I write now from the coast of British Columbia, in the midst of the Great Bear Rainforest. I am sitting on a couch with a cup of coffee at my elbow and the smell of fresh-baked cookies in the air. To say that I am roughing it would be something of an exaggeration. In my defence, however, I will add that this is my first day off in two weeks, and the first in the same period where I have not paddled and dragged a canoe through ten kilometres of estuarial river. While the smell of chocolate oatmeal cookies (yes, I bake) is certainly a pleasant one, I can assure you that the rotting carcasses of hundreds of pink and dog salmon is less than enjoyable.
I am currently employed by Round River Conservation Studies on behalf of the Heilsuk First Nation and the land they control. Myself and two others (and I use that number loosely) are collecting data on grizzly bears and salmon in this, the Kvai, watershed. [Note: while the river appears as ‘Koeye’ on the maps, the Heilsuk spell it ‘Kvai’ and pronounce it ‘Quay.’ We defer to the Heilsuk.] The data we gather will be added to years of research in forming a Conservation Area Design, which the Heilsuk will refer to when making decisions affecting land use and wildlife policy. Distillation: we field biologists slog through the rivers and forests, counting fish and collecting bear hair off barbed-wire snares.
The Kvai is special for a number of reasons. The Heilsuk have used this watershed for thousands of years, both as a source of food and materials, but also living on its banks in many temporary camps and villages. Four species of salmon (no Chinook) still run this river in good numbers, though are much affected by sport and commercial fishing in the area. The mouth of the Kvai forms a small protected bay, which supports a variety of marine life that tend to be quite scarce in this area. It is also one of the few watersheds in all of coastal B.C. that has never been logged. Though we can look out the window of this lodge and see cruise ships plowing through the Inside Passage, the low mountains around us are still dense with giant spruce, fir, hemlock, and ceder, the undergrowth so thick as to be nearly impenetrable without sweaty hours of machete work. For us, travel is restricted to the waterways, the few blazed trails, and a few meters up along the banks.
So why am I sitting in comparative luxury? The Heilsuk bought a lodge that had been used to house fishermen-tourists back in the day. Now it is used primarily for a summer camp for tribal children, but is also rented out for events ranging from company retreats to weddings. We are based out of the lodge because most of our work is on the lower river and is accessible by canoe and one main trail. We have some sites at Koeye Lake, about fifteen kilometres inland from here, and we camp on the shore while we are there.
Given that the only power we have here is from a small generator, I will cut this post here and give further updates as warranted and possible.
To you all out there, stay warm and dry, and don’t get eaten by bears.