Eco Tourism in Bella Coola – Grizzly, Black and Spirit Bears

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In the last decade the Bella Coola Valley has become a popular destination for eco tourism experiences, with bear viewing topping the list. Solitary creatures, the grizzly and black bears roam the hillsides & lowlands throughout the Bella Coola Valley. Their population is densest within Tweedsmuir Park South, where the presence of abundant spawning salmon streams ensure these magnificent creatures are well fed.

A more dominant species, the Grizzly, sometimes known as Kodiaks, will normally displace the Black bear. But the valley’s abundant food source makes them far more tolerant. Since bears are omnivorous they can be viewed year round, with the easiest sightings from Mid August to late October. Then the Grizzly and Black bears can be seen along the river banks fishing for the spawning salmon. Sport fishermen must sometimes give way to these mighty beasts when their favorite fishing spot is challenged by a hungry bear.

Nearby, on Princess Royal Island, the snow white Spirit Bear rummages along the streams, they too feasting on the spawning salmon. The Spirit Bear or Kermode bear is related to the black bear, but are not albinos. When the Spirit Bears emerge from their dens in early spring, their coats are snow white. By late fall they’ve built up fat from the spawning salmon and rich berries, giving their thick coats a butter yellow sheen.

Local guides are available through the lodge for bear viewing either by river drifts or hiking. Contact the lodge for a free one page guide on Bear Viewing procedures. For those wanting to strike out on their own Bella Coola Valley Tourism (http://www.bellacoola.ca) has produced an excellent Trails Guide that includes maps and descriptions of 17 of the most popular hikes.

Preparing to head out

There are a ton of books out there with a diverse view on bear behavior in the wild, and the human element. We recommend the series of books by James Gary Shelton. Gary has written three best-selling books on the subject, Bear Encounter Survival Guide, Bear Attacks – The Deadly Truth, and Bear Attacks II – Myth & Reality. Recounting dozens of first hand experiences, Gary strives to bring a realistic view of bear behavior together with practical information and strategies for safe wilderness exploring. These books can be purchased in most book stores or borrow one from the public library. If you’re in the valley visit Kopas’ Store in Bella Coola and pick up autographed copies. You can order books from Kopas by email at BCSupply@belco.bc.ca