One with the wolves

Monday Magazine
By Bill Stuart
Feb 27 2008

Chris Darimont goes north to the Great Bear Rainforest

No question, wolves have gotten a bad rap through literature and folklore over the years, but in truth they are an essential part of many northern ecosystems. Thanks to the work of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and scientists like UVic graduate Dr. Chris Darimont, wolves and other creatures of the Great Bear Rainforest are being brought to more widespread public attention. This week, Darimont will be part of a panel of speakers discussing both the Great Bear Rainforest and the animals that dwell there.

Monday: What is the Rainforest Wolf Project?

Chris Darimont: It’s conservation/science fusion at its finest. The Raincoast Conservation Foundation, university scientists, countless volunteers and local first nations have teamed up to learn all we can about wolves, their prey and their ancient rainforest habitat. We have found that wolves of the Great Bear Rainforest are like none other, swimming among islands in a rainforest archipelago, hunting salmon and other marine prey and giving us rare insight into a predator-prey system undisturbed by humanity.

Monday: What’s it like up there?

CD: Entering the Great Bear Rainforest is like stepping back in time. I feel so honoured to be able to explore trails made by wolves, bears and other large mammals that have sadly disappeared from much of the world. These trails meander through 1,000-year-old cedar trees that, if they could, would tell amazing stories. I also get to bear witness-pun intended-to the planet’s last stronghold of spawning salmon, which feed not only large beasts but also the entire forest.

Monday: What was the most valuable lesson taught by your mentor, Lone Wolf?

CD: In addition to his contributions as a respected colleague and a dear friend, “Lone Wolf”-a.k.a. Chester Starr of the Heiltsuk Nation-also mentored me in the art of observation. As a scientist, I was trained to observe nature within a valuable, but relatively narrow, framework. What Lone Wolf and his people have taught me is to open my eyes to a broader reality-and what I find particularly amazing is the concordance between what we have learned through the scientific process and what indigenous people have learned by living with wildlife for millennia. In many respects, western science is really just starting to emerge with information that
first nations have known for a very long time.

Monday: Can wolves teach things to us?

CD: Absolutely. Talk about family values! I refer to wolf groups not as packs, but as families. They are typically composed of a mother, father and siblings of multiple ages. They practice division of labour, show deep loyalty, protect one another, grieve enormously at the loss of family members and provide communal caring of young. Where wolves still exist today, they can also teach us humans the value of safeguarding the remaining wild places on this great Earth. Sadly, many places will never again hear the howl of a wolf.

Monday: What did you gain at UVic that you still carry with you today?

CD: A unique combination of academic support, healthy coastal lifestyle and an environmentally conscious community. My former supervisor and precious academic resource, Tom Reimchen, taught me the value of “process-oriented” science; more specifically, how important it was to examine the process of marine-terrestrial interactions, which wolf-deer-salmon systems demonstrate. And my experience in UVic’s world-class environmental studies department taught me the value of nesting any science within a broader, real-world context.

Great Bear Rainforest Odyssey takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 at UVic’s David Lam Auditorium. Admission is by donation. Full details at 386-7245.

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