More salmon, more grizzly cubs at play

Female grizzly bear chasing a chum salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest

This female grizzly bear is a formidable huntress and a good mother. When this photo was taken she was supporting three cubs with her salmon fishing prowess.

Salmon have traditionally been managed only for commercial and recreational fishing interests, without consideration for how many salmon are needed to support bears, orcas, wolves, and the vast number of other species and ecological processes that salmon support in coastal ecosystems.

The Raincoast Conservation Foundation has been working hard to shift this “fisheries first” management paradigm towards a more comprehensive framework that includes wildlife and ecosystem values in salmon management.  In essence, this simply means reducing human catches and protecting salmon habitat so there are more salmon to go around. For those who love the British Columbia coast, and this wild earth, we owe a debt to the tireless work Raincoast and others have been doing to push things in this direction.

Chum salmon carcasses by the side of a stream, left behind be a feasting bear in the Great Bear Rainforest
The remains of five chum salmon left behind by a feasting bear. Nutrients from these fish will be spread into the forest by scavengers – and in the bears’ urine and faeces – nourishing numerous other species and fertilizing the very trees that help maintain the health of the stream where salmon spawn.

What does this have to do with grizzly bear cubs at play?

Salmon can represent up to 70 percent of the calories a bear will consume each year in the Great Bear Rainforest. This means the health of grizzly bears on the BC coast is tied directly to salmon abundance. Critically, the reproductive success of female bears (their ability to produce cubs and their ability to survive) depends on body fat derived from salmon.

The equation is something like this: more salmon to eat = more body fat on mother bear = more cubs per litter = more healthy little cubs at play (Hurrah).

Oh, look, here come some cubs right now!

The take-home message is fishermen are not the only ones who rely on healthy salmon populations. As consumers and fisheries managers, we must get better at sharing this resource with the other creatures and ecosystems that depend on it.

If we can do that, then there is hope that we will continue to see healthy families of grizzly bears in the Great Bear Rainforest.

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