Exploring the wild shores of B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest

Vancouver Sun

March 16, 2013

As dusk descends, an explosion of violence shatters the tranquility of the world’s largest remaining tract of unspoiled ancient temperate rainforest. The chase is on.

A frantic deer bolts from the woods only meters from where our zodiac floats on the glassy calm estuary waters. On its heels races a sea wolf in a blur of black fur and fangs Nostrils flaring, tongues flapping, predator and prey swim straight toward us, then veer off across the inlet.

Unable to overtake its swifter dinner on the hoof, the exhausted wolf abandons the chase and retreats to the rocky shore. There, it paces back and forth, eying us in frustration as hungry members of its pack howl for updates from deep within BC’s Great Bear Rainforest.

Named for the bears that inhabit its thickly forested islands and inlets – including grizzlies, American black bears and Spirit bears (a black bear born with a recessive gene that produces cream coloured fur) – this vast, mostly uninhabited archipelago twice the size of the Serengeti stretches from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border. It is also home to countless species of birds, marine life and other mammals, including coastal wolves that can hunt salmon from streams like bears and swim like sea otters…

Engine cut, our zodiac silently glides toward shore, where we spot a 400 pound grizzly and her fluffy cub grazing on shoreline sedges and giant-leafed skunk cabbage. Everyone tenses with excitement, but not fear, because we’re in good hands. With a decade of experience as a BC park ranger, Smith knows grizzlies and what safety precautions to take in their presence.

Bear shootings have dropped significantly since 2005, when the team of conservationists and scientists at Raincoast Conservation Foundation purchased the commercial hunting licence for a vast area here three times the size of Yellowstone National Park in an attempt to block access to trophy hunters. Despite continued illegal hunting, this innovative approach has helped protect bears and other trophy hunting targets like coastal wolves – already threatened by loss of habitat and a declining salmon supply – from the crosshairs of high-powered rifles…

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