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The Grizzly Rainforest

of the Khutzeymateen

Story and photos by Leigh Lofgren


A pair of cubs have a little fun while mama bear rests. Photo by Leigh Lofgren.

On the North Coast region of British Columbia Canada, is one of the most remote, untouched and pristine wilderness areas in the world for grizzly bears. It was there, in the Khutzeymateen, that I went to photograph these beautiful animals. 


The others who accompanied Lakelife's Leigh Lofgren on the grizzly-photography excursion. Photo by Leigh Lofgren

Along with well-known Canadian professional photographer, David Hemmings, and five other photographers from across the U.S.A., our group of Noella, Ann, Stan, Phil, Larry and David were, as Tina Turner once sang, “Only the best”.


Created in 1994, the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Rainforest was the first area in Canada to be protected specifically for grizzly bears and their habitat.  Further protections were added when in 2008, The Inlet Conservancy was established and it is home to one of the largest number of bears within British Columbia. 




Sitka spruce reflected in the water. Photo by Leigh Lofgren

It also has the world’s largest contiguous stand of old-growth Sitka spruce -- giant trees sporting old man’s beards -- and mountain peaks shrouded in mist, towering over the water. Logging, mining, and hunting are not allowed, and people come from around the world to experience the sanctuary’s tranquil beauty.

 

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Rainforest covers an extensive area of 110,180 acres, is 30 miles from Prince Rupert and lies within the traditional territories of the Coast Tsimshian First Nations – Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams tribes and the Gitsi’is. The Rainforest is managed by these indigenous tribes and British Columbia Parks, and the protection of the bears and the ecosystems is paramount.

 

The Khutzeymateen Wilderness Lodge is the only lodge in the Khutzeymateen.  Grandfathered into the conservancy, it was bought in 2015 by Jamie Hahn, a former BC Park ranger who rebuilt the lodge to what it is today.  This flotel sits near the mouth of the inlet and offers eight guest bedrooms, three shared bathrooms, a wood burning stove in the living room, an outdoor sauna and firepit. For guests who crave more activity, paddleboards and kayaks are available for use at any time.  Guests are not allowed on shore and visitors are required to sign in at the Ranger Station. 

 

The Khutzeymateen Wilderness Lodge flotel is home in the wilderness for guests. Photo by Leigh Lofgren

We were served feasts for breakfast, lunch and dinner by Head Chef Neil Dias and twice daily went out on the 24-foot zodiacs with one of the amazing guides to find and photograph the beautiful grizzly bears.  These bears were extremely gentle, had no interest in us and we found ourselves very close to a grizzly feeding on salmon.


An Orca surprised the photographers while they cruised on the zodiac. Photo by Leigh Lofgren, who said it seemed to be showing off for them.

On many occasions, we were entertained by the bears playing on land or in the water.  Humpback whales, orcas and seals were also all around, and having an orca swimming under the water alongside our zodiak was an experience never to be forgotten.

 

It was with great sadness, but huge smiles that our time in this beautiful rainforest came to an end and a week later, the flotel and ranger station were towed to safer harbors for the winter.  The Khutzeymateen Wilderness Lodge opens mid-May to mid-September. For more information, go to www.grizzlytour.com.  For David Hemmings’ information, visit www.hemmingsphototours.com, and for my bear prints or other wildlife prints, visit www.leighlofgren.com.

 

 Grizzly bear facts:

 ·      Grizzly bears are very large, males can reach a weight of 900 pounds, while females range from 250-350 pounds.

Photo of young grizzlies fighting in water by Leigh Lofgren.

·      They can reach a speed of 35 mph.

·      Grizzlies are excellent swimmers.

·      Their eyesight is poor and they rely on movement.

·      They have a hump between their shoulders and when on all fours, the rump is lower than the shoulders.

·      Coloring can range from a very light, almost white tan to a dark brown.

·      They are omnivores and feed on berries, plant roots and shoots, grasses, small rodents such as ground squirrels, fish (they love salmon), and also the young calves of elk, caribou, deer, moose and carrion.

·   Grizzlies use sound, smells and movement to communicate by growling, grunting or


Big Bear heads to the water to do some fishing. Photo by Leigh Lofgren.

moaning, particularly when with young or during mating season.

·       Males will fight for the rights of mating with a female and will kill a young cub if he wants to mate with the mother.

·      They rub themselves against trees and their scent alerts other bears of their presence.

·      Grizzlies are, for the most part, territorial and solitary. 

·      Before winter they will fatten up in readiness for hibernation.

·      While hibernating, grizzly bears will lower their heart rate, temperature and metabolic activity and live solely off their fat reserves.

·      They do not go into a deep sleep like any hibernating animals and will awaken if

Looking for some food or entertainment. Photo by Leigh Lofgren.

disturbed.

·      Spring and early summer is mating season and females will mate with several males.

·      When a female becomes pregnant, the embryo will temporarily stop for several months – known as “delayed implantation” which happens among all bear species and other animals such as weasels and seals.  Should the female be unable to gain a lot of weight during Summer and Fall, the embryo is absorbed within her body, as her body signals to her not to proceed, which will allow her to eventually  fatten up enough to be successfully pregnant the following year. 

·      Pregnant females give birth in the den and usually give birth up to four cubs.  She will nurse, feed and protect them for at least 2 yrs

·      As cubs, they can climb trees to escape a threat.  However, as they grow heavier, their claws become longer and this ability to climb is lost.

·      Grizzlies can live in the wild up to 30 years; however, 20-25 years is the average.

·      They are smaller than Alaska’s Kodiak bear and Kodiak bears are sometimes referred as grizzlies due to some similarities.  Due to their locations, neither come in contact with each other.

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This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 17, Issue 6, and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher or the photographer.

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