She was the first wild grizzly bear that we ever saw. As we came around a corner one October afternoon she sat in the middle of a wide trail, so stuffed with apples she could barely move, under the tree she had just been denuding.
The first thought that entered our heads was to flee. But this bear seemed if anything a little comical, certainly not menacing. She scratched and grunted and tried to raise herself awkwardly into a standing position as if preparing for a formal introduction.
That first sighting of a wild grizzly bear seemed auspicious for Kristin and I, recently arrived from Europe. We had already put down a small deposit on Wild Bear Lodge and were trying to wheedle more financing out of reluctant banks to make the place ours.
Four months later, mortgage secured, we arrived with all our belongings in two heavily-laden vehicles on a snowy late winter day. Over the years the bear we had seen that day became an integral part of our lives.
Apple, as we began to call her after the eponymous fruit that she so liked to gorge on, furnished me with much of my early bear knowledge. She was a good teacher.
At times she would deign to walk within a dozen feet of me without a raised eyebrow, but on others, especially when she was on a kill or felt hemmed in, she would become wilder, huffing and moving her head anxiously at the first sign of my approach.
I learned to watch the position of her ears, the subtle open and closing of her mouth, and the stiffness of her body posture, all indicators of her mood and intent.
Several years later Apple had two cubs and we watched them grow up, returning to our valley each year to feed on the salmon. For many of our guests she was the first grizzly bear they ever saw. Sometimes we watched her stride like a monarch along the dirt road next to the lodge.
On other days she would dextrously feed on red-osier dogwood berries that grow alongside the river. More than one guest over the years stood in awe, tears rolling down their faces, after an ephemeral early-morning meeting with this wild grizzly bear on the banks of our misty river.
Locally she became something of a celebrity too. Her image hung in photo galleries in the nearest town. Once, thanks to a timeless photo taken by my friend Jakob, she graced the cover of the Wall Street Journal. And then in 2015, just as she was rearing her second set of cubs, she disappeared. She was almost certainly shot by a trophy hunter. Her cubs returned alone.
We were angry and bereft. But anger alone doesn’t get you anywhere. The only thing we could do was redouble our efforts to try and get the grizzly hunt banned for good. It really should have been a no-brainer. More than 90 per cent of British Columbia residents oppose the hunting of grizzly bears.
Grizzly-viewing brings at least 10 times as much into the provincial coffers as grizzly hunting. Grizzlies have been listed as a “species of special concern” and one population, according to the government’s own numbers, has dropped 40 per cent in population while under a “managed” hunt.
Yet still the politicians maintained that grizzly hunting was laudable. And still the bureaucrats in the ministry fought tooth and nail to keep the hunt alive. It was as if their jobs depended on having a grizzly hunt, and, for some, it may have.
And then finally in the summer of 2017 we had a breakthrough. After a provincial election a new premier of BC was elected, a man who had already visited the lodge and seen our operation for himself. He agreed to ban the trophy hunting of grizzly bears in BC as of the end of the year.
And then in December he went one step further and banned all grizzly bear hunting, effective immediately.
We couldn’t have done any of this without you, our guests. For every guest we have we take $100 and put it into our Wild Bear Fund. And that is what has allowed us to have such a remarkable impact.