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Reader responds to recent NY Times article featuring Bella Coola

Dear Editor,
The New York Times recently featured an extensive article written by B.C. author Margaret Munro about the grizzly bear situation in the Valley entitled “Grizzlies in the Backyard.”

Dear Editor,

On balance this recently published article gives reasonable balance to the local bear issue, not normally communicated by urban reporters whom show a built-in bias on the subject. But the author’s comment where she indicates the last person killed by a grizzly was in 2005 in BC does not reflect the several maulings and many near-misses that have occurred since then in the region. And that many Valley locals now routinely pack firearms for safety concerns.

All my spare time as a kid was taken up living at Stuie and constantly fishing, boating and camping on the Atnarko Rivers’ shores right where the spawning salmon and grizzlies interacted. These bears included those not normally residing there as a resident population. I remember running from some grizzlies but was never attacked; they were usually running the other way.

Now key areas have a density of 20 grizzlies per square km when the pink, sockeye and chum salmon are spawning. And there is definitely an influx of non-residents bears at that time of year and they now seem to show a similar reduced fear of humans.

Back in the day our local grizzly bear management system worked. The early settlers brought guns and bear dogs and kept them at bay, although the limiting factor was the rather small caliber of gun. More recently, the legal grizzly hunt (and more recently still the competitive limited entry hunt) targeted the more aggressive bears - simply because they were the ones seen more frequently.

The majority of resident bears were always around, but most respected people; bears are easily smart enough to know what a gun shot meant and that this usually brought harm to them if they showed belligerence. Now a gun shot is an attractant for grizzlies in BC (constantly demonstrated with incidents in the BC Kootenays and NE BC) related to the ungulate kill that often they will find.

And note that in Bella Coola the Nuxalk FN’s have instituted regular night patrols in the 2 villages so to warn their residents of aggressive bears. Historically this was dealt with differently; they trapped aggressive grizzlies by using large log dead-falls where a horizontal tree would be tripped by the bear which would then fall on them and hold them until a spear could be inserted into the equation. Necklaces made from claws were a sign of a hunter’s supreme bravery. So a management system was in place away back then.

And note that contrary to popular belief, when I was younger several Natives were employed as bear guides to paying hunters, and also hunted grizzly bears for themselves. And many still have no problem with the idea of hunting to control the amount of aggressive bears.

It’s also interesting to note that our current BC government doesn’t recognize that grizzly bears are a major influence to the population decline of our beloved Caribou calves, and that they require some form of population management - just like the wolves. But it seems difficult to get a BC biologist to agree to this now, despite earlier studies showing otherwise. Would this have anything to do with the current hunting moratorium on grizzly bears?

Greg Saugstad

Quesnel, BC

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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