November 7, 2022

Grizzly Bear Knowledge Learning Circle

On October 15, 2022, Estsék’ Environmental Services, Simpcw First Nation and the Thompson-Nicola Conservation Collaborative co-hosted a Grizzly Knowledge Learning Circle at Thompson River University’s Wells Gray Education and Research Station. Wells Gray is located within Simpcw’s caretaker area of responsibility within the Secwépemc Nation. Participants were welcomed to the event, and to Simpcw Territory by Counselors Amanda Celesta and Alison Green. Tom Dickinson, Professor Emeritus at TRU, welcomed them to the facility. Tina Donald, Simpcw Natural Resources Department Fish and Wildlife Manager was unable to attend but is a core member of the team.

Grizzly Bears are a blue-listed species in British Columbia and the last published population estimate of the species (2012) for the Wells Gray population, an estimated 317 individual bears. The project, which runs from 2021 to 2024, will increase our understanding of grizzlies in Wells Gray. Over the course of the next few years, grizzly population dynamics, historic and current cultural ties with Simpcwemc (the People of Simpcw), and the effects of land development due to human development in their territory, (e.g., increased human presence from Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and logging) will be evaluated. The data collected will inform the long-term monitoring trends for population management within Simpcwúl̓ecw (Simpcw Territory), and for Simpcwemc.

To obtain hair samples from grizzlies, the team spent the summer and early fall setting up, checking, and removing “bait” stations, which are non-reward (no food) scent mounds surrounded by a small, barbed wire fence. The scent mounds, composed of well-decomposed logs, moss, and sticks, are scented with rotted cows’ blood and fish, with a rotation of additional, ‘novel’ scents, such as anise oil and beaver castor. The bait stations are checked regularly, and any hair found on the barbed wire was collected for DNA analysis. This data will help staff determine how many individual grizzlies are in the area and in the long-term, inform Simpcw First Nation and their collaborators regarding land management decisions.

The Learning Circle began with a welcome song, by Paul Michel, Special Advisor to the TRU President on Indigenous Matters followed by a round table of introductions by everyone in attendance. Simpcw First Nation Councillor and Estsék’ Technician, Amanda Celesta, and Ceryne Staples, Ecosystems Biologist with Estsék’, shared information about the first year of the Grizzly Bear Study, which wrapped up in October. The Learning Circle participants enjoyed the teams’ stories of the season’s preliminary results. An open exchange followed which ranged from input into the study in the future to discussion of the behaviour of Grizzles and other wildlife in the area.

Members attending the event then had the opportunity to visit Edgewood Blue, a nearby property donated to the Land Conservancy of British Columbia by naturalist and lichenologist, Trevor Goward, where he explained the mission of the space as a place for youth to connect with and learn from nature.

Simpcw’s Grizzly Bear Study is funded by Natural Resources Canada through the Terrestrial Cumulative Effects Initiative.