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Grizzly bear monitoring by the Heiltsuk people as a crucible for First Nation conservation practice

William G. Housty, Coastwatch Director, QQS Projects Society
Anna Noson, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana
Gerald W. Scoville, Department of Biological Sciences, Central Washington University
John Boulanger, Integrated Ecological Research
Richard M. Jeo, The Nature Conservancy
Chris T. Darimont, Department of Geography, University of Victoria; Raincoast Conservation Foundation
Christopher E. Filardi, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History


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Guided by deeply held cultural values, First Nations in Canada are rapidly regaining legal authority to manage natural resources. We present a research collaboration among academics, tribal government, provincial and federal government, resource managers, conservation practitioners, and community leaders supporting First Nation resource authority and stewardship. First, we present results from a molecular genetics study of grizzly bears inhabiting an important conservation area within the territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation in coastal British Columbia. Noninvasive hair sampling occurred between 2006 and 2009 in the Koeye watershed, a stronghold for grizzly bears, salmon, and Heiltsuk people. Molecular demographic analyses revealed a regionally significant population of bears, which congregate at the Koeye each salmon-spawning season. There was a minimum of 57 individual bears detected during the study period. Results also pointed to a larger than expected source geography for salmon-feeding bears in the study area (> 1000 km²), as well as early evidence of a declining trend in the bear population potentially explained by declining salmon numbers. Second, we demonstrate and discuss the power of integrating scientific research with a culturally appropriate research agenda developed by indigenous people. Guided explicitly by principles from Gvi’ilas or customary law, this research methodology is coupled with Heiltsuk culture, enabling results of applied conservation science to involve and resonate with tribal leadership in ways that have eluded previous scientific endeavors. In this context, we discuss the effectiveness of research partnerships that, from the outset, create both scientific programs and integrated communities of action that can implement change. We argue that indigenous resource management requires collaborative approaches like ours, in which science-based management is embedded within a socially and culturally appropriate context. We emerge not only with a set of guiding principles for resource management by the Heiltsuk, but a broadly applicable strategy that fosters intimacy with traditional lands and resources and provides a powerful engine for conservation.

Key words

bear population monitoring; British Columbia; conservation; First Nations science; grizzly bear; noninvasive mark-recapture; salmon; social and ecological resilience; traditional stewardship; values

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087