The largest bears in the world use small streams to fatten up on salmon

NEWS RELEASE 19-DEC-2019

OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

CORVALLIS, Ore. – It’s a familiar scene to anyone who’s watched footage of brown bears catching sockeye salmon in Alaska: They’re standing knee-deep in a rushing river, usually near a waterfall, and grabbing passing fish with their paws or jaws.

But a new study published in the journal Conservation Letters reveals a different picture of how and when bears eat salmon. Most of these bears, also known as grizzlies, are dipping into small streams to capture their iconic prey.

Using a foraging model based on the Wood River basin in southwest Alaska, a study team led by Oregon State University determined that while small-stream habitats have only about 20% of the available salmon in the watershed, they provide 50% of bear consumption of salmon.

“This tells us that populations of sockeye salmon that spawn in little streams are disproportionately important to bears,” said study lead author Jonny Armstrong, an ecologist at Oregon State University. “Bears profit from these small streams because they offer salmon at unique times of the season. To capitalize on plentiful salmon runs, bears need them to be spread across time.”

Small streams typically have cold water, which leads to populations of salmon that spawn much earlier in the season when no other populations are available to predators such as bears.

These results have potential consequences for how environmental impact assessments are conducted and evaluated for large projects such as the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

These reports typically focus on how the project will affect the abundance of salmon in lakes and rivers, but they usually overlook smaller habitats, Armstrong said.

“When people want to build a large mine, they think these streams don’t matter because they represent a small fraction a watershed, in terms of area or salmon abundance. In conservation and management, we generally place value on the largest runs of salmon at the expense of the smallest ones,” Armstrong said. “If we pose a different question and ask which habitats are important for the ecosystem, then small streams become particularly relevant.”

The researchers developed a mathematical model that explores how watershed development and commercial fisheries affect how many sockeye salmon are available to grizzlies. The model simulated different patterns of development and explored how they affected the number of salmon bears consumed.

Protecting large salmon runs at the expense of smaller ones turned out to be bad for bears.

“This causes the bears’ total salmon consumption to drop off faster compared to strategies that protected small salmon runs and the early feeding opportunities they offer to bears,” Armstrong said. “If you impair these areas, you may only reduce the total number of salmon by a little, but the number of salmon that end up in bear’s stomachs – you could reduce that a lot.”

According to the study authors, there are two significant reasons why the largest bears in the world are drawn to small streams to eat salmon.

First, the fish in these streams are easy to catch for adult and juvenile grizzlies. And second, because the water is colder than in lakes and rivers, salmon spawn in them earlier – probably to give their eggs more time to incubate, the authors said. So, the fish are plentiful by the first week of July – making them the first places bears fish after they emerge from hibernation.

“When they come out of hibernation, the bears are just scraping by and barely making it,” Armstrong said. “Having these streams means they can start eating salmon in early July, which is about six weeks before the river- and lake-salmon populations start spawning and become available to bears. It’s an incredible foraging opportunity for bears.”

Armstrong added, “I’m sure that native Alaskans who subsisted on salmon were keenly aware of this, too.”

###

Armstrong is an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Collaborators on the study included Daniel Schindler, professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington; Curry Cunningham, research fisheries biologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Will Deacy, a former postdoctoral researcher at OSU now at the U.S. National Park Service; and Patrick Walsh, supervisory fish and wildlife biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Funding for the study was provided by the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and funds from the Alaska salmon processing industry that support the University of Washington’s Alaska Salmon Program.

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IPCC
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changein all aspects of society.”
First sentence of IPPC Special Report on 1.5C Summary for Policy Makers.
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Greta Thunberg
“So if we are to stay below the 1.5 degrees of warming limits …, we need to change almost everything.”
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Forbes

“It’s time that everyone, from the humble homeowner to the highest levels of business and government, rethink their relationship with energy and take action. Relying on renewables alone won’t be enough.”
<<https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikehughes1/2019/08/02/climate-change-18-months-to-save-the-world/#166763c749bd>>

B.C. bans logging in sensitive Silverdaisy area in Skagit River Valley

Minister says no more timber licences will be awarded for the area, also known as the ‘doughnut hole’

The B.C. government has banned logging in an ecologically sensitive area along the U.S. border after Seattle’s mayor and environmental groups called for protection of the watershed.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson announced Wednesday that B.C. will no longer award timber licences in a 5,800-hectare plot called the Silverdaisy or “doughnut hole” in the Skagit River Valley.

He said the province’s previous Liberal government awarded a timber sale licence for the area in 2015 but that approval has now ended and no future licences will be granted.

“Individuals and groups on both sides of the border have expressed concerns that logging should stop in the Silverdaisy and we’re responding to those concerns,” the minister said on a conference call with reporters. “This is a significant step in addressing a lingering issue.”

B.C.’s forestry industry is in a slump due to timber shortages but Donaldson said his government is working to ensure access to new harvest areas that will replace the portion of the Silverdaisy that had been available for logging.

The doughnut hole is surrounded by the Skagit Valley and Manning provincial parks just east of Hope.

There was one timber sale planned in the area for 67,000 cubic metres, a relatively small volume, and Donaldson said he doesn’t anticipate any immediate impact on jobs.

Imperial Metals Corp., owner of the Mount Polley mine where a tailings dam collapse caused an ecological disaster in 2014, owns copper mineral claims in the Silverdaisy.

Tom Curley of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission said it’s working to acquire those rights to ensure preservation of the area.

The commission, which aims to protect wildlife and acquire mineral and timber rights consistent with conservation purposes in the Skagit Valley, was created through the High Ross Treaty, a 1984 agreement between Canada and the U.S.

Imperial Metals did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote to the B.C. government last year urging it to halt logging in the area. She also said the Silverdaisy provides more than 30 per cent of the fresh water flowing into Puget Sound.

Environment Minister George Heyman said when the treaty was signed three decades ago, the B.C. and Washington governments signalled clear intent that, once the issue of mineral tenures was resolved, the doughnut hole would be returned to park status.

“Somewhere along the line … there was a lapse in corporate memory,” he said. “We’re restoring that today.”

The B.C. Liberals did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Heyman said the area is a critical wildlife corridor and foraging habitat for grizzly bear, wolverine and other species, and 33 per cent of the area is currently protected to provide a home for spotted owls and other species at risk.

“But today’s action will conserve the entire package,” he said.

Laura Kane, The Canadian

https://www.surreynowleader.com/news/b-c-bans-logging-in-sensitive-silverdaisy-area-in-skagit-river-valley/

Cruel secret about BC’s wolf kill program revealed

The BC Government lied about how they use wolves to betray their family packs.

(GOLDEN, BC – Dec. 11, 2019) A gruesome detail about BC’s wolf-killing program has been revealed in a new government report titled South Peace Caribou Recovery following Five Years of Experimental Wolf Reduction.  Individual wolves that are radio-collared to later reveal the location of their pack are exposed to repeated trauma in this highly disturbing practice…over and over again.  Despite being denied by government in previous media enquiries, the Methods section of the 2019 experimental report describes how the collared wolf is left to watch as it’s entire family is gunned down from the air, and kept alive year after year, being forced to repeatedly witness the death of any wolf that befriends it.

“Knowing that wolves are highly sentient and dependent on each other for survival makes this practice unbearable to think about, yet we must.  Imagine what these collared wolves experience. How many times do they have to suffer?” questions Sadie Parr, executive director of Wolf Awareness.

In 2016 the province reluctantly admitted that it net-guns individual wolves from helicopters to fit them with radio collars so that gunmen can be flown in at a later date to relocate the collared wolf with its family and kill them all.  The animals collared in the practice described above are often referred to as “Judas Wolves” to portray a sense of ultimate betrayal; yet Judas made a deliberate choice.

The South Peace wolf-kill program, which encompasses an area larger than half of Vancouver Island, has killed more than 550 wolves and is proposed to continue for an indefinite period; until the landscape can no longer support sufficient elk, moose and deer to feed wolves.  Inhumane tax- funded wolf kill programs are also underway in areas around Revelstoke and Nelson.

The province recommitted to transparent and fulsome consultation about caribou recovery planning after several heated community meetings elicited outrage in BC’s interior. However, the ministry then conducted a closed consultation in its proposal to expand the wolf kill program underway to three additional areas (Tweedsmuir-Entiako, Hart Ranges, and Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou herd ranges) and pay hunters to kill cougars in the Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou range. The consultation document was finally leaked to conservation groups, who immediately opposed the plans.

Conservation group Wolf Awareness maintains that wolves are being scapegoated for industrial and recreational interests, and that wolves, wildlife and ecosystems deserve better.

Says Parr.  “The tax-funded unethical and inhumane wolf kill program coupled with secrecy and pitifully inadequate caribou habitat protection is a stain on the entire country.  Ethical and ecological considerations are being ignored.”

— 30 –

For Media Inquiries

Sadie Parr    Executive Director

Wolf Awareness Inc.

T 250.272.HOWL (4695)

E sadie@wolfawareness.org 

W wolfawareness.org

About Wolf Awareness Inc.

Wolf Awareness is a team of conservationists and scientists whose primary goal is to foster awareness and appreciation of wolves, wolf ecology, conservation and co-existence.

“The radio-collared individuals were often left alive following the conclusion of the winter reduction efforts in order to facilitate the location of wolves the following winter.”

Accessed from:

South Peace Caribou Recovery following Five Years of Experimental Wolf Reduction

BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural

Development

August 2019

Calls for conservation ethics falling on deaf ears in BC, will Canada ignore pleas too?

Caribou draft agreements ignore majority opposition to wolf kill programs.

May 28, 2019 (GOLDEN, BC) — Two jointly proposed recovery plans for some caribou herds in the province of BC are set to rely heavily on killing wolves for decades, ignoring input from wolf biologists and a majority of respondents who voiced opposition to wolf kill programs during a 2012 public comment period on BC’s wolf management plan.

Until May 31st , the BC government is accepting public comments on the plans which could lead to decades of publicly funded aerial wolf shooting, as well as the killing of moose and deer and potentially cougar, bear and wolverine. Each year, hundreds of animals will be killed in attempt to prevent further declines of the threatened caribou populations. Neither of the two plans explain how quality habitat (i.e. caribou-friendly climax forests that can support self-sustaining herds) will appear in light of continued climate change and habitat alteration by humans.

In 2012, serious concerns about BC’s draft wolf management plan were put forward during the short public comment period that followed its release. In less than 3 weeks, more than half of the >3,000 comments submitted expressed strong opposition to the draft plan which ultimately legitimized the systematic killing of wolves.

When the final plan was released in 2014, it ignored the public’s concerns about inhumane wolf killing practices and the impacts of killing programs on wolf social structure and ecosystem integrity. The draft plan was not peer reviewed by external ecologists.

From 2015 – 2018, caribou recovery programs have seen a minimum of 557 wolves shot from helicopters or slowly strangled in killing snares. A BC FOIP request has been delayed that would reveal the number of wolves killed during this past fiscal year. As each wolf family is wiped out, dispersing wolves will recolonize an area and perpetuate an annual cycle of killing.

“Thousands of individual wolves will suffer if this plan isn’t changed,” says Sadie Parr, Executive Director of conservation group Wolf Awareness. “The long-term repercussions this will have on the natural environment are being neglected, as are the consequences it will have on individual wolves and wolf populations. This is a slippery slope, wet with wolf blood.”

Aerial shooting is not an approved method under Canada’s current guidelines on Approved Animal Care. Biologists agree that neck killing snares, also used in tax-funded wolf kill programs underway, are also inhumane and lack the ability to bring about a swift death.

“The morality of causing harm to hundreds of animals for any reason should be questioned. Are we prepared to spend the next several decades shooting wolves from helicopters in a vain attempt to maintain small herds of caribou in degraded habitat? Is that what conservation biology has become?” asks Hannah Barron, Conservation Director at Wolf Awareness.

“Canada is being frowned upon internationally for its weak species at risk protection, dodging timely and adequate climate change legislation, and continuing recklessly with unsustainable forestry practices that contribute to both of the aforementioned. By accepting a caribou recovery plan that engages in an unethical and highly controversial wolf kill program, our country will become a leading example of how to break down Nature’s resiliency by destroying the very systems that provide ecological, economic and cultural benefits to those who call Canada home. Instead, we should embrace and protect what is one of the last remaining global strongholds for large apex predators, and all other species that rely on their ability to thrive,” states Elke van Breemen, Education Director at Wolf Awareness.

“Engaging now is about more than caribou and wolves. It’s also about how we relate to all non-human animals and the living environment that sustains us. It’s about the Natural legacy we are leaving, or perhaps stealing from future generations. We can, and must, do better,” says Parr.

— 30 —

Photos of wolves, caribou and habitat available upon request.

For Media Inquiries

Sadie Parr    Executive Director

Wolf Awareness Inc.

T 250.272.HOWL (4695)

E sadie@wolfawareness.org 

W wolfawareness.org

About Wolf Awareness Inc.

Wolf Awareness is a team of conservationists and scientists whose primary goal is to foster awareness and appreciation of wolves, wolf ecology, conservation and co-existence.

More than Just Numbers
Legislative Petition Seeks Immediate End to Tax-funded Inhumane Wolf Kill Program in British Columbia

November 26, 2018 (GOLDEN, BC) – On November 23rd,  CBC reported the BC forest ministry saying that caribou herds are stabilizing where wolves are being killed.  But conservation group Wolf Awareness urges people to ask more questions about the program, asserting that the ends don’t justify the means.

On November 20th, Wolf Awareness was one of two NGO’s from B.C.’s Columbia-River- Revelstoke constituency that saw a Petition to End the Wolf Kill Program submitted into Legislature during a meeting of the Assembly.

The petition was submitted in an appeal to prevent the inhumane program from re-starting this winter and ultimately to remove predator killing from the toolbox of options being considered as new recovery plans are being developed for caribou.

Killing is NOT conservation, states Sadie Parr, Executive Director of Wolf Awareness.  It’s not just about whether it works, but whether it is even conscionable to begin with.  Attempting to sanctify killing large numbers of predators for any reason is highly disturbing. I strongly believe that ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’.

Parr claims that there is a critical moral dilemma not being addressed regarding the killing of wolves (and other animals) under the guise of conservation, especially when humans have put caribou in this situation, and continue to wreak havoc for the species.

Tax Payers Petition B.C.’s Inhumane Wolf Kill Program

Millions of tax dollars have been spent since 2015 to kill more than five hundred wolves – sentient animals – using inhumane methods; namely aerial gunning and killing neck snares, both which lead to prolonged suffering before death.  Petitioners from across the province don’t want to see their taxes funding this inhumane program, explains Parr.

Dr. Paul Paquet, an ecologist and recognized authority on mammalian carnivores’ states: The time has come to seriously examine our relation with top predators. The question is not whether killing wolves is “sustainable” as wildlife managers are always trying to assert. The question is whether it is ecologically, ethically, or even economically defensible to kill large numbers of predators anywhere. The answer on all counts is no.

The South Selkirk caribou herd became functionally extinct despite four years of killing wolves. The remaining animals are being moved to north of Revelstoke in Mountain Caribou Recovery Planning Unit 3A, where tax-funded wolf killing is slated to continue this winter as well as in the South Peace.

The petition is also seeking real protection for identified caribou habitat. 29 wolves were killed in the Revelstoke unit the past two winters, while industry and recreation continued to carve up caribou range, trumping species preservation and ecosystem health in a morally bankrupt display that may tarnish British Columbia’s “natural and wild” legacy forever.

Years of ‘talk and log’ consultations have turned into ‘talk and kill’, as industry continues unchecked, notes Parr.  Meanwhile, there are permit applications and projects underway for resource extraction that will further degrade and destroy the land that caribou require to survive.

Wildlife management and conservation practices should be ecologically and ethically sound. Wolf killing programs are neither and as such should be abandoned, Parr reflects, referring to the Policy Position on Experimental wolf reduction programs underway in western Canada the conservation group recently developed in light of this practice expanding.

– 30 –

Photos of wolves, caribou and habitat available upon request.

Key Information:

Lack of caribou habitat protected in Revelstoke leads to wolf killing:

https://www.revelstokereview.com/opinion/letter-protect-habitat-dont-kill-wolves-to-save-caribou/

New industrial development in area identified as caribou habitat:

Columbia Caribou Range: Imperial Metals mine developing in headwaters of Upper Seymour Provincial Park which is caribou migratory route and near the maternal pen project.

https://www.imperialmetals.com/projects/ruddock-creek/overview

http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/up_seymour/

Revelstoke mayor tells media does not want to protect caribou habitat because it will hurt the economy:  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/caribou-protection-plan-threatens-revelstoke-economy-1.4704283

Before the wolf kill expanded to Revelstoke in 2017, scientists involved in caribou recovery admitted in a Government planning document: In Planning Unit 3A, forest harvesting still occurs in the critical habitat of Southern Mountain Caribou.  Mechanized recreation is listed as an additional concern affecting caribou.  Document also states there are no humane methods to directly reduce wolf numbers.
-Note: also details the plan to continue “primary prey reduction”…ie. killing moose, deer, etc. as well as wolves and cougars.

Wolf Awareness Policy Position on Experimental wolf reduction programs underway in western Canada: https://www.wolfawareness.org/policy

Cruel secret about BC’s wolf kill program revealed

The BC Government lied about how they use wolves to betray their family packs

(GOLDEN, BC – Dec. 11, 2019) A gruesome detail about BC’s wolf-killing program has been revealed in a new government report titled South Peace Caribou Recovery following Five Years of Experimental Wolf Reduction.  Although previously denied by government staff, individual wolves are exposed to repeated trauma in a highly disturbing practice…over and over again.  Despite being denied by government in previous media enquiries, the Methods section of the 2019 experimental report describes how the collared wolf is left to watch as it’s entire family is gunned down from the air, and kept alive year after year, being forced to repeatedly witness the death of any wolf that befriends it.

In 2016 the province reluctantly admitted that it net-guns individual wolves from helicopters to fit them with radio collars so that gunmen can be flown in at a later date to relocate the collared wolf with its family and kill them all.  The animals collared in the practice described above are often referred to as “Judas Wolves” to portray a sense of ultimate betrayal; yet Judas made a deliberate choice.

“Knowing that wolves are highly sentient and dependent on each other for survival makes this practice unbearable to think about, yet we must.  Imagine what these collared wolves experience. How many times do they have to suffer?” questions Sadie Parr, executive director of Wolf Awareness.

The South Peace wolf-kill program, which encompasses an area larger than half of Vancouver Island, has killed more than 550 wolves and is proposed to continue for an indefinite period; until the landscape can no longer support prey such as elk, moose and deer to feed wolves.  Conservation group Wolf Awareness maintains that wolves are being scapegoated for industrial and recreational interests, and that wolves, wildlife and ecosystems deserve better.

A secretive letter from the ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development this past August 2019 got leaked which exposed plans to expand the aerial gunning of wolves to three 3 additional caribou herd ranges, adding to the tax-funded killing already underway in the South Peace and areas around Revelstoke and Nelson.

The province recommitted to transparent and fulsome consultation about caribou recovery planning after several heated community meetings elicited outrage in BC’s interior. However, the ministry then conducted a closed consultation in its proposal to expand the wolf kill program underway to three additional areas (Tweedsmuir-Entiako, Hart Ranges, and Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou herd ranges) and pay hunters to kill cougars in the Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou range. The consultation document was finally leaked to conservation groups, who immediately opposed the plans.

Says Parr.  “The tax-funded unethical and inhumane wolf kill program coupled with secrecy and pitifully inadequate caribou habitat protection is a stain on the entire country.  Ethical and ecological considerations are being ignored.”

— 30 –

MEDIA CONTACT: Sadie Parr  sadie@wolfawareness.org    250-272-4695

WOLF AWARENESS is a conservation organization dedicated to promoting positive attitudes towards carnivores in general, the wolf in particular, and to fostering an appreciation for the environment of which we are all a part.

The South Peace wolf-kill program, which encompasses an area larger than half of Vancouver Island, has killed more than 550 wolves and is proposed to continue for an indefinite period; until the landscape can no longer support prey such as elk, moose and deer to feed wolves.  Conservation group Wolf Awareness maintains that wolves are being scapegoated for industrial and recreational interests, and that wolves, wildlife and ecosystems deserve better.

A secretive letter from the ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development this past August 2019 got leaked which exposed plans to expand the aerial gunning of wolves to three 3 additional caribou herd ranges, adding to the tax-funded killing already underway in the South Peace and areas around Revelstoke and Nelson.

The province recommitted to transparent and fulsome consultation about caribou recovery planning after several heated community meetings elicited outrage in BC’s interior. However, the ministry then conducted a closed consultation in its proposal to expand the wolf kill program underway to three additional areas (Tweedsmuir-Entiako, Hart Ranges, and Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou herd ranges) and pay hunters to kill cougars in the Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou range. The consultation document was finally leaked to conservation groups, who immediately opposed the plans.

Says Parr.  “The tax-funded unethical and inhumane wolf kill program coupled with secrecy and pitifully inadequate caribou habitat protection is a stain on the entire country.  Ethical and ecological considerations are being ignored.”

— 30 –

MEDIA CONTACT: Sadie Parr  sadie@wolfawareness.org    250-272-4695

WOLF AWARENESS is a conservation organization dedicated to promoting positive attitudes towards carnivores in general, the wolf in particular, and to fostering an appreciation for the environment of which we are all a part.

Some perspective on grizzlies and salmon

Brown bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park July 1, 2015 feast on sockeye salmon skin, which has a nutritious layer of fat.

Brown bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park July 1, 2015 feast on sockeye s

The stark images of malnourished grizzly bears on the coast of British Columbia, Canada, have garnered widespread international media attention. The photographs are difficult to view and strike a chord of deep concern in most people.

Raincoast Conservation Foundation has long advocated for a wildlife welfare ethic when it comes to the conservation and management of large carnivores. This approach becomes even more compelling when the life requisites, in this case wild salmon, of species such as coastal grizzlies are diminished as a result of human activities.

Much of the news coverage associated with the aforementioned situation has been linked to climate change, but this particular salmon run collapse is likely the result of a suite of influences, not the least of which is the failure to protect wild salmon in British Columbia from fishing pressure, habitat degradation, hatchery impacts, fish farms and more.

Wild salmon and grizzly bears have an intertwined relationship and the choices we make are inextricably linked to their fates. When salmon are plentiful in coastal streams, bears thrive and produce more cubs. Grizzlies also occur at higher densities and grow to larger sizes when salmon are abundant. Importantly, when salmon are plentiful, bears eat less of each fish, selecting the nutrient-rich brains and eggs and casting aside the remainder. These salmon remains then feed other animals, scavengers and fertilize the adjacent streamside zone. Thus, abundant salmon boosts the amount and value of food for bears, as well as transfers more nutrients and energy to other wild consumers.

In contrast, when salmon are scarce, grizzlies produce fewer cubs, if any, and eat more of each individual fish. Less discarded salmon enters the surrounding ecosystem with diminished benefits for other wildlife, plants, and less visible organisms such as fungi, algae, and insects. Commercial salmon fisheries typically extract 50% or more of the salmon bound for rivers, bears and forests. When the number of salmon returning to spawn from their ocean migration is variable, fishery managers favor the short-term benefit of harvest, even when salmon abundance is low and even if it means forgoing larger harvests in the future. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans manages for spawner persistence, not for healthy, abundant spawning runs.

Despite the knowledge that many species depend on salmon, humans have never managed fisheries with wildlife in mind.

Contemporary thinking in conservation science instructs salmon management to include the bears, whales and other wildlife that have an evolutionary reliance on the annual pulse of nutrients and food energy delivered via spawning salmon. Even Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy recognizes the need for management to transcend salmon ‘production’ alone and consider the needs of terrestrial species.

For this policy to be consequential, however, it requires fisheries managers to consider bears and other wildlife by lowering catches and allowing more salmon to reach the rivers to spawn. Currently, humans engage in what ecologists call “exploitative competition,” — we capture salmon en route to spawning grounds before they can reach awaiting carnivores. Even salmon runs that spawn in protected watersheds and parks are subjected to exploitation by commercial fisheries. Often, these parks were created to protect species such as grizzlies, black bears and wolves. As such, we suspect that grizzly bears now receive a fraction of the salmon they evolved with, which ultimately manifests in population declines through repeated years of low birth rates.

In some areas, we believe it is time to establish truly protected salmon runs – runs that would be managed solely for their importance to wildlife and ecosystems. This would allow salmon to return to spawning grounds without encountering the nets and hooks of the Pacific salmon fleet. And those fish would then spawn in rivers that flow naturally without their watersheds logged, developed or otherwise impaired.

Of course, it is not just fishing nets and hooks that rob wildlife of their energy needs. Degraded freshwater and marine habitat, fish farms and disease, dams and diversions, hatcheries and genetic dilution, climate change and changing ocean conditions, all influence salmon abundance. Human generated impacts that reduce salmon abundance must be addressed. However, reducing, and in some cases eliminating, exploitation from fisheries would have an immediate, positive effect on coastal wildlife.

Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Misty MacDuffee is Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program Director and Paul Paquet is Raincoast’s senior scientist.

A hunt for tribal recognition at the U.S.-Canada border

Rick Desautel shot an elk to prove the Arrow Lakes Band — unrecognized as a First Nation in Canada — still exists.

Editor’s note: Since this story went to press, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take up Desautel’s case.

In the early morning hours of an October day in 2010, Rick and Linda Desautel left their hunting camp on traditional Sinixt lands near Vallican, British Columbia, and drove to the steep, thickly forested hills a few miles away. After the road faded to gravel, they turned left at a blue Valhalla Provincial Park sign, and continued to climb. At seven in the morning, Rick spotted a cow elk and a calf down a steep embankment, standing among the shrubs about 100 yards away. They rolled to a stop off the road and crept back toward the elk. Rick raised his Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle, aimed down the hill, and shot the elk.

Six years later, in a courtroom in Nelson, British Columbia, Desautel described his relationship to the area like this: “When I come up here, I’m walking with the ancestors.  … It just runs chills up and down me that I can be where my ancestors were at one time, and do the things that they did.” Desautel, a member of the Arrow Lakes Band, descendants of the Sinixt, bent to work dressing the carcass: He pulled out the heart and liver, then quartered the meat.

Linda sweated up and down the hillside, a packboard heavy with a hundred pounds of elk strapped to her back, the climb slippery with frost. After loading up the truck, the two went back to camp to hang up the white cloth game bags, full of meat and spotted with blood. Then they drove until they had cell reception, called the game wardens and told them what they’d done. 

The Canadian government had declared the Arrow Lakes Band “extinct” in 1956, after the death of the last known member in Canada. But just south of the U.S.-Canada border, Arrow Lakes Band members were alive and well on the Colville Reservation in Washington, where the Desautels live. The planning behind the hunt had been in the works for years — some would say decades — and it was a strategic attempt to force the Canadian government to recognize the Arrow Lakes Band’s right to hunt and, by extension, its tribal sovereignty.

To the Arrow Lakes Band, what Rick Desautel had done was a ceremonial hunt on land his ancestors had never ceded to the Canadian government. But to Canada, it was a crime.  Although the charges eventually brought against Desautel were for hunting, at the heart of the case is something bigger — whether or not Canada will have to recognize the Arrow Lakes Band as a modern First Nation, acknowledging their right to hunt and use their traditional lands. If Desautel loses, it means the Lakes will remain, in the government’s eyes, “extinct.”

The U.S.-Canada border crossing next to the Columbia River was once a primary canoe traffic corridor for Indigenous nations. It lies within unceded Sinixt territory.

THE CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE COLVILLE RESERVATION are composed of the Arrow Lakes Band and 11 other tribes from the region, who share a 1.4 million-acre reservation in Washington state. To go forward with the hunt, the tribal council representing the 12 bands had to agree to support it, and the court case they knew would follow. For months leading up to the 2010 hunt, tribal officials spoke with their British Columbian counterparts and with wildlife biologists, explaining their plans. The Canadians continued to insist that Arrow Lakes Band people did not “presently exist” in the province. The tribal representatives, who had expected as much, responded that they were going ahead with the hunt regardless.

Afterward, prosecutors charged Rick Desautel with hunting without a license and hunting as a non-resident of Canada. (Linda Desautel was not charged.) He pled not guilty.

Source: The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

Desautel’s case is unique because the Lakes are, as far as they know, the only First Nation to receive an explicit declaration of “extinction.” But his case, if it succeeds, means that other tribes cut off by the U.S.-Canada border with Aboriginal ties to the land could make a First Nations claim, too, even if their members aren’t Canadian residents. And that would require Canada to consult with those nations if any activity or development could impact their traditional lands. The right to own, use and control ancestral lands is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Canada announced its full support of the U.N. declaration in 2016, the same year Desautel’s case went to trial, as “Canada’s commitment to a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.”

During the trial, Desautel and other Arrow Lakes Band members listened while experts debated their existence in Canada. The judge ruled in favor of Desautel on March 17, 2017. But the B.C. government has since appealed twice, most recently to the Supreme Court of Canada, which has yet to decide if it will hear the case. (Editor’s note: Since this story went to press, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take up Desautel’s case.) During his preliminary hearing, Desautel recalls, an interim court lawyer told him, “You’re going to go to the Supreme Court with this case, you know, but when you do get there, you’re going to be an old, old man.” Well, Desautel laughs now, at 67, “I’m starting to believe him.”

Linda and Rick Desautel sit outside their home near Inchelium, Washington, as Rick describes his legal battle and his adventures as a hunter, trapper and game warden.

RICK DESAUTEL WAS ABOUT 10 years old the winter he went on his first deer hunt. He’d been trapping small animals for years already, rambling the pine woods and grassy meadows around his grandmother’s house in Inchelium, on the Colville Reservation, with his brother Tony. They’d shoot ground squirrels and grouse with a .22-caliber Remington rifle and bring the meat home. But the deer hunt was something else — it was a rite of passage. “When that day comes, it’s mind-shaking,” Desautel said.

Since his dad had died when Rick was young, it was Tony who took him out, borrowing a .25-35 lever-action rifle from the neighbors. The pair pushed through seven inches of snow, up to a ridge about 15 miles from home, when two mule deer jumped out about a hundred yards away. Rick aimed for the buck, but he hit the doe instead, bringing her down. “When it’s your first deer, it’s distributed with the community. None of it is ever kept,” Desautel said. “Everything that you kill is gone; deer hide, deer head, deer hooves, deer meat.” But, he added, you get the honor, “and glory.”

As a former game warden for the Colville Tribes, Desautel is used to testifying in court in cases involving poachers or drug smugglers. As in his everyday life, he’s consistent and unflappable on the stand. He has a deep knowledge of Colville Reservation lands, and has spent most of his life outside: 23 years as a logcutter on top of a lifetime of trapping and hunting. He’s survived half a dozen falls through ice in the winter and getting caught in a beaver trap. In 2006, while still working as a game warden, he shot down a floatplane smuggling $2 million worth of drugs onto the reservation. As a wild animal damage control officer — his current title — part of his job involves removing wildlife, “whether it be bats in your attic, elk in your field, bear on your porch.” At the direction of the tribal council, Desautel also carries out ceremonial hunts for community events. And he’s hunted in Sinixt territory over the Canadian border since 1988.

Rick and Linda Desautel live in a tidy log cabin on 40 acres of land, with a view of a meadow and Twin Lakes in the distance. In August, golden grasses shush in the breeze while sunflowers nod along the road. Linda grew up in Omak, three mountain passes to the west, just over the bridge from the reservation’s border. Now a school custodian, she’s also been a stay-at-home mom as well as a corrections officer. Together they’ve fostered fawns, hawks, eagles and other wildlife. People too; even after raising six kids, they’re always providing for more.

They’ve also been partners in resistance. In 1988, Arrow Lakes Band tribal members got word that the construction of a road near Vallican, B.C., in Sinixt territory, was going to affect Sinixt graves. A caravan of people went to Vallican to block the road; including the Desautels and their kids. In the end, the road was built and the graves relocated to a property called the Big House, which the Arrow Lakes Band bought as a home base in their ancestral territory. But had the Arrow Lakes Band been a recognized First Nation, the result may have been different.

That was the first time Desautel had the chance to talk with a whole community of Lakes people, standing together for a purpose. At the same time, he got to see the lands that generations before him had inhabited. “It infuriated me that people would desecrate graves and stuff like this here, and pick up their bones and move them,” Desautel said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m ready for it. I’ll head up there and see what I can do to stop this.’ And that’s what I did.”

Moonlight reflects across the still waters of the Columbia River where Kettle Falls once roared. It was the most important fishing location for the tribes of the upper Columbia before the construction of Grand Coulee Dam erased it.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE LONG employed hunting and fishing as a form of civil disobedience. It’s been a critical method for getting courts and governments to recognize tribal nations’ legal rights to land, water and wildlife — even freedom of religion. In the 1960s and 1970s, tribal members in the Pacific Northwest, from the Nisqually Tribe to the Yurok Tribe, were beaten and arrested for salmon fishing in defiance of state laws that violated their treaty rights. Their actions resulted in multiple victories in the U.S. Supreme Court, reaffirming their right to fish. And more recently, in 2014, Clayvin Herrera and several other Crow tribal members shot and killed three bull elk without a license off-reservation in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. The state charged Herrera with poaching, but a Supreme Court decision in 2019 upheld the Crow Tribe’s rights to hunt on “unoccupied lands of the United States,” in accordance with its pre-statehood treaty with the federal government.

In Canada, important cases testing Indigenous rights include the 1990 decision in R v. Sparrow. In 1984, Ronald Sparrow, Musqueam, was arrested for deliberately using a fishing net twice as long as legally allowed. While lower courts found him guilty, the Supreme Court of Canada found that his ancestral right to fish was not extinguished by colonization and remained valid. “It’s definitely a very common tactic to use in Canada, which raises a lot of interesting questions about having to break the law to get certain (First Nations) rights recognized,” said Robert Hamilton, assistant professor of law at the University of Calgary.

“The vast majority of the province is not covered by any treaty, and so the First Nations there have not given up their rights to the land.”

Desautel is navigating the Canadian court system and the unique histories between Canadian federal and provincial governments and Indigenous nations. Early in Canada’s history, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, tribal nations on the eastern side of the continent signed treaties with the federal government. But as settlers pushed west, that stopped. As a result, First Nations in what is now British Columbia ceded almost no territory to Canadians. “The vast majority of the province is not covered by any treaty, and so the First Nations there have not given up their rights to the land,” said Mark Underhill, Desautel’s attorney. “We’ve been wrestling for an extraordinarily long time to deal with those rights in large part because for many, many decades, the governments of the day, both federal and provincial, simply pretended they didn’t exist — that there were no such rights.”

That began to change with First Nations land claims — when tribal nations pursue legal recognition of their right to land and resources — which set the stage for Desautel. A landmark case brought by Nisga’a Chief Frank Calder in 1973 was the first time that the Canadian courts recognized that unceded First Nation lands exist. Another big change came in 1982, when Canada’s Constitution was amended to explicitly protect Aboriginal rights. That, together with other early court cases, resulted in a modern-day treaty process as an alternative to costly court proceedings. More than 25 treaties between First Nations and the Canadian government have since been negotiated over territory, water and other resources, with more in progress. Many First Nations are not participating, however, instead calling for an overhaul of the process.

Michael Marchand, a former Colville tribal chairman and Lakes tribal member who helped plan Desautel’s hunt, said that the Arrow Lakes Band were concerned that, as other First Nations in B.C. began to make land claims through the courts or treaties, its own claims could get edged out. But before the band could officially assert its ownership over its ancestral lands, it had to re-establish its legal presence as a First Nation.

The core of Desautel’s defense was the evidence that the Sinixt people inhabited the valleys and riversides around the Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes before Canada’s government existed. He and his legal team also demonstrated that their lifeways persisted throughout colonization, as Arrow Lakes Band members, and that they never ceded their Aboriginal rights. It’s been shown in court through Sinixt sturgeon-nose canoes, a main source of transportation before the Columbia River was dammed. It’s been shown through their place-based language and family trees. It’s been shown through the stories of Sinixt culture persisting, despite tribal members being killed by settlers and pressured out of their land, or swept off to boarding schools. It’s also been shown through Canada’s own laws: An 1896 law passed by British Columbia, for example, made it illegal for non-resident Indians to hunt. That is proof, said Underhill, of how many Indigenous people cut off by the border were continuing their way of life despite colonization.

One of the difficulties of the case is how few living tribal elders can speak to that history, because so many from that time have died. Still, the words they left behind remain influential. Shelly Boyd, Arrow Lakes Band facilitator and tribal member, represents Lakes interests in Canada with community members and First Nations. She points to a series of letters that had a strong impact, written by Arrow Lakes members Alex and Baptiste Christian, her husband’s ancestors, and sent to Indian Affairs agents in 1909. The Christians requested that the agents reserve lands around Brilliant, British Columbia, for the Arrow Lakes tribal members. The areas contained graves and were their home prior to settlement. Instead, the agents sold them to someone else, and the bones were eventually churned up under settlers’ plows. “It was a really sad story,” Boyd said. But the mark that they left mattered. “They lived through a time where after all of their work and all of their sadness and all of their pain, they had to leave … but those letters that they wrote, they helped us win this case.”

Desautel is matter-of-fact about the lawsuit, as he is generally about doing what needs to be done. The actual elk hunt itself was routine, much like the hundred or so hunts that came before it. When he turned himself in to the game wardens, he knew they were just doing their jobs. “If I let (the charges) pass, it’s going to go on to the next generation,” Desautel said. “I’m gonna throw out an anchor now. I mean, if it doesn’t hold and I go dragging on through life, my daughter or my granddaughter can come along later on and say, ‘Look here, my grandfather was doing this here. He was up here. He was doing this.’ ”

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and rules against Desautel, it would be the final say — period. “If we lose, we’re out of the game, we’re extinct,” Boyd said. Though 10 years younger than Desautel, Boyd knows him from growing up in Inchelium, where their grandmothers were best friends. She sees, and feels herself, what the land means to him. “He is risking something he loves very much.”

Regardless of the final outcome, Desautel will continue hunting in his ancestral lands in the years to come. If he loses, he shrugged, “They’re going to have to put handcuffs on me then.”

Fort Spokane was the military outpost charged with enforcing reservation boundaries for the Colville and Spokane reservations. It later became a forced assimilation boarding school for the children of the reservations. Pictured is a solitary confinement cell used to punish children who tried to escape from the boarding school and return to their families. Drawings scratched on the wall by children who were imprisoned in the cell can be seen through the bars. Rick Desautel’s uncle was shot by guards at Fort Spokane while attempting to escape and return to his family. One day his cell door had been accidentally left open, so he walked out. He didn’t speak English or understand the guards’ commands to halt, so they shot him dead.

THE TRIAL PROGRESSED SPORADICALLY over four months. The early mornings and long days away from home wore Rick and Linda out, and court proceedings were often mind-numbingly boring; Linda joked that the prosecutors sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. In essence, the prosecution argued that the Sinixt people voluntarily left their lands, moving south to become farmers and abandoning their traditional lifeways, thus giving up their rights as a First Nation.

About halfway through the trial, Dorothy Kennedy, a leading ethnographer who documented Sinixt histories in the ’70s and ’80s, took the stand as an expert witness for the government. Despite her past work for the tribe and her conversations with Arrow Lakes elders, Kennedy did not consider the Arrow Lakes Band a First Nation. Nor did she believe that the Sinixt experienced racism from settlers. Instead, she testified about “isolated incidents” of harassment that went “both ways” — because, she said, the Arrow Lakes were Americans in Canada, not because they were Indigenous. In the report she submitted to the court, she wrote that instead of “meekly fleeing settlement … they enthusiastically took up a different lifestyle south of the border.” To Desautel and his team, it felt like a betrayal.

“I grew up knowing I was declared extinct in Canada. As an 8-year-old girl, it’s like, what? Dinosaurs are extinct. It is still really inconvenient for us to exist.”

When Mark Underhill was hired by the Colville Tribe to take on Desautel’s case, multiple senior attorneys told him that they’d never win. But nearly four months after the trial finished, the judge found that Desautel was within his rights as an Aboriginal person to hunt within his ancestral territory. The courtroom, filled with Arrow Lakes tribal members and extended family, erupted in cheers and applause. So far, after two appeals, other judges have agreed with the first ruling. After the most recent one in March this year, from his office in Vancouver, B.C., Underhill called Rick and Linda on the phone at their home in Inchelium, and read the judge’s statement aloud on speakerphone. “(The judge) said some amazing things,” Linda said. “She made me cry.”

As long as the lower court ruling stands, the Canadian government now has a duty to consult with the Arrow Lakes Band concerning activities like logging and hydroelectric developments, or anything else that might impact their rights in the area. But there are also more intangible benefits of Desautel, as the decision has come to be known. “There’s some kind of indescribable freedom to it,” said Boyd. “I grew up knowing I was declared extinct in Canada. As an 8-year-old girl, it’s like, what? Dinosaurs are extinct. It is still really inconvenient for us to exist.”

Arrow Lakes Band tribal member Rick Desautel scouts for game on ancestral Lakes lands in what is now British Columbia, Canada.
Anna V. Smith/High Country News

DESAUTEL AND THE ARROW LAKES BAND are still waiting to hear if Canada’s Supreme Court will take up the case; they could know by the end of this year. Despite the resolute language of the past three judges, the Desautels aren’t assuming they’ll win. “(We’ve) never felt totally confident,” Linda said. “You’re dealing with the government. I don’t care who you are and what country you’re in. Never feel confident of your government, especially Native people. We know.” Still — Rick wants them to take up the case, to have Canada’s highest court affirm his rights.

If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, it ends in Desautel’s favor. But if the court takes it up, the case could drag on for another year or longer. Already, as Arrow Lakes Band facilitator, Boyd’s sights are set on what comes next for the tribe. They’ve reintroduced salmon to the upper Columbia River for the first time in almost 80 years and resumed canoe journeys using their traditional sturgeon-nosed canoes. Next, they’re planning to re-establish the Sinixt language, Nsyilxcen, in their territory. And every fall, Desautel will continue to cross the northern border to hunt.

“You’re dealing with the government. I don’t care who you are and what country you’re in. Never feel confident of your government, especially Native people. We know.”

The hillside in British Columbia where Desautel shot the cow elk is overgrown now, nine years later — 20-foot-tall white pine, tamarack and western hemlock trees crowd out the view of Slocan Valley below.  In late September, not far from there, he explored the steep draws and thick forests of Sinixt lands for signs of elk. Scouting for game with Desautel, the place comes alive even without any wildlife in sight. Faint prints of a bear cub crossing a road. Scat of a bigger bear from the morning, bright with berries. Torn tree bark from where an elk rubbed its antlers two weeks before. Alder saplings stripped of their leaves, a snack for a meandering moose. After a life lived outside, Desautel can read the forest’s early autumn activity like a book he’s paged through a hundred times before.

Desautel doesn’t usually hunt until later in October, when the days are colder. For now, he’s exploring — glassing the countryside with his binoculars, occasionally bugling for elk, searching for a spot that “looks elk-y.” As he hiked back down to his red Toyota Tacoma, the shoulder-high fireweed released its seed tufts like a cloudburst, swirling in his wake. As he drove north, cresting over Strawberry Summit, Desautel looked out at the expanse before him. “This country is so vast,” he said with a note of pride. “I’ve only checked out 1% of 1%, and I’ve got hunting rights as far as the eye can see.”

Grizzly experts want research into emaciated bears photographed on B.C. coast

Photos of bears concerned scientists, who said they could be suffering due to a poor salmon return. There could be other explanations.

Starving bear walks along the riverside in Thompson Sound on the west coast. Photo: Rolf Hicker. ROLF HICKER / PNG

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Grizzly experts disturbed by photos of emaciated bears in Knight Inlet are calling for research to determine why they are suffering.

Photos of a sow and two cubs taken by wildlife photographer and tour guide Rolf Hicker raised alarms for some scientists, who said the bears were likely suffering due to an abysmal Pacific salmon return this year. Federal fisheries experts have pointed to climate change as the main reason for the poor return, and salmon are crucial to coastal grizzly bears’ diets.

Longtime grizzly researchers say a salmon shortage is the most obvious explanation for why the bears in Hickers’ photos are suffering, but said there could be other factors.

Dr. Ken Macquisten, a wildlife veterinarian and managing director for the Grouse Mountain wildlife refuge, said he was shocked by the photos. Had only a single bear been suffering, he would have questioned whether it had broken teeth or an intestinal blockage.

“But multiple bears would tend to point to some common reason, and a lack of food would be top of the suspect list, in my mind,” said Macquisten, who is a director for the Grizzly Bear Foundation.

Starving grizzly bear in Hoeya Sound. Photo: Rolf Hicker ROLF HICKER / PNG

Macquisten said grizzly bear researchers are concerned about B.C.’s salmon supply. The fish are crucial to west coast bears during their hyperphagic stage before hibernation, when an adult will eat 50,000-60,000 calories of food and gain three to four pounds each day. They are omnivores and also typically eat whitebark pine nuts, insects and berries.

But if they don’t eat enough before hibernation, they will wake up early and be forced to search for food during winter when it is scarce, he said. They could die of starvation.

“Because they can range over large areas, typically the bears will be able to go to somewhere else where the food is, so it’s a bit surprising why these (photographed) bears are in such a state,” he said. “Either they haven’t been able to find food over a wide area or they haven’t been moving.”

But Macquisten urged caution before drawing the conclusion that a salmon shortage is to blame, and said he hopes someone will locate one of the suffering grizzly bears to determine the exact cause.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said provincial biologists can’t confirm why the sow in Hicker’s photo appears to be in such poor shape.

The biologists don’t know its history and whether age, dental issues, injuries, or providing for cubs contributed to its state, the ministry said in an emailed reply to questions.

“The number of bears on the coast are stable to increasing and this often means more competition for resources,” the ministry said. “If salmon runs in the area are lower than expected, this will have an added effect and bears may have to travel further to find food.”

Government representatives are working with the Mamalilikulla First Nation to monitor the welfare of wildlife in the area.

The B.C. government has estimated 15,000 grizzly bears are in the province and said roughly 340 die each year of human-related causes. Of the 56 grizzly populations in B.C., nine are classified as threatened.

Dr. Cole Burton, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources Management at the University of B.C., also called for research into whether a poor salmon return and climate change are impacting the wellbeing of some bear populations.

“If we’re concerned about grizzly bears and how they might be responding to these changes, then we should try and support some more study on that, some more monitoring that’s tied to our management actions,” Burton said.

He wouldn’t jump to the conclusion, from the photos, that the suffering grizzly bears represent more widespread suffering, he said.

“It’s certainly consistent with these ideas around a reduction in salmon,” said Burton, who is the Canada Research Chair in Terrestrial Mammal Conservation. “But on its own, I don’t think it provides much evidence of the bigger-picture trends.”

Burton said that grizzly bear populations in B.C. are generally doing okay, but not thriving, mainly due to habitat loss caused by development and roadbuilding.

The government’s ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting in 2017 may have increased the number of bears’ competing for food, Burton said. Prior to the ban, an average of 297 grizzly bears were legally killed by hunters annually, according to provincial data.

“I’m not saying that that’s what we’re seeing here, but certainly we would want to know about the population,” Burton said.

Clayton Lamb, a PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar at the University of Alberta, has been working with grizzly bears for six years and is currently researching their population dynamics.

A poor salmon run is a “reasonable” explanation for the sow to be malnourished, Lamb said. But when salmon populations are low, grizzlies tend to move elsewhere in search of berries, and he wondered whether the bears in the photographs have that option.

“I think a couple of pictures don’t give us that larger population context,” he said.

Lamb said climate models for grizzly populations in B.C.’s Interior suggest that berries and other diet staples could, in fact, become more abundant as the climate changes.

“As far as food and climate change for bears, it’s not immediately concerning,” he said. “There’s undoubtedly going to be winners and losers in climate change, and I think it just so happens that some of those key berry species are going to be winners.”

Bryce Casavant, a former conservation officer who is now conservation policy analyst with non-profit conservation organization Pacific Wild, said Hicker’s photos serves as a reminder that human behaviour can have an impact on wildlife.

“What we do know is there is food scarcity, currently, within the Great Bear Rainforest and coastal regions of B.C., which is causing problems for grizzly bears,” said Casavant, a PhD candidate at Royal Roads University.

“Salmon runs have declined, their ability to access natural food sources has decline. Habitat loss is a serious contributing factor to grizzly bear population recovery and stability.”

B.C. First Nation feeds hungry grizzlies 500 salmon carcasses

‘I’m hoping it’s not too little too late,’ says Mamalilikulla First Nation chief councillor

The Mamalilikulla First Nation delivered salmon to grizzly bears in their traditional territories where they are known to feed. (File pictures/Canadian Press)

When Richard Sumner saw how emaciated the grizzly bears were in his neck of the woods, he knew something had to be done.

Sumner, chief councillor of the Mamalilikulla First Nation, says the creeks and streams on the nation’s territory, which  encompass the islands off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island between Alert Bay and Knight Inlet, are no longer rich with salmon, and resident bears are starving and travelling outside traditional hunting grounds in a desperate effort to find food.

So the Mamalilikulla people fed them.

The nation’s Guardian Watchmen Manager, Jake Smith, had a local hatchery donate approximately 500 salmon carcasses and members of the nation took the fish to estuary areas where grizzlies are known to feed.

“I’m hoping it’s not too little too late,” said Sumner in a phone interview on CBC’s On The Island, adding there are many other areas of British Columbia where bears that depend on salmon are hungry.

Migrating for meals

He said grizzlies are starting to travel between all the small islands in the area and are even making their way over to Vancouver Island in search of fish, something that rarely happened in the past.

“The lack of salmon is not a natural thing,” said Sumner, who blamed human activity such as deforestation and over-fishing for reducing salmon stocks to perilous levels.

Climate change resulting in warmer ocean temperatures has also been cited by marine scientists as a major factor in dwindling salmon stocks.

Sumner said while he understands humans should not interfere with wild animals, the Mamalilikulla people are the stewards of their territory and according to Sumner, the alternative was to watch the bears die.

“We just hope we can get enough bulk on them to last the winter,” said Sumner.

Some of the 400 members of the Mamalilikulla nation are suffering too.

“Nobody has any fish in their freezer or any canned fish for the winter,” he said. “It’s been a real disastrous year.”

Sumner does not know if more fish will be available for future deliveries.

Sumner said he is meeting Thursday with a bear biologist and provincial authorities to discuss the issue further.

To hear the complete interview with Richard Sumner, see the audio link below:

Wildlife Management: When Forest Wails and Mourns

Photo credit: John E. Marriott

“Just as ships’ bottoms pick up layers of barnacles over time, so, through their lives, human societies and individuals become encrusted with layers of cultural and ideological sediment. … The cemented coating clings as though chemically bonded to me and screams bloody bloody murder at my slightest advance…”~John Livingston

Awar on wildlife in British Columbia never ends; cruelty goes on, unabated. We cannot unshackle ourselves from the self-centered belief system — the thickened layer of barnacles — that destines us to view nature as a resource subordinate to our needs. When, in 1981, John Livingston wrote “Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation”, he cautioned against the fallacy of turning the Earth’s fabric into a “natural resource”. It was echoed by Neil Evernden who recognized that, once deemed a resource, nature inevitably becomes a casualty of reckless exploitation. And this is what has happened. Under the guise of fostering “conservation”, we have concocted a management approach that gives us a license to discard a delicate assembly of life as if it were a lump of coal.

The decades-long tragedy of the caribou habitat is a proof, as good any, of cruelty and travesty inherent to current wildlife management strategies. What strikes the most is how long it has lasted. In the 1970s, a biologist, Michael Bloomfield, showed that the widespread destruction of the habitat by logging and other resource development activities threatened caribou survival. These warnings were never listened to. The B.C. government has allowed for the destruction of the habitat to continue, and the caribou population dwindled from 40,000 in the early 1900s to approximately 15,000 today, all scattered among 54 herds. Thirty of those herds are at risk of extinction and 14 have fewer than 25 individuals.

Photo credit: John E. Marriott

This is the current reality. With impunity grounded in political support — regardless of a party in power — the industrial encroachment fragments the caribou habitat and decimates their food source. Consequently, chances for the survival of the caribou diminish as their habitat shrinks in size. The resilience of nature is no match for greed and political expediency. A cycle of life gets broken. What is worse, the officially sanctioned ecological devastation not only ensures the eventual disappearance of the caribou but sentences to death wolves, cougars, and many other species that depend on the same habitat.

Death comes in many forms, and, for some animals, anguish and agony mark the path. The fate that wolves suffer shows most glaringly the tragedy that befalls nature when the government gives in to demands of the resource-extraction industry. In 2014, the B.C. government, with its Management Plan for the Grey Wolf, authorized the war on wolves. Since 2015, under the guise of caribou conservation, over 700 wolves have been killed. They were trapped, hunted, poisoned to death, gunned down from helicopters. Even more abhorrently, extermination tactics have used “Judas wolves” to find their packs and wipe out all of their members. But this not where the war against the wolf ends. The stated number does not include “wolf whacking” contests that take place in the interior of B.C. — an officially sanctioned bestiality that not only dooms wild animals but debases us, as human beings.

Photo credit: John E. Marriott

And, yet, even this is not enough. Now, the NDP government argues that “landscape scale habitat management is needed to support self-sustaining caribou populations”. It thus proposes a predator hunt legislation that would — in the name of reversing caribou population declines — erase more than 80 percent of the wolf population in parts of the central B.C. In other words, it would get rid of the “surplus” of wolves. To call this wildlife management approach fallacious and unethical is to be greatly euphemistic. The innocuously sounding phrase — “landscape scale habitat management” — camouflages an outright slaughter.

And it is the slaughter compounded by ecological ignorance. Any discussion about maintaining stable wolf populations — an underlying premise behind the predator hunt legislation — defeats its purpose if the exact number of wolves in a habitat remains unknown. As so is the case here. The Management Plan for the Grey Wolf states that the wolf population might be approximately 8,500. In reality, this number can be anywhere between 5,300 and 11,600, since, as the plan admits, estimating the population size is challenging due to the secretive nature of wolves, their extensive range, and the density of forested habitats they inhabit. Moreover, hunting data in B.C. lack reliability. The plan states that there is “considerable uncertainty in the current take of wolves by resident hunters and trappers as B.C. does not have a mandatory reporting system…[and] without more reliable estimates of the harvest, it is difficult to assess the sustainability of BC’s wolf harvest.” This ignorance does not, however, prevent the government, Max Foran states, from accepting “generous hunting quotas, no limit on killing females or pups, no bag-limit zones, long and sometimes open year-round hunting seasons, no license requirement for residents.” This is not management but a “wolf killing plan”, he writes.

Killing that will never stop. The ministry’s scientists claim that “a very extensive effort will be required every year to continue to keep the wolf population low” because of the wolf’s natural resilience and quick recovery. Like stubborn weeds, wolves must be eradicated repeatedly. This malignancy cannot be allowed to grow.

Unfortunately, the cruelty and the bureaucratic cold-heartedness underpinning this statement account for merely a part of its tragic perversity. However inhumane, the perpetual killing of wolves is based on the premise that, following a bout of slaughter, the species is able to recover. Only an unfounded human hubris would allow for such a premise to sustain itself. The so-called “surplus” of wolves is very fragile in the face of climate change, and wolves are vulnerable to the unpredictable ecosystem dynamics. Precariousness and unpredictability are the words that define a broad range of interdependences in the critical caribou habitat. The social-ecological system operates on various scales– some of them observable and some not — and there are tipping points, the crossing of which takes us into a place of no return. After all, we live in the times of a rapid environmental change where the only certain expectation is uncertainty. That is why the “managed” killing of predators is a callous misnomer that is bound to unleash not only savagery but also unknown ecological ramifications.

Photo credit: John E. Marriott

Still, numerical variations in the wolf population, as well as both known and unknown ecological consequences of their repeated slaughter, do not tell the whole story. What remains hidden from all of us, living far away from the land of the wolf, is individual suffering to which, through our political indifference, we implicitly consent. What we do not see is paralyzing anguish, pain, and psychological trauma that comes in the aftermath of the shattered family structure. Death destroys even those who survive. After a killing spree is temporarily over, surviving wolves return to mourn a loss. They also face a world unknown to them. As Marc Bekoff and Sadie Parr write, “those individuals that survive to make new wolf families must do so without access to the knowledge and culture held by their slain family members, something that takes generations to build. They become refugees on their own land.”

Finally, this is not only about the caribou or the wolf, but also about us, humans. Perceiving nature through the prism of its cruel and ignorant management comes at a price that we will have to pay. Destroying wolves destroys us as a society. It diminishes us. Our appreciation of and compassion for the natural world have evolved throughout centuries and molded into moral and ethical principles. We break these principles at our peril.

It is time to start peeling layers of “cultural and ideological” sediment we wrapped ourselves in. The cemented coating that clings to us offers the comfort of familiarity, but it is a false comfort that chips away at our humanity. The main argument for killing wolves in the caribou habitat is ensuring that the caribou will still be there, in the future. So our children and their children can watch them roam the forest. Given the ongoing destruction of the habitat, it will not happen no matter how many wolves we decide to shoot. But even if the demise of the caribou were to be somehow temporarily postponed by the merciless “recovery” plan, what then? Should we tell our children how many generations of wolves we have killed to accomplish this? Should we tell them that they what they see is the legacy of killing fields?

PLEASE TAKE ACTION:

In British Columbia:

  1. Support Pacific Wild campaign “Save BC Wolves” at https://pacificwild.org/campaign/save-bc-wolves/
  2. Support Wolf Awareness campaign at https://www.wolfawareness.org
  3. Support Wildlife Defence League campaign at https://www.wildlifedefenceleague.org/mountain-caribou
  4. Write and Send letters to:

Premier John Horgan — Premier@gov.bc.ca
Minister Doug Donaldson — FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca
Darcy Peel — Director, BC Caribou Recovery Program caribou.recovery@gov.bc.ca

Please also help wolves In Ontario:

“The Ford government wants wolves and coyotes to pay the price for declining moose populations in Ontario. By re-opening a proposal abandoned by the previous government after it was outed as being unscientific and unethical, the PCs are trying to liberalize the hunting of both wolves and coyotes across northern Ontario.”

Comment by September 26th at http://earthroots.good.do/wolf/huntingcomment/?fbclid=IwAR08lwxns1Z0hw5tnc_uBZ5M9y6syqKQwWy5u48mkT0S2A1mOBZ6Zz2Pn_0

Fraser, Pitt river seal hunt proposed in Lower Mainland

First Nations say fishing affected, DFO reviewing

There is a growing call for First Nations communities to be able to harvest seals and sea lions along the Fraser and Pitt Rivers for profit.

Thomas Sewid, with the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society, believes that a pinniped harvest is needed in order to save salmon stocks that are being depleted by the animals. Seals, sea lions and walruses, with flippers, are considered pinnipeds.

“Since the 1980s, the seal and sea lion population in British Columbia have exploded,” said Sewid.

“They are just decimating our salmon stocks. And then you factor in the low returns we’re getting this year,” said Sewid, adding that it’s a disaster.

RELATED: Scientists warn of ecosystem consequences for proposed B.C. seal hunt

He would like to see Fisheries and Oceans Canada allow First Nations communities to harvest and sell seal and sea lion products, “to help protect their salmon, sturgeon, trout, steelhead and everything else they are decimating.”

Sewid said that while under the First Nations food, social, ceremonial fishery, many communities have the right to harvest seals and sea lions, they are not allowed to sell the meat, barter it or trade with it.

“What we need is to get licensed,” said Sewid.

Once licensed, Sewid wants to see bands get authorization to close down parts of the river to the public for a certain period to allow hunters in high-visibility vests to remove the seals, although the method by which the seals would be killed hasn’t been confirmed.

“We want people with high-vis vests and radios and cellphone communication to cordon off the area, because First Nations are going to go in and remove the seals and sea lions,” said Sewid.

On Wednesday, hereditary Chief Roy Jones Jr. from the Haida First Nation approached the DFO to demand that they be allowed to sell seal products.

Sewid says there is plenty of interest from industries for seal or sea lion meat, oil, blubber and fur. The oil, he says, can be used in the pharmaceutical industry for lotions and pills for the high Omega 3 content, furs can be used for art and tourism industries, the meat can be used in the pet food industry and, he believes the high-end restaurant market would be interested in the meat as well.

He says it will be a sustainable and viable industry for communities lining the rivers.

Katzie Chief Grace Cunningham says there is an issue with seals impacting the harvest.

“I believe the largest population of seals are obviously in the ocean but when they are in our river they certainly affect our fishing endeavours,” she said.

She says the band has noticed it more in years like this year because of the depleted salmon run.

“We’re not able to get out as often as we would like or need to harvest our own and our fishers have to battle the seals to salvage their catch. The seals literally pull fish out of our nets, half eaten and or simply ruin the flesh,” she continued.

Katzie fisheries manager and councillor Rick Bailey said the issue is how to harvest the animals safely.

“Back in my grandfather’s day they used to just go out with a .22 and shoot them because there was nobody around. They used to get $5 per nose and they would just turn it into the Department of Fisheries in New Westminster and they would pay them in cash and they would go and buy groceries,” he said.

Now, added Bailey, there is too much activity on the river so that shooting the animals is not an option.

He has been trying to design a harpoon that can be safely used like a crossbow.

“Something to do it in a safe and humane way,” he said.

RELATED: Seal attacks kayakers off northern Vancouver Island

Bailey agrees with Sewid that the seal population has exploded.

“When we’re out fishing, we run our boats slow now because of the cost of fuel. You look out the window and the seals are swimming right beside you. Then as soon as you throw your net out they are just patrolling back and forth along the net picking out anything that they can get,” he said.

He compares the situation to a habituated bear. They are not feeding them but whenever they go fishing the seals and sea lions are out there robbing their nets.

Leri Davies with Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed that the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society submitted a proposal to commercially hunt pinnipeds under the New and Emerging Fisheries Policy.

Davies said the DFO takes an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries and oceans management to ensure that the best science is reflected, in consideration of the role seals play in a healthy aquatic ecosystem.

Seals and sea lions are an important food source for transient killer whales, also known as Biggs killer whales, Davies said by e-mail. This population of killer whale has been listed as threatened under the Species at Risk Act since 2003, she said.

She did say the DFO is reviewing the Pinniped Society’s proposal that has already resulted in several rounds of feedback. And consultations with academic experts in Canada and the U.S. will be ongoing.

Danny Gerak who runs the Pitt River Lodge, says seals are not the problem for declining salmon populations.

“They have been feeding on the salmon for thousands of years. Before we got here and there were lots of salmon,” said Gerak by email from the lodge.

He says the problem is people who are destroying salmon habitat, over fishing, polluting the rivers and streams, killing the spawning grounds with jet boats, allowing disease from fish farms and sea lice and allowing the Japanese and other countries to fish B.C. sockeye on the high seas.

“They’re the least of our problem,” he said.

Sewid says if the government doesn’t back a seal or sea lion harvest they are going to announce a First Nations cull on the entire coast.

“To hell with government. We’ll let them drag us off to court and we’ll prove, like we always do in Supreme Court that we win the dice roll with a 96 per cent success ratio,” he said.