Community-based science and communing with the coast

Raincoast works in collaboration with the Spirit Bear Research Foundation. Marlie Van Roy worked this past summer as a field tech supporting this research, which is one of five research nodes in five Coastal First Nations: Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, Gitga'at.

“Rain’s supposed to come down even harder this afternoon,” our Skipper Murray ‘Moose’ Barton says as he listens to the 4 o’clock weather report on the radio. I zipper my jacket up tight against the cold wind and we lower the canoe into the water.

Deep in the heart of Kitasoo/Xai’xais Territory on the central coast of BC, where we partner in bear conservation with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, the weather can change in a heartbeat. In a matter of hours, heavy rainfall can swell the salmon-bearing streams and chill our bodies. Conducting bear conservation research in a temperate rainforest with an annual rainfall of more than 450 cm (over 15 feet!), this kind of weather report comes as no surprise.

Jeremiah Robinson staying dry in the coastal rain.
Jeremiah Robinson watches the shoreline for bears.

Rainy days don’t keep us at home. Instead, I find I often feel even more connected to the environment around us on days like these, with waves crashing into the boat, the grey clouds above us pouring down, the forest floor sinking into puddles underneath our feet as we walk to our sites. It’s a humble reminder that nature still calls the shots; we can only do our best to stay prepared.

So it’s nice to know that we can rely on our gear to keep us warm and dry in these adverse weather conditions. Patagonia gets it. The reliability of their gear is matched only by the generosity of their donations. Every year, Patagonia donates an assortment of lightly-used clothing to Raincoast Conservation Foundation in support of our research projects on the central coast and beyond. It is an act of generosity that not only keeps us warm when we’re outside, but also shows their commitment to supporting on the ground, applied conservation work.

Rosie Child driving the team home to Klemtu.
Rosie Child fills in for our regular Research Skipper Murray ‘Moose’ Barton, and drives us home to the field station in Klemtu after a long day in the field.

As we paddle through the estuary, we pass seagulls resting on pieces of driftwood, and seals popping their heads out of the water, looking at us curiously before ducking back underwater. The whole scene resonates with a calmness that is rich with thousands of years of history, stories told and untold. I think back to a week earlier, where we witnessed a young grizzly bear eating sedges along the shore. For Raincoast and our partnering Indigenous Nations, the research we do doesn’t just languish in academic journals and universities. We conduct it to be able to inform resource management decisions made by locals living on the land and to support our campaigns, like the one to permanently end grizzly bear trophy hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest.

I think of my co-worker Santana Edgar, a member of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, talking about the trophy hunt: ¨We only take what we need. When we’re hunting an animal, we take everything we can use from that animal. Hunting a bear for trophy doesn’t make sense, there’s no honor in that. We only take what we need.¨

Emma and Mercedes doing data entry in the field station.
Staying warm on data days: Emma Wilson and Mercedes Robinson-Neasloss entering data.

Our relationship with companies like Patagonia goes much deeper than the gifting of gear. It is about the conscience behind the production, and the intent behind the donation. It is about knowing how and why items are made. Ultimately, it is about inspiring and implementing solutions to sustainability and conservation challenges.

View from the boat on the way to do field work.

Whenever I have these intimate moments with nature, I am always reminded of how everything is connected, and everything we do has an impact on our surroundings, as small as it may be. I feel good knowing that companies like Patagonia track their production to source, like a river flowing upstream, and commit to providing ethical and sustainable materials and manufacturing processes.

I know I am lucky to be able to spend time in this territory, where the Kitasoo/Xai’xais have lived for thousands of years, and to be out on the water even on days where the rain feels unrelenting. It’s great knowing that other people and organizations are thinking of us, and value the work we do. With combined passion and drive, we can continue to deepen the connections between business, conservation, and people.

Support our mobile lab, Tracker!

Our new mobile lab will enable the Healthy Waters Program to deliver capacity, learning, and training to watershed-based communities. We need your support to convert the vehicle and equip it with lab instrumentation. This will allow us to deliver insight into pollutants of concern in local watersheds, and contribute to solution-oriented practices that protect and restore fish habitat.

Sam Scott and Peter Ross standing in front of the future mobile lab, which is a grey sprinter van.