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.
Whether it’s bears, wolves or whales, many coastal species have evolved to rely on annual returns of Pacific salmon. But how are the food needs of these animals considered in fisheries management or the benefits of salmon managed for coastal ecosystems? Bottom line: they aren’t.
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.
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 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.
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.”
RICK DESAUTEL WAS ABOUT 10years 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.”
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE LONGemployed 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.”
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.”
DESAUTEL AND THE ARROW LAKES BANDare 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 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.
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.”
‘I’m hoping it’s not too little too late,’ says Mamalilikulla First Nation chief councillor
CBC News ·
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.
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.”
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.
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.
Cunningham says a seal cull is not something the band has considered in the past but seals and sea lions in the water is a problem they’ve always had to deal with.
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.
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.
“We need to look at ourselves before we start blaming the seals,” said Gerak.
“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.
A local non-profit animal protection group has renewed its calls for the City of Delta to take action after a family cat was grievously injured in a foot-hold trap in Ladner.
The Fur-Bearers learned that Blu, a three-year-old cat, found its way home with severe damage to a hind leg with dead and dying flesh (necrosis). The veterinarian who is treating Blu noted the injury was the result of a foot-hold or body-gripping trap.
“I’ve had pets my whole life and never experienced anything like this,” said owner Josie Moubert. “Whomever caught Blu released him from the trap, but didn’t call the number on his collar. Our veterinarian suspects that due to the level of rotten flesh, Blu was in the trap for at least two days. Everyone I’ve spoken to about what happened to Blu is disgusted by it. Our family still doesn’t know if he’ll make it.”
Blu’s harrowing experience follows a recent memo from Delta bylaw staff recommending the city not enact a bylaw regarding traps following an incident last month where a raccoon was also caught by a foot-hold trap in the same neighbourhood.
According to The Fur-Bearers, the raccoon was found in the area of 46A Ave., dragging a foot-hold trap for days. The raccoon was emaciated, dehydrated, and had a visibly broken leg. The animal was humanely euthanized by Critter Care Wildlife Society.
“Municipalities in British Columbia cannot rely on the province to appropriately manage all wildlife-related issues, as can be evidenced by several enacting or asking to enact similar trap bans,” said Michael Howie, a spokesperson for The Fur-Bearers. “This trap was likely set within an urban environment, and possibly within sight of a large elementary school. The City of Delta has both the duty to protect their residents from such dangerous behaviour and the authority to enact bylaws related to such under the Community Charter.”
The lengthy response memo from Delta bylaw staff notes trapping in B.C. is regulated by the province under the Wildlife Act and that a variety of trapping methods are allowed, including the use of leg-hold traps. However, there are restrictions, including prohibiting the use of a leg-hold trap within 200 metres of a dwelling. Farmers wanting to stop nuisance wildlife have the same restriction, require written permission of a property owner and traps must be checked every 24 hours.
Farmers typically hire professional trappers if and when required and there are three licensed professional trappers in the city that are utilized by Delta farmers, the memo explains. The memo also states a prohibition on leg-hold traps would be a significant hardship to farmers.
Howie said his group disagrees with bylaws and have sent another letter to Delta urging them to reconsider and review its policies again.
“A bylaw would also create education for local residents who may be trying to catch and/or kill animals on their property,” added Howie. “It’s time to acknowledge that provincial laws have not done the job of protecting people and pets from traps, and that communities are speaking out against their use.”
The Fur-Bearers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the identification and conviction of the person(s) responsible for setting this trap, should it be proven to be illegal. They are also calling on local landowners who are using legal traps to publicly acknowledge this with signage and communication to nearby residents so that educated decisions can be made.
Angelo Mion learned the hard way that a seagull is more than just a flying rat. At least as far as the law is concerned.
The 82-year-old East Vancouver man found himself before a judge for the first time in his life this week after having pleaded guilty to an offence: destroying the nest of a migratory bird.
And so here he was shuffling at the glacial pace that was as fast as his feet could carry him down the aisle of a fifth floor B.C. provincial courtroom to face judgment.
“I didn’t know that seagulls were protected either. I don’t think most people do,” his lawyer told Judge Patrick Doherty.
“He didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.”
Mion’s tangle with the law grew out of the ornithological obsession of a couple whose high-rise condo allowed them a clear view of the rooftop of a low-rise East Vancouver apartment building Mion built in the early 1980s.
The octogenarian doesn’t live in the building, but he still serves as caretaker. And in the summer of 2016, his neighbours took an interest in the birth and hatching of two fledgling gulls.
Crown prosecutor James Billingsley said gull chicks are flightless for five to six weeks. But once they do take to the skies, their nests still serve as a kind of homing beacon.
“It’s how they orient themselves in cases of extreme weather,” the prosecutor said.
One of the neighbours claimed he saw Mion walk onto the roof one July morning and “chase and kick” at the two baby gulls. The birds’ parents screeched and circled in the skies overhead as the neighbour yelled at Mion to stop.
That night, the other half of the couple saw Mion “sweeping the nest into a bucket.”
They called wildlife officials, who showed up at the door of Mion’s home, “but he refused to open it.”
‘These are these common seagulls, right?’
Fast forward to the summer of 2017 and the high-rise neighbours had their eyes on a new nest of gulls. There were three this time.
Then, in mid-August, one of the neighbours came home to find there were none.
“He saw shovel marks,” Billingsley told the judge.
A wildlife inspector called on Mion again, this time wanting access to the roof for an inspection. Mion told him there was no need, because he had already removed the nest.
“Mr. Mion stated that he was the only one with access to the roof,” Billingsley told the judge.
“And (the officer) should go and get a helicopter because that was the only way (he) would get access to the roof.”
In a distinguished career behind the bench, Doherty has presided over complex cases involving alleged sexual assault in the RCMP, trespassing on Indigenous land and fraud.
This appeared to be the first time he had been asked to consider the rights of a Glaucous-winged gull.
“These are these common seagulls, right?” he asked Billingsley.
“That’s correct,” Billingsley answered. “All gulls are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.”
The rise and fall of the Glaucous-winged gull
According to a 2015 University of British Columbia study, the number of seagulls in the Strait of Georgia, which separates Vancouver Island from the B.C. mainland, has dropped by 50 per cent in the past three decades. Diet is considered a factor in their decline.
They’re known for eating almost anything — hence the “flying rat” reputation — but they historically relied on a marine diet. Apparently french fries, cookies and other scraps picked off the plates of tourists are not an improvement.
Destroying a gull’s nest carries a penalty ranging from $5,000 to $300,000. Billingsley was looking for a fine of $8,000.
But Mion’s lawyer, Ken Westlake, said an absolute discharge would be more appropriate.
Born in Italy in 1937, Mion came to Canada in 1956 with a Grade 5 education. A mason by trade, he worked until the point his body failed him, raising children and grandchildren.
He has prostate cancer and other health issues. Westlake said the gull’s nest was blocking the drain in the apartment building.
Mion wore a crisp light check shirt and brown dress pants as he sank into a chair beside his lawyer.
Westlake said the old man was “adamant” that he didn’t touch the nest until the chicks were gone.
And he disputed any suggestion that the neighbours could have seen his infirm client “kick” at anything.
“He walks with some difficulty,” Westlake told the judge. “What (the neighbour) observed and what he believes have nothing to do with what happened.”