Notes from the (pre) field: “Caution – bear research in progress”

In preparation for the Central Coast First Nations Bear Monitoring Project with Raincoast.

Heralded by the song of the varied thrush, April comes to an end and a renewed energy fills Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science (ACS) Lab at the University of Victoria. With spring comes organized chaos as graduate students and research associates transition from laboratory work, data analysis and writing, to a flurry of preparation for an upcoming season of monitoring bears on the central coast of British Columbia.

We are headed to Gitga’at, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv Territories to join our First Nations colleagues for another field season. Our long-term monitoring of grizzly and black bears combines traditional ecological knowledge with cutting-edge science to address conservation issues. Before embarking, ACS lab members come together to assemble required materials and coordinate day-to-day field season logistics.

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The lab is overflowing with totes of research equipment, which piles up on any open surfaces unoccupied by other ACS graduate students preparing for the field. Desks are suddenly heavily laden with stacks of data forms, VHF radios and “Caution – Bear Research In Progress” signs. Boxes of non-perishable food create a maze on the floor.

Our nights are spent placing labels on thousands of envelopes. These envelopes will soon be filled with grizzly and black bear hair, collected in collaboration with our First Nations partners. Afternoons are spent mixing concoctions of non-reward, scented bait, which lures bears to our non-invasive hair snag sites. Soon we will be knee-deep in mud and skunk cabbage, while dodging devil’s club and mosquitos to collect bear hair samples, which yield high quality genetic, hormonal and isotopic data.

Gearing up for field season takes months of planning and a few weeks of chaotic packing. “Many hands make light work” and “Teamwork makes the dream work” have been common phrases lately. With another field season on the horizon, we look forward to joining our friends on the central coast to continue safeguarding the lands and waters of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Kate Field, Ilona Mihalik and Lauren Henson are graduate students and research associates at the Raincoast Applied Conservation Lab.

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