After years of field work and months in the Raincoast lab I’m very excited to share some insights from a new study, due for publication soon, that reveals habitat hotspots for grizzly bears across British Columbia.
With our First Nations partners, the study included a large amount of data collected over multiple years. In total, we analyzed and mapped diet in 886 grizzly bears and 557 black bears across an area of 700,000 km2 to find out where bears ate the most salmon. Essentially, we wanted to find the “fishiest bears”, both in the Great Bear Rainforest and more broadly across British Columbia.
While we know the coast is home to salmon eating bears, we had no idea the extent to which grizzlies consumed high percentages of salmon deep into the province’s interior – sometimes over 1000 km from coastal habitats. We also found that male grizzlies consumed substantially more salmon than females.
We’ve demonstrated the connections between land and sea on a landscape scale.
The more salmon bears have in their diet, the healthier the bear is in terms of its ability to survive and reproduce. Studies like this provide information relevant for management and conservation in both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. When we compared patterns of salmon use by female grizzly bears, the reproductive powerhouses of populations, inside and outside of coastal protected areas, we found parks contained females with a variety of diets – from eating little to lots of fish.
This means that while new conservation efforts could focus on protecting areas of high salmon availability, the range of a female bear’s diet options are currently being accommodated within coastal protected areas. Although not all females may be able to compete with dominant males for salmon – i.e. some females don’t have high salmon diets – they still need protected areas.
The scale of this study is only possible because myself and my Raincoast colleagues are fortunate to collaborate with Indigenous resource managers focused on bear research as part of the Central Coast Bear Working Group. This research is useful to Indigenous and Western resource managers alike, as it helps us to understand where bears roam and ensure they are protected from multiple human stressors.
In particular, we have demonstrated the connections between land and sea on a landscape scale. Fisheries and land-use management would benefit from taking these ecosystem processes into account and consider habitat protection beyond existing boundaries.
Watch for our forthcoming publication and thank you for continuing to support our research and conservation.