Patagonia: Raincoast Conservation Foundation Working on Ways to Share the Wealth

A version of this article first appeared at Patagonia.

On a crisp morning early last May, the momma grizzly and her tiny cub were slip-sliding their way down from their snowy high-elevation den. Filling her momma belly with emerging vegetation was the only thing on momma’s mind. Calories from her last feast – spawning salmon many months ago – were now long gone keeping her and her precious daughter alive. Meanwhile, my team and I, just 1000 feet below, were inching our way up slope…trying to learn about and protect grizzlies.

On a crisp morning early last May, the momma grizzly and her tiny cub were slip-sliding their way down from their snowy high-elevation den. Filling her momma belly with emerging vegetation was the only thing on momma’s mind. Calories from her last feast – spawning salmon many months ago – were now long gone keeping her and her precious daughter alive. Meanwhile, my team and I, just 1000 feet below, were inching our way up slope…trying to learn about and protect grizzlies.

We were in the heart of coastal British Columbia’s ‘Great Bear Rainforest’, an area that still safeguards one of the planet’s last grizzly bear-salmon strongholds. To keep it this way, Raincoast Conservation has assembled a passionate team to tackle one of the area’s most urgent conservation problems with applied science, ethics and something we term ‘informed advocacy’. We’re searching for solutions to how to share the wealth.

Sharing the wealth means allowing grizzlies enough salmon to ensure their survival and well-being. Why is this a challenge? Against a backdrop of failing salmon populations and manifold threats (damaged spawning habitat, mysteries in the open ocean, salmon farms and their disease, and more), commercial fisheries still take the lion’s share of salmon bound for spawning areas and the mouths of bears (and the whole salmon-dependent food web).

Didn’t we learn to share better than this in pre-school? Humans take the biggest slice of the salmon pie, short-changing its many other beneficiaries.

What do we do? At Raincoast, we lobby for bears and this coastal food web, using the best available information: our own. Bear hair we capture from non-invasive hair-snagging stations – like the one we set out to install that morning – provides DNA. This allows us to track bear numbers and sound early warning bells of declines. Chemical analyses on the same hairs estimate how much salmon each bear has consumed and give insight into stress levels, reproductive activity and, potentially, starvation.

While the bears visit our stations, they leave more than hair and data. They also leave images of their antics, captured by our remote cameras and shared with the world.

A bear in black and white on remote camera.

With urgency we are sharing our findings with fisheries managers and the public. We are on the news, in the board rooms, at policy meetings. With tenacity we remind managers of their obligations to the natural world. We are armed with science, legal tools, and an abundance of energy and passion. The world is starting to notice and demand the same. Its time to share the wealth.

As we ended our climb that morning, we had a bite to eat before installing a hair-snagging station. It was an ideal place: plenty of bear food, and situated in good travel terrain. We could envision a bear or two lumbering down to meet us.

Our vision was bang on. A few hundred feet above us, momma was putting on the brakes and raising her nose for a sniff. The cub, blissfully unaware, skidded into her rear end, almost knocking her down the steep grade upon us. Fortunately, her powerful shoulders and robust claws prevented what would have surely been the mishap of the season. Instead, they sat – and oddly – watched over us going about our work.

So we did not further disrupt their day. We worked at a frantic pace, doing the very best work we could. Doing so reminded me that all of our work had to be rapid and good, as well as compelling to managers and the public. If so, we could be blessed to have these great bears around and living a good life into an increasingly uncertain future.

We sincerely thank Patagonia, the planet’s premier outdoor clothing and gear company…and the unparalleled leader in the business world for environmental activism, for their ongoing support of Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

We are so excited to share our annual report – Tracking Raincoast Into 2023 – with you! Tracking gives you highlights from the year, our science, flagship projects, as well as a peek at what’s in store for the coming year.

Dive into Tracking and learn more about our work safeguarding coastal carnivores in the Southern Great Bear Rainforest tenure. We are currently raising funds to stop commercial trophy hunting in more than a quarter of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Now is a good time to sign up and stay connected to our community of researchers and change-makers.