Bear work in Heiltsuk Territory – Guest blog by Ayla Brown

“So what are you doing anyways?”

People have been asking me this a lot recently. In the beginning my
answers were descriptions of the mechanics. We go out to various
locations around the territory and set up barbwire snares. We hang up
a rag in a tree with a novel scent to attract bears in the area to the
snare. We cover a pile of sticks and moss with nasty smelling bait,
made from fish fertilizer, to get the bears inside the snare. Then
every ten days we check back for bear hair on the barbs – for DNA and
stuff. A perfunctory response by any measure.

Ayla Brown setting up a hair snagging station. Photo by Kyle.

As we moved from set-up to sampling my answers began to change. I
started to talk about what we were doing in terms of questions. I
attempted to explain the questions the project is asking. Words like
‘data’ started to creep into my answers.

Marlie and Lia hanging bear hair samples to dry – photo by Kyle.
Then one night in the field station everything shifted. We had some
special guests and the room was filled with excited energy. The “boys”
had seen four bears in Elcho Harbour. Marley, Lia and I had spent the
day on the helicopter. We had waded through rivers surging with this
year’s melt and a solid week of rain. We hopped over mountain passes,
climbed through bogs, and had serious equipment misadventures. It had
been a pretty magical day. Everyone was stoked and stories swirled
around the room.

“The boys” (From left to right: Chris Darimont, Faisal Moola, and Howard Humchitt) watching a young grizzly family – Photo by Kyle.

Somehow I slip into a conversation with Doug Neasloss about
traditional ecological knowledge versus science. It’s a slippery
conversation with many holes to fall into. The conversation eventually
boils down to a battle royale between eight years spent in an academic
setting versus a life spent growing up and learning on the land. Who
is the expert?

Doug Neasloss, bear expert. Photo by Kyle

Doug and I circle around the question of validation. In this strange
dance between traditional ecological knowledge and science neither
side seems to be very good at validating the other. There is always
the “versus” in the conversation.

Suddenly I realize it’s a dance. Like a waltz the dancers are taking
opposite steps but working towards the same end goal. We all want to
protect a beautiful piece of the world for future generations to enjoy
and protect.

Grizzly bear swimming in front of our research boats from Bella Bella and Klemtu – photo by Kyle

The Great Bear Rainforest: a clever English name coined to inspire
people to take up the role as stewards of this area. To me it has a
much simpler name: home. I was raised in a family, community, and
culture that ensured I would love this place. I was taught to think
about one day being an elder who could look back on my life and be
satisfied with my role as protector of the future generations.

Learning about marine organisms with the next generation in Bella Bella – photo by Kyle.
This experience has given me so much more than days out on the water
and land. It has allowed me to see the other side of the story.
Watching Lia and Marley’s faces light up watching a mama bear and her
cubs graze on sedges helped me to understand. The stories and
excitement of our guests and the crew that night in the field station
helped me to understand. We all want to ensure this place is here for
many generations to come. Maybe I want to make sure it’s here for my
children to harvest food and medicines and “they” want their children
to still see bears, wolves, and beautiful inlets undisturbed by
logging, but in the end it’s all the same. We want the same things.

Photo by Kyle


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Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.