British Columbia

B.C. First Nation feeds hungry grizzlies 500 salmon carcasses

Members of the Mamalilikulla First Nation, located off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, dropped the fish at feeding areas where salmon stocks have become scarce.

'I'm hoping it's not too little too late,' says Mamalilikulla First Nation chief councillor

The Mamalilikulla First Nation delivered salmon to grizzly bears in their traditional territories where they are known to feed. (Canadian Press)

When Richard Sumner saw how emaciated the grizzly bears were in his neck of the woods, he knew something had to be done.

Sumner, chief councillor of the Mamalilikulla First Nation, says the creeks and streams on the nation's territory, which  encompass the islands off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island between Alert Bay and Knight Inlet, are no longer rich with salmon, and resident bears are starving and travelling outside traditional hunting grounds in a desperate effort to find food.

So the Mamalilikulla people fed them.

The nation's Guardian Watchmen Manager, Jake Smith, had a local hatchery donate approximately 500 salmon carcasses and members of the nation took the fish to estuary areas where grizzlies are known to feed.

"I'm hoping it's not too little too late," said Sumner in a phone interview on CBC's On The Island, adding there are many other areas of British Columbia where bears that depend on salmon are hungry.

Migrating for meals

He said grizzlies are starting to travel between all the small islands in the area and are even making their way over to Vancouver Island in search of fish, something that rarely happened in the past.

"The lack of salmon is not a natural thing," said Sumner, who blamed human activity such as deforestation and over-fishing for reducing salmon stocks to perilous levels.

Climate change resulting in warmer ocean temperatures has also been cited by marine scientists as a major factor in dwindling salmon stocks.

Sumner said while he understands humans should not interfere with wild animals, the Mamalilikulla people are the stewards of their territory and according to Sumner, the alternative was to watch the bears die.

"We just hope we can get enough bulk on them to last the winter," said Sumner.

Some of the 400 members of the Mamalilikulla nation are suffering too.

"Nobody has any fish in their freezer or any canned fish for the winter," he said. "It's been a real disastrous year."

Sumner does not know if more fish will be available for future deliveries.

Province responds

Sumner said he is meeting Thursday with a bear biologist and provincial authorities to discuss the issue further.

A statement from a spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations Friday said provincial biologists cannot confirm why the bears appear to be in poor shape. 

The spokesperson said the number of bears on the coast are stable or increasing and that this often means more competition for resources. 

"The public is reminded to never feed wildlife for the safety of themselves and the bears," the statement continued.

It said provincial representatives are working with the Mamalilikulla First Nation to share information and monitor the health of wildlife. 

To hear the complete interview with Richard Sumner, see the audio link below:

With files from On The Island and Bridgette Watson