The sound of laughter comes in through forest, mixed with the smell of barbequing fish. It is a warm June evening. I look up from my gaze to the fire to all the kids running around, and cannot imagine feeling luckier to work (and play) in such a beautiful place.
For five years now, the Wuikinuxv Bear Project has monitored grizzly and black bears populations in alpine and coastal habitats in Rivers Inlet, BC, and beyond across Wuikinuxv Territory, as Raincoast Conservation biologists and ACS lab students, we work with the Wuikinuxv Coastal Guardian Watchmen to form “the bear crew”. We sample sites along the huge and remote Owikeno Lake, which drains into the inlet near Wuikinuxv Village.
Due to the size of the lake and wind waves that build on it, we often camp up the lake while we sample. We have had many quiet nights around the fire up there over the years, watching the swallows eventually be replaced by bats while reflecting on dramatic sunsets. This time around, however, we are joined by youth, elders, and community from the village who have joined us for a community camp-out. It is anything but quiet!
We monitor 8000km2 in Wuikinuxv territory. There are bears across the whole of it, just as there are signs of Wuikinuxv habitation since time immemorial. We have learned so much about the dense black bear population and the highly mobile grizzlies that can roam up in the mountains or out on islands at the mouth of the inlet.
We have also had the immense privilege of learning about where we work in a deeper context, one where we know bears and humans have been neighbours for thousands of years. Places where established bear trails go underneath culturally modified trees or parallel beach middens, where traditional stories are embedded in exceptional bear habitat.
We have learned that being on the land for conservation science occurs concurrently, and with powerful synergies, to being on the land as guests, friends, and collaborators of the youth, elders, and community members from the places in which we work. That is why we want to provide to Wuikinuxv community members the same access the bear crew has to beautiful places on the land. This is why we are out camping, all together.
After five incredible years of being humbled to the long story of bear-human coexistence in Wuikinuxv, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to end the spring sampling than by sharing food and songs and stories up the lake with youth, elders, and community members, knowing that grizzlies we’ve detected this spring and in years past might be close enough to hear our laughter.
By Megan Adams, Raincoast biologist and ACS PhD candidate