May 30th, 2013
By Laura Grant
After our training day with the Heiltsuk crew at Salmon Bay, we began the first round of sampling in Kitasoo/Xai’Xais Territory with our newly formed field team: Christina Service, Krista Robinson, Brandon (BJ) Robinson, and Laura Grant. Team members hail from the University of Victoria, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Spirit Bear Research Foundation, and the community of Klemtu. As a result, they each bring valuable skills and strengths to team.
We began our season by visiting numerous channels and inlets in the area, each of which are bordered by tranquil and tannin-filled creeks. Although we saw no wildlife our first day, recent sightings of a white bear in the area has us excited to revisit sites and check remote cameras.
We then moved west towards the open water, in the hopes of using Marvin Island as a staging ground to access our furthest sampling sites. This provided us with stunning views of the flat and windswept outer islands of the central coast, which almost seamlessly blend with the horizon. As these islands primarily host wolves, our bear focused research rarely allows us to explore these rugged and dramatic meeting places of open ocean and land. We were thankful to get a glimpse of the shores of Price and Aristazabal Island. Although only a few kilometers away, these islands are a different world from the estuaries and avalanche chutes we explore on the inner islands and mainland in search of bears. Despite these novel views, the weather wasn’t co-operating with our plans to stay at Marvin Island and we were forced to head back to the safety of our float house in Klemtu.
Eventually, the weather allowed us to safely visit our interior sampling sites, where extensive fjords separate mainland valleys. Not surprisingly, it was here that we saw our first grizzly bears of the season; a mother with two cubs, and a large male. Before building our hair-snag, we spent some time watching the bears foraging in the estuary. As most people know, there is a particular awe that one is struck with in the presence of such powerful animals. That day however, our lingering was mostly due to the male grizzly not feeling particularly inspired to exit the location of our sampling site in a timely fashion!
In the following days the weather let up and we were free to roam the territory. In addition to exploring new areas for sites, we spent a night at both the Mussel and Marvin Island Cabin in order to more efficiently setup our furthest sites. These evenings allowed us a great opportunity to get to know the new field crew better and roast some marshmallows under the dark central coast sky.
The first round of setting up our hair snag stations and remote cameras is now complete! It’s been a great first few weeks in the Territory, reconnecting with friends in the community and saying hello to our ursine acquaintances. We’re excited to start our second round of sampling, where we re-visit all of the sites we set up, collect bear hair, and gather remote camera data with our amazing field crew.