rose and we spent a week in the familiar streams around Bella Bella. We documented differences in salmon abundance, run timing, and made notes on new landslides and logging activity. Seeing such huge changes in these small systems in just a year brought home the importance of on-the-ground monitoring of salmon streams.
I stood on the estuary of our first stream, and my fellow crewmember, Chester, signaled for me to look up. A black bear and her two cubs were standing on their hind haunches sniffing the air on the other side of the stream. Amazing. I saw a bear every day after that…and each time I was wearing my bright yellow jacket.