• Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest.

    Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest. (Photo: Chris Darimont)

They just couldn’t bear the hunger.

William Housty, coastwatch director of the Qqs Projects Society in Bella Bella, B.C., cites the availability of salmon in the area’s watershed as the reason more and more grizzly bears are walking the “bear highway,” a route of sorts that runs through the Great Bear Rainforest on the province’s central coast. While working on another project, Housty came across grizzlies in numbers that were much greater than previously thought, prompting a new collaborative study with the Raincoast Conservation Society. Housty and his crew have been studying these bears for about three years. He explains their work below.

We originally thought that because we had seen 10 or 12 individuals just in our travels within the watershed, that that’s what we were dealing with.

But in 2008 we had 70 individual bears utilizing the watershed. We were quite surprised the number was that high, so we started looking at reasons for the big increase. Even though 2008 was a really bad salmon year for a lot of the creeks adjacent to the watershed, the watershed itself still had a good return, so all the bears were coming in to take advantage of that.

It was interesting to see the influx because it painted a real picture of how big the ranges are for these grizzly bears.

We set up barbed wire snares every 500 metres and started to collect hair from the grizzlies in the fall season, when they were feeding on the salmon. There was evidence from one bear in three different locations. This bear travelled upward of 100 kilometres within a 10-day stretch just to utilize its food source. It’s quite astonishing to see how far they actually travel.

The bear trails within the watershed are just like the highway system. There are side trails and a main trail, and judging by how well the trail is kept, the bears are obviously using it quite regularly. There are never any parts of the trail with bushes overgrown.

I think being able to intertwine the traditional knowledge we have and dovetail it with the science we’re doing on the ground is the important thing to come out of this study. It’s given us a greater picture of how to manage grizzly bears and their habitat, and how we’re going to monitor important factors such as salmon numbers in the future.