My encounters with grizzly bears

September 7, 2016 Tony Bates

Bear 1: 'Bent-ear', probably from a fight with another bear

Bear 1: ‘Bent-ear’

I have always kept this blog as a strictly professional activity focused solely on online learning. However, I have something so extraordinary to report that I am making an exception.

I am privileged to live in the most beautiful place in the world: British Columbia, Canada. I know many will challenge me on this, but I have travelled to most countries in the world and nothing beats British Columbia in terms of natural beauty and the variety of its ecosystem. Just look at the photos.

Between Bella Bella and Bella Coola on the Fisher Channel

Between Bella Bella and Bella Coola on the Fisher Channel

Last week, my wife and I and two friends took a road trip to the Central Coast region of British Columbia, and in particular to the Great Bear Rainforest.

Our trip involved:

  • a regular ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, (nearly 2 hours)
  • a 387 kilometre drive to Port Hardy in the north of the island,
  • a large ferry (the Northern Expedition) from Port Hardy to Bella Bella (419 kilometres, 5 hours)
  • a small ferry from Bella Bella to Bella Coola (163 kilometres, 8 hours)
  • a 400 kilometre drive from Bella Coola to Riske Creek in BC’s Chilcotin region, partly over dirt roads  (6 hours)
  • an 570 kilometre drive from Riske Creek to Vancouver, via Williams Lake, Lillooet, and Whistler.
The end of the Burke Inlet near Bella Coola

The end of the Burke Inlet near Bella Coola

In the Bella Coola region, we took a tourist expedition in a Zodiac dinghy down the Atnarko River. The salmon (mainly chum and pinks) were reaching their spawning ground and the grizzly bears were waiting. Within minutes we spotted a bear called Bent Ear (probably a result of a fight with another grizzly) emerging from the forest. He was known to our guide as a 14 year old male bear. As Bent Ear is the dominant male in the area, we didn’t see another bear on that trip.

'Bent-ear' was in the forest on the bank opposite our Zodiac

‘Bent-ear’ was in the forest on the bank opposite our Zodiac

The next day, on our way out of the Bella Coola valley, we stopped lower down the Atnarko River and walked to a viewing site on the bank of the river. There we found four other people and a young male grizzly in the water on the wrong side of the river – our side! For a few minutes we watched this young male bear (probably five years old or so) splashing in the water, then he decided to climb up the river bank.

Bear 2: 'Boo'

Bear 2: ‘Boo’

The reaction of the eight people on the bank was varied. I admit, I almost ran back to the car. A large male grizzly is very dangerous, and I’d given my bear spray to my friend’s wife. My friend, who is an artist, continued to sketch the bear. His wife started yelling at him to get away. One of the strangers in the group turned out to be a wildlife guide. He told everyone to stay calm, keep in a group and back off slowly. The bear decided he wasn’t interested, and moved away along the river bank. I decided to call him ‘Boo’, because he just looked at us and we all panicked (except the guide and my artist friend).

Islands near Port Hardy

Islands near Port Hardy in the rain – well, it is a Rainforest!

I wanted to see the Great Bear Rainforest, because it has recently officially recognized by the Government of British Columbia in February 2016, when it announced an agreement to permanently protect 85% of the old-growth forested area from industrial logging. Inevitably, it will soon be over-run with tourists, because it is such a special place. I wanted to get there before that happens. I was not disappointed. Seeing two grizzly bears in the wild brought home to me what life was really like for most humans in the quite recent past. And the scenery was stunning.

Fortunately, the Great Bear Rain Forest remains a relatively difficult place to get to, so that’s why I am sharing this with you, although in 2018, there will be a more direct ferry service between Port Hardy and Bella Coola.

'The Hill' out of Bella Coola to Williams Lake ; it's the only road.

‘The Hill’ out of Bella Coola to Williams Lake ; it’s the only road.

But if you go, do be careful. Grizzlies can run faster than a man, and can be very aggressive, especially mother bears with cubs, and males when they are hungry. It’s their land, not ours. I am grateful for the privilege of being able to share it with the animals, and I want to thank the First Nations (the Nuxalkmc in Bella Coola and the Tsilhquot’in in the Chilcotin), who have cared for this land so well for so long.

Nuxalk totem pole in Bella Coola

Nuxalk totem pole in Bella Coola

Normal service will resume shortly.

Bent-ear goes for a swim

Bent-ear goes for a swim

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