It doesn’t matter much if it is raining when tourists see their first grizzly bears, says Da’naxda’xw Guardian Watchman Stanley Beans. “There’s usually quite a bit of high-pitched screeching and then lots of picture-taking,” grins Beans. “It’s a pretty exciting moment.”
Beans and his fellow Da’naxda’xw Guardian Watchman Harold Glendale spent part of the 2017 season undertaking wildlife training in preparation for the bear watching season in Glendale Cove, near Knight Inlet, an area known for its high rainfall. Glendale Cove is also famous as the home of one of the largest concentrations of grizzly bears in British Columbia. At peak feeding season, there can be as many as eighteen bears close by Knight Inlet Lodge, a local resort specializing in wildlife tours. In partnership with the Lodge, the Da’naxda’xw Watchmen undertook part of their field training on some of the guided tours, and monitoring of bear activity at Glendale Cove.
“First we did in-class training,” explains Beans. “We watched videos showing how bears react to different situations, the kind of body language you see if they feel threatened or nervous, for example.” Following the classroom learning, the two watchmen then accompanied Knight Inlet Lodge bear guides on several tours to study the bears, and how they behave when tourist groups are nearby.
The real thing
“The first time we walked the trail we actually had a bear charge us. That was interesting,” says Beans nonchalantly. Fortunately, the bear was bluffing and moved away. But what if he hadn’t? Beans says the right thing to do is to stand your ground, make as much noise as possible, and back away very slowly. “Of course, you should never be on your own out there. Being in a group is much safer.”
Groups of nervous newcomers can be just as difficult to manage as the bears sometimes. “The guides definitely have to talk to them a lot and be very clear in their instructions. You have to make sure they don’t run, because bears will run faster than they can. Also they must not carry any food or wear anything scented, which attracts the bears.”
Educating people about bears
Part of the Guardians’ ongoing work with respect to the bears will involve educating everyone who visits the area, and monitoring the safety of both people and animals. “People on pleasure boats come by Knight Inlet and the Glendale River all through the season,” says Beans. “That’s our territory, and we have closed off Glendale River to help protect the bears, but people don’t always understand or respect that yet.”
Examples of some of the problems the Guardians have already encountered include people flying drones over and at the bears. “It’s prohibited in that area because it upsets them, you can see how nervous they get. It’s a real issue because we can’t necessarily track where the drone controller is to request them to stop.”
Some members of the public flouted the rules and insisted on landing and walking up the river with food for a picnic, creating a dangerous situation for themselves and for the bears. Beans and Glendale put to good use their training on how to communicate in a situation like that. But despite their efforts to get the message across, the boaters refused to listen. “It’s unfortunate that they didn’t respect the rules. They left the next day but anything could have happened.”
Beans and Glendale hope that more education over time for the public and raising awareness of the importance of keeping the bears safe, as well as better understanding of the responsibilities and rights of the First Nation in whose territory and care the bears are roaming, will help resolve the issue eventually. “I don’t think anyone wants the bears to come to any harm, and that’s what it comes down to.”
Carrying on the good work
After two years of hard work and extra-curricular training through Vancouver Island University’s Stewardship Technician Training Program—all on top of their day-to-day Guardian duties—the two Guardians successfully graduated as certified Stewardship Technicians in March 2017.
Glendale spent the early part of 2018 out in the field as a teacher’s assistant, working with the program’s second year students, who will graduate in March 2018. Among them are two more Da’naxda’xw junior Guardians, Nolan Puglas and Angela Davidson.
All four are looking forward to an exciting 2018 season, starting with fish counts in Glendale Cove, assisting with the eulachon run in Dzawadi and making gleetna, and of course, more bear protection and monioring activity in Knight Inlet. “I’m looking forward to getting up there again,” says Beans, unfazed by bear charges or disrespectful boaters. “We’re there to make a difference, and I think we will.”