This past long weekend I traveled by speedboat up Burke Inlet to the Kwatna River–The Kwatna watershed is a powerhouse in the world of grizzly bear strongholds with its vast sedge
-filled estuary and Sitka spruce floodplain forest surrounded by snow- capped granite mountains.
portion of the valley was recently celebrated as one of the newly protected conservancies in the Great Bear Rainforest. By all accounts it should be the perfect place to view wildlife in a wild setting.
Upon entering the inlet I am met out in the bay by Jason Moody, one of the Nuxalk Bear Patrol Watchmen from Bella Coola. Son of the late Nuxalk Chief Qwatsinas, Jason is one of a core group of First Nations who are involved in stewardship and monitoring throughout the Great Bear Rainforest. Jason informs me that two groups of trophy hunters have just been dropped off and as I scan the estuary I can see the fully camouflaged hunters working their way up the river.
Jason’s presence here uncovers what appears to be the illegal transportation of one of the groups of hunters. It is illegal under the Wildlife Act for resident hunters to pay for transportation from someone without a valid transporting license. This law ensures that only licensed guide outfitters, or those with a valid transport license, can legally move hunters in BC.
The hunters upriver have just come from the mainland community of Bella Coola and while the remote town has made progress in recent years transitioning from a resource liquidation economy to one that values natural capital I am reminded
that it still suffers from the reputation of being the bear killing capital of B.C.
Some things have changed though. A newly constructed bear viewing platform just upriver of Bella Coola, overlooking the Atnarko river, is offering people a close-
up viewing experience of coastal grizzlies as they feed for salmon. Each year more and more businesses and guides are developing wildlife viewing businesses that contributes millions of dollars to the local economy, and it is estimated to triple in value in the coming years.
Saying goodbye to Jason, I travel with the rising tide up the estuary. The joy of being in a river system like this in the peak of spring has been replaced by the painful anticipation of rifle shots and dead wildlife. Scanning the estuary I find two white faces peering out of the dark edge of the rainforest. They are in a blind with a commanding view of the bears’ favourite sedge meadows. I can see the stainless barrels and hi-powered scopes poking through the spruce and cedar boughs. What should be a simple call to the local Conservation Officer Service in Williams Lake reporting poachers in a park turns to frustration. Because here, in the middle of the Great Bear Rainforest, in a fully legislated Conservancy area (that is meant to be managed as a Class A Provincial park),
it is perfectly legal to hunt wolves, bears and other carnivores.
A bear emerges from the estuary between my boat and the hidden hunters. I am in a good location anchored in the middle of the estuary and I can access almost all parts of it with my flat-
bottomed boat. A mom and her large three-year old cub with heads down, appear to begin grazing on sedge further down from me. I can see the hunters nervously glancing from me to the bears and I wonder if they would risk a shot with me so close. Another lone female appears briefly. It is not illegal to kill a female grizzly bear and although frowned upon by government, it is estimated that over 30% of bears killed on the coast are female. Another estimate that gets thrown about and should be of concern to anyone traveling in parks where trophy hunting is allowed, is that 20% of bears shot at and hit are never recovered. This dramatically increases human safety concerns as there is a good chance that a bear in a park may be wounded.
I consider chasing the bears off but I worry that it might put them closer to the rifles instead of further apart. Daylight slowly fades and I stay anchored in the middle of the estuary for the night.
First light has two wolves coming from up-
river; each one takes a bank of a side channel, hoping for a Sitka black-tailed deer or a sleepy Canada goose. The human hunters are back in their hidden blind. Perhaps they never left. They have the advantage of being downwind of the wolves
Herding wolves and bears away from trophy hunters in a park is absurd and I wonder why it should have to happen at all. What exactly are these so called “protected areas” actually protecting? Parks, such as this, are places that the majority of British Columbians
and countless people abroad, believe offer a certain basic level of protection for wildlife.
We were told a few years back by the Provincial government that the trophy hunt, even in protected areas, is too important economically to rural economies to shut down. Even though bear viewing as a growth industry generates more revenue and employs more British Columbians – by far – than bear killing.
Nevertheless we rose to the occasion and the local guide-outfitting license here in the Bella Coola area was purchased and the guide outfitter was fairly compensated and the commercial incentive to continue the hunt was ostensibly taken off the table. The follow
Of course government science in B.C. for the most part, includes tallying the trophy hunter comment cards at the end of each season that apparently indicate how many bears are roaming the wilds of our province. Like the recent dismantling of the Forest Act and other protective measures that once safeguarded our ancient forests,
our forests and wildlife are now managed under a “results- based code.” The recently protected conservancies in the Great Bear remain “paper parks” while trophy hunters are allowed to kill bears and other wildlife for sport.
The 2012 coastal trophy hunt continues through June and starts up again in September. We will continue to witness, document and confront along with the Guardian Watchmen, the Coastal Grizzly Patrol and others. Please make your voice heard so we can see celebrate the day that coastal wildlife are afforded true sanctuary.