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Monday, September 14, 2009

Grizzlies starve as salmon disappear

Written by Mark Hume

Vancouver From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

First the salmon vanished, now the bears may be gone too.

Reports from conservationists, salmon-stream walkers and ecotourism guides all along British Columbia's wild central coast indicate a collapse of salmon runs has triggered widespread death from starvation of black and grizzly bears. Those guides are on the front lines of what they say is an unfolding ecological disaster that is so new that it has not been documented by biologists.

“I've never experienced anything like this. There has been a huge drop in the number of bears we see,” said Doug Neasloss, a bear-viewing guide with the Kitasoo-Xaixais tribes in Klemtu, about 180 kilometres south of Kitimat.

Mr. Neasloss said in recent weeks that he and other guides have visited 16 rivers where they usually encounter groups of bears feeding on spawning salmon.

“I've been doing this for 11 years and this is the worst I've seen it,” he said. “Last year on the Mussel River, I saw 27 bears. This year it's six. That's an indication of what it's like everywhere.”

He said on another river last fall, he saw 12 black bears and three spirit bears, rare black bears with white fur.

“This year, there are three black bears and no white bears,” he said.

Mr. Neasloss said for several years salmon runs have been in decline in the area, but last year was particularly bad.

“I've never seen bears hungry in the fall before, but last year, they were starving,” he said. “I noticed in the spring there weren't as many bears coming out, but I felt it was premature to jump to any conclusions. … but now there just aren't any bears. It's scary,” he said.

“I think a lot are dead. I think they died in their dens [last winter],” he said.

Ian McAllister, Conservation Director of Pacific Wild, a non-profit conservation group on Denny Island, near Bella Bella, said he's heard similar reports.

“I've talked to stream walkers [who monitor salmon runs] who have been out for a month and have yet to see any bears,” he said. “There are just no bears showing up. I hear that from every stream walker on the coast.”

Mr. McAllister said it used to be easy to visit salmon streams in the Great Bear Rainforest, a large area of protected forest on the central coast, and see 20 to 30 bears a day feasting on salmon.

“Now you go out there and there are zero bears. The reports are coming in from Terrace to Cape Caution … the bears are gone,” he said.

“And we haven't seen any cubs with mothers. That's the most alarming part of this,” Mr. McAllister said.

He said the problem is that chum salmon runs in the area have collapsed.

While there are strong runs of pink salmon into rivers on the central coast, chum, which are much bigger fish that spawn later in the year, are the key food item for bears preparing for hibernation.

Without an adequate supply of big salmon late in the year, said Mr. McAllister, bears do not have enough fat to survive the winter in their dens.

“The lack of salmon last fall, coupled with a long, cold winter, is what's at the root of this,” he said.

“River systems that in the past had 50,000 to 60,000 chum have now got 10 fish,” he said. “The chum runs have been fished out. We've seen the biological extinction of a [salmon] species, and now we're seeing the impact on bears.”

Fred Seiler, with Silvertip Ecotours, in Terrace, said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans should not allow salmon to be commercially harvested in areas where stocks are in trouble.

“This should be a huge red flag for DFO … but they continue to manage British Columbia's salmon fishery in a total state of denial,” he said. “Even as we speak, they are still considering more [salmon fishing] openings when not enough fish have returned to the rivers.

In a joint statement, Mr. McAllister, Mr. Seiler and Mr. Neasloss called on the government to close all chum-salmon fisheries and cancel the fall grizzly-bear hunt.

The worst salmon disaster this year has been on the Fraser River, on the south coast, where 10.6 million sockeye were expected, but only about 1.6 million returned.

“The collapse of the Fraser sockeye and now the north-coast chum salmon runs is leading to ecological collapse of our coast ecosystems,” said Mr. McAllister.


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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.