A unique North American sanctuary lets a few lucky observers see the besieged grizzly in its wildest state.
By Christine Schrum
Our inflatable Zodiac boat snakes through a labyrinthine estuary off the coast of British Columbia. Mist hangs in the air. The glassy water mirrors the snowcapped mountains that jut 6,900 feet into the sky. Old-growth hemlock, Sitka spruce and cedar climb the craggy slopes, growing as thick and dense as the fur on a grizzly bear’s back.
“Hey bud, you’re all right,” Tom McPherson, our skipper and guide, says gently as we pull alongside a 300-pound bear with a fresh claw mark on one flank.
The blond bruin turns his back to us. He’s belly-deep in intertidal sedge—a protein-rich plant that coastal grizzlies devour for months after they emerge from their dens in April. He tears at the greens, swiping them with a heavy paw.
I’m with a handful of tourists and photographers near the Alaskan border in the Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, also known as the K’tzim-a-deen Grizzly Sanctuary. The refuge is jointly managed by BC Parks, the Tsimshian First Nations and the Gitsi’is Tribe, whose traditional territory encompasses the park. We flew in yesterday on a floatplane and landed on a glacial fjord. Our base camp: Ocean Light II, a 71-foot ketch-rigged sailboat operated by one of only a few outfitters licensed to enter the estuary in May and June.