Field Notes

Forlorn, a Great Bear called Sorrow

Technical Details: Nikon D200 70-200mm@100mm f2.8 1/60 ISO 1600

Location: Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada.

At first light we were aboard the zodiac under aluminum skies and heavy rain, heading for the estuary of a primordial and intact watershed in the Great Bear Rainforest. We entered the estuary with great expectations of hoping to encounter a grizzly bear or may be even a mother and cub. The tension between our inner excitement and exterior disciplined calm aboard the zodiac was palpable. As we negotiated the copper colored shallows that were teaming with salmon, the estuary revealed at least 12 grizzlies including several mothers with twin cubs. Our mood aboard the zodiac was ecstatic as we found ourselves amongst these relaxed apex predators gorging upon the abundant home bound salmon. Suddenly a male grizzly emerged from the dense primordial undergrowth, a dead yearling cub swinging from its jaws. As the male vanished into the undergrowth as fast as it had appeared a forlorn and distressed female not 50 fifty yards away appeared barking and calling for her offspring, framed by the pristine old growth forest. Although a natural behavior in grizzly populations, bearing witness to a cub culled by a male in order to bring the female back into estrus was still shocking and the mood of all the bears in the estuary suddenly changed to reflect an uneasy tension in the air. Aboard the zodiac, the early morning exhilaration evaporated.

For me this distressed bear is a metaphor for this entire eco-system, which is also experiencing a period of great stress. The inexorable northward march of the industrial logging companies that continue to encroach upon fewer and fewer intact watersheds, combined with diease from fish farms and commercial over fishing of the salmon stocks provide immediate pressure for both habitat and food sources for bears and wolves alike. Sadly this pressure is going to be exacerbated by short term inept, ill-conceived and incongruent government conservation and development policy and practice. Furthermore long term climate change will cause oceans and rivers to become warmer and as a consequence cease to be productive for cold-water salmon stocks. Failure of salmon stocks will cause a rapid decline in the entire eco-system for the salmon feed and fertilize the forest and provide the thread that connects the forest to the rivers and in turn the oceans.