The Nuxalk Nation hosted an informative Nan (Grizzly Bear) and T’la (Black Bear) Day at the Nuxalk Hall last week.
“It’s a chance for people to come and ask questions and find out information,” said organizer Megan Moody, Nuxalk Stewardship Director. “We brought together a variety of different organizations and we’ve also got several presenters.”
Present at the meeting were the Nuxalk Bear Safety Group, the biologists and researchers of the Nuxalk Bear Study, Clyde Tallio and Iris Siwallace of the Nuxalk Indigenous Law Project, Sgt. Len Butler of the Conservation Officer Service, Fraser Koroluk of WildSafe BC, and Chief Councillor Douglas Neasloss of the Kitasoo/Xai’Xais.
“It’s been going really well this year,” said Jason Moody of the Nuxalk Bear Safety Group. “We keep a log book of every incident we respond to, and there are a lot more salmon in the creeks this year so conflicts are much lower than this time last year.”
Moody explained that his crew has been working consistently to reduce conflict by brushing out excess brush, redesigning fish processing areas, cleaning up discarded fish waste, installing electric fences and responding to any reports of problems immediately.
“We’re getting out there and offering our support and talking to people,” he said. “We’re also closely monitoring bear activity so we can keep the community informed if there is a bear in the area.”
Moody said the the response has been very positive, with many people taking on redesigning their fish processing areas to reduce negative interactions, and that the COS has been very supportive of their proactive approach.
Clyde Tallio and Iris Siwallace also offered some unique cultural perspective on the traditional knowledge of the Nan and T’la through their Indigenous Law Project.
“It’s fascinating, I am learning so much,” Siwallace shared. A Nuxalk speaker from birth, Siwallace has previously worked at Acwsalcta School and with many cultural programs in the community. She said both her and Tallio are thoroughly enjoying their new positions, frequently uncovering and categorizing exciting cultural knowledge.
A thorough explanation was also given of the Nuxalk Bear Study. Modeling itself after several similar studies on the Central Coast, the Nuxalk Bear Study uses a non-rewarding attractant to lure bears into a barbed wire perimeter. The bears then leave behind a hair sample which the researchers collect and analyze for data.
Last year was the first complete year of the study, and yielded information on population numbers, health, and genetic analysis.
Ron Schooner and Quentin Hans, both members of the Nuxalk Bear Safety Group and the Nuxalk Bear Study, explained that the study is important to understanding bear behaviour and population numbers on Nuxalk Territory.
“The DNA left behind on the hair can tell us quite a bit,” Schooner explained in his presentation. “We also have remote cameras at the sites which capture their movements and behaviour.”
Heather Bryan, a biologist with the University of Victoria and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, told the crowd about the exciting discoveries she and her team have made through the hair sampling studies on the Central Coast. Bryan says the 2013 study found bears that consume lower amounts of salmon have higher levels of cortisol, which may be a bad thing.
“Salmon declines contribute to higher levels of stress,” Bryan explained. “This can affect bear health in a variety of different ways, such as nutritional and social processes, and this can have long-term implications.”
Bryan also said that with the addition of the Nuxalk Bear Study in the Bella Coola area, the total sample area has jumped to 20,000 square kilometres, or the equivalent of a small country such as El Salvador.
“The Central Coast area is now being monitored by five coastal nations,” said Bryan. “This is providing some of the information you need to stand up and affect change in your territory.”
Kyle Artelle, a biologist working in Bella Bella, also provided information on bear-human conflict in the Bella Coola Valley, which indicates that conflicts rise in direct correlation with low salmon years.
A graph mapping years of study of conflict in relation to salmon abundance showed a clear rise in conflict sine the early 2000’s, as spawning salmon numbers have dropped fairly consistently since then.
"The evidence points to a direct correlation to increased conflict during low salmon years, not a higher number of bears,” said Artelle. “In fact there are probably less bears, as there are less salmon, but these bears are taking higher risks to obtain food due to lack of salmon in the creeks.”
The Nuxalk Bear Study now joins the monitoring efforts of the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/XaiXais, Wuikinuvx, and the Gitga'at.
The day also included question and answer sessions with the COS and cultural sharing of songs and stories related to the Nan and T’la.