Wolves in The Great Bear Rainforest: A Trip to Remember

The Great Bear Rainforest: B.C.'s temperate rainforest treasure at the end of a rainbow. Photo credit: Tom Green
The Great Bear Rainforest: B.C.’s temperate rainforest treasure at the end of a rainbow. Photo credit: Tom Green

There was a giant whoop up this week in British Columbia. After nearly 20 years of protests, meetings, market campaigns, many, many negotiations First Nations, Environmental groups, logging companies and varying levels of government – a final deal was struck to protect the Great Bear Rainforest. For visual learners, skip the jump below to watch Greenpeace Canada’s pretty succinct video. For those who like to read go here.

From 2004-2006 I worked for environmental project funded by Greenpeace, ForestEthics and the Sierra Club of B.C. Because of this job I learned so much about B.C.’s temperate coastal rainforests, a bit about coastal First Nations and the geography of this sparsely-populated-but-highly-bio-diverse part of the planet. And because of this job, I had the privilege of visiting the Great Bear Rainforest in the fall of 2004.

Looking for photos from my Bella Bella to Port Hardy sailing trip, I found an article I wrote for Lululemon‘s magazine in 2005, so voila, here it is again. Since I wrote this piece 11 years ago, millions of hectares of rainforest (3.1mil to be exact) have been protected and many many people are working hard to prove that an economy based on eco-tourism and sustainable resource harvesting could be better than trophy hunting and clear cutting.

I’m so glad this forest is protected so I can take my son there one day to hear the wolves howl and listen to the salmon swim upstream. Virtual high fives to all involved, I’m so proud of you friends.

A Love Affair with The Great Bear Rainforest

Miranda Post is in the forest

luluzine Vol.2 Issue.7 9.2005

“There are wolves near the river; quick get your gear on; we’re going to see them,” my co-worker whispers as I wake up, my body still adjusting to the roll and sway of the boat. Slipping into my layers of long underwear, raingear and gumboots, I am standing on the mist-shrouded deck of the Duen- a 22m ketch- in a matter of seconds. Quietly, but not gracefully, I hop from the ketch into a zodiac that crawls

toward the shoreline of Elcho Creek’s estuary. With fog as thick as my grandfather butters bread, the anticipation of spotting wolves builds in my empty tummy.

“They’ve been yipping and eating all morning,” explains the Duen’s captain, Mike Hobbis. “They love to devour the brains and eyes of migrating Chum and Pink [salmon].” As we squelch from the zodiac towards the centre of the estuary, carcasses of decapitated salmon are splayed over the long sedge grass. When we spot our first wolf, no cameras flash – in our early morning grog we’ve forgotten to pack them. The soft rain kisses my face and I stare at the pair of wolves. They pace about 35 metres in front of us.

Nervously, they crank their heads to peek right back at us. In the curious silence, I am captivated by their eyes. I silently wish the next time I’m here, the massive hemlock and cedar population will still hold up Elcho’s banks, that the creek will continue to flow with vigour, and that these wolves and their offspring will continue to have salmon to feast on.

The Duen sails near Calvert Island on B.C.'s central coast.
The Duen sails near Calvert Island on B.C.’s central coast.

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Last year, I fell in love with my province again thanks to a trip to the austere Great Bear Rainforest.

Recently returned from overseas travels, I longed to journey elsewhere: South Africa, Botswana, England- anywhere but British Columbia.

But being an office diva for a group of people campaigning for protection of The Great Bear Rainforest (they’ve been at it for the past 10 years), my opinion was swayed. It was with this impassioned group of campaigners, scientists and foresters that I travelled up British Columbia’s coast aboard the Norwegian built Duen, and the former Venezuelan cruise yacht, Island Odyssey. Before arriving at our starting point in Bella Bella, it really started to hit home that this is a region many people rarely glimpse or even know is in great danger.

Roughly the size of Switzerland (5 million hectares), the Great Bear Rainforest makes up 25 percent of what’s left of the world’s coastal temperate rainforests. Located between Sonora Island in the South and the border of Alaska to the North, this forest is British Columbia’s crown jewel. It has been home to First Nations for the last 10,000 years, as well as more than 6 million bird species, massive grizzly bears, genetically distinct coastal wolves, some of B.C.’s largest salmon runs plus a cute, popular variant of the black bear- the White Spirit or ‘Kermode.’ All of these beautiful people and creatures inhabit the rainforest, a place that embodies spiritual enlightenment as well as depth. You can travel hours without seeing anyone, and glimpse vestiges of human activity from the last millennia documented in pictographs and petroglyphs along the way.

As we sailed past many bald, sadly clear cut blocks of land, I repeatedly asked my colleagues, “Why isn’t this wilderness protected?”

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As we travel north up Dean Channel my neck hairs rise and I think of the Elcho wolves. The next day a visit to the Cascade hot springs warms my soul and provides a platform for some rural legend.

“Someone in Shearwater told us the story of how three fishermen boiled to death in these hot springs by staying too long,” said a co-worker. “Ha! I heard that one last year, but it was only two people,” said one of the Island Odyssey’s crew.

Shooting bears with camera clicks not guns: Grizzly watching in Kwatna Estuary. Photo credit: Anastasia Ledwon
Shooting bears with camera clicks not guns: Grizzly watching in Kwatna Estuary. Photo credit: Anastasia Ledwon

While the scale of island legend may be a laughing matter, the consequences of bear hunting and ongoing industrial logging are not. One night we anchored in Kwatna Bay, a wide bay with a large estuary at its origins. Kwatna was logged at the turn of the twentieth century and bore the scars of clear cuts and logging camps. This was not the most disturbing part of it all we encountered however. What horrified us the most was the grizzly hunters’ blind set up on shore and our neighbours who were clearly hunting bears as well, according to our guides. We spent a lot of time in Kwatna: kayaking, grizzly bear watching, and bird spotting. As we exited the estuary after twenty four hours of exploration, a melancholy wave struck our boats. The hunters, we discovered, planned to stick around for another day or so, hoping to walk away with a handsome grizzly pelt.

Another time, when we visited the ghost town of Namu, our crew was reminded of what happens when a town relies on the one trick pony. Namu was once a prosperous community fuelled by a salmon cannery.

As the salmon fisheries collapsed over the years, so did Namu. Now, all that is left of the once quaint coastal village are pock-marked boardwalks, empty houses and a windowless school. The bear I watched in Kwatna estuary and the decrepit boardwalks of Namu, provided ghosts – future and present -for me to ponder.

During our staff trip we visited many other Great Bear destinations: from the Heiltsuk Nation-run Koeye River Lodge to the tiny Codville Lagoon Marine Park to a midden (a mound of shells that stretches the length of the beach) where First Nations travelled for centuries to harvest shellfish.

All of these magical places are just a few hundred kilometres north along British Columbia’s coast, but visited only by a few hundred people a year. Each of these places represents the unique ecosystems and cultures only found in the Great Bear Rainforest. Unlike other large intact ecosystems of the world – those of the Serengeti, Yellowstone National Park, or the volcanoes of Burundi – the Great Bear Rainforest is not protected.

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Going up the Kwatna River Estuary in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Going up the Kwatna River Estuary in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Growing up in British Columbia, I tend to take the great strides of wilderness and arm-sweeps of forest for granted. Like a complacent lover in a lazy relationship, I was blase about our natural wonders for years until I visited the Great Bear Rainforest. For the first time in ten years I don’t just dream of distant lands and destinations. Instead, I can’t wait to go back to this lush, wet coast where petroglyphs and pictographs are some of the only road signs and where wolves can open hearts.

To learn more about the Great Bear Rainforest visit: www.savethegreatbear.org.

8 thoughts on “Wolves in The Great Bear Rainforest: A Trip to Remember

  1. I’ve never been to BC even though I had this thought in my mind for a long time. I am more than happy to hear that this area has been officially protected. It means that when I finally go there, it will still be unspoiled and as magnificent as at your pictures! Thanks for spreading the word!

  2. I love BC so much, but have not yet had the pleasure of visiting the Great Bear Rainforest. So happy that they’ve recently declared it a protected area and will preserve if for future generations.

  3. I’ve done a lot of paddling on the BC coast but haven’t made it up to the Great Bear Rainforest. Would love to follow in your footsteps. And such great news to hear this part of the rainforest is protected.

  4. I would love to have the chance to visit British Columbia soon – congrats on all of your hard work writing and raising awareness and working with organizations to protect this land. 5% – 85% protected is a huge accomplishment, and it’s fantastic to know that this land is now preserved for generations to come. I really do feel as though people are waking up to realizing the importance of this environmental movement – if we keep ruining our land we’ll soon have nothing left.

    1. It’s definitely worth the trip IRL these days. There are so many different ways to access it – fly in, take BC Ferries, etc. It just requires some planning and map gazing. 🙂

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