Reflections after a visit to Canada's Great Bear region

By Jonelle Warren, Executive Assistant and Office Coordinator, Vancouver Office, WWF-Canada
I was born in a very small northern interior community. Our home did not have the luxuries of running water or electricity. We did not live near supermarkets or even a corner store. Our nearest neighbour was miles away and at certain times of the year, the only way in or out of our property was by boat on the river.  We depended greatly on the land and the river and, not unlike the majestic grizzlies of the Great Bear, we worked throughout the summer in our acre-sized garden to ensure we had enough food preserved to last us through the winter and early spring. Our two goats supplied us with milk and our chickens supplied us with eggs. We fished in the river and we hunted on the land. Nature and wildlife surrounded us and grizzlies and wolves were a common sight. It was an intricately woven environment which I could not have fully grasped at that young age but even then, I knew we had a responsibility in that place to maintain balance and not put at risk the very things that we ultimately depended on.

Great Bear Sea, 2012. (C) Jonelle Warren, WWF-Canada

Years later, as I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit the Great Bear Sea, I am reminded again of the interconnectedness and the immense amount of reciprocating life and diversity in these places. In no way is the Great Bear a fragile place in its own sense, it is a wild place and one that is very much alive and abundant. Yet, there is something quietly delicate about it.
While sitting in our Zodiac boats in a downpour of rain, we watched a grizzly and her two cubs on the shoreline, the cubs wrestling with each other, one playfully snatching a freshly caught salmon from mom and tearing off in a hopeful game of chase. Water cascaded over 2000 feet from atop breathtaking bluffs as eagles and gulls flew directly overhead. The setting is almost surreal.  There is so much life here and it all depends on the interwoven relationship between land and sea.

Grizzly bears, spotted in the Great Bear Sea, 2012. (C) Jonelle Warren, WWF-Canada

One of the most powerful experiences I had was towards the end of our journey in the Great Bear when we ventured into Salmon Bay and walked through the lush forest along the stream’s edge, at times knee deep in chum and pink salmon. There are rotting salmon on the banks and in the forest and clear evidence of animals such as wolves, birds and bears that have been feeding on them. The natural decay of the salmon is evident and the nutrients are being soaked up by the rainforest as we stand there. It’s an “aha” moment when the connections are so visual and clear and this bay delivers exactly that.

Salmon, spotted in the Great Bear Sea, 2012. (C) Jonelle Warren, WWF-Canada

It has taken me a few days to be able to clear my thoughts from the experience in this great place. I had previously heard about it, seen photos of it, but now I feel I actually get it. I’ve seen it firsthand and as a Canadian, I feel we have a responsibility to take the time to understand what’s at stake here and stand up as a country to protect the Great Bear and all of the life that depends on it now and in the future.