came close. Bob was a bear —“the healthiest, strongest mother-fuckin’ specimen you’re ever gonna meet,” Michael Proctor
recalled fondly as we walked the rocky lakeside beach near his
home in Kaslo, British Columbia. “He made me feel like a marmot.” Proctor—a wiry biologist whose intense gaze suggests
that he could hold his own in hand-to-claw combat with a grizzly — caught Bob in a foot snare in 2006 and fixed a radio collar
around his giant neck. Then he waited to see what Bob would do.
Bob was a member of the Purcells-Selkirk grizzly population, six hundred bears that roam the mountains of southeastern B.C. near the U.S. border. The population’s boundaries are
largely defined by Highway 3, to the south, and Highway 1, to
the north. For bears, the human settlements that have sprung
up along those thoroughfares represent an oft-fatal temptation.
“Orchards, garbage, livestock, cat food — it doesn’t take much for
a bear’s nose to draw ’em into trouble,” Proctor said.
The Purcells-Selkirk population is not only hemmed in by
humanity, Proctor fears it will someday become internally divided, fatally fractured into a concatenation of micropopulations.
A nearby cluster of bears, in the Selkirk Mountains, has as few
as thirty grizzlies. It’s a textbook conservation problem: The region’s viable habitat risks deteriorating into an archipelago, surrounded by an ocean of civilization. Absent corridors, the smallest populations are in peril of washing away.
Re-enter Bob. In April 2007, he awoke from hibernation
and rambled down the Purcell Mountains toward the Creston
Valley, where new greenery was already springing up. There,
he hid during the day and emerged at sundown to dine—in
the same drab, inglorious fields that Nancy Newhouse and
Tom Swann had showed me. Proctor was taken aback: the
area’s blandest habitat was being patronized by its most virile
resident. even better, the Selkirks lay just a few miles west. If
bears were foraging in the valley, they might also be using it to
shuttle between the Selkirks and Purcells. At this innocuous
spot, connectivity seemed possible.
Proctor set more traps in the valley and soon caught a female,
dubbed Rebecca, who did Bob one better. Not only did Rebecca
enter the Creston Valley, she crossed it, spending two weeks in
the Purcells before returning to the Selkirks. Proctor relayed
his findings to Swann and Newhouse, and, armed with that
evidence, Nature Conservancy of Canada — with Y2Y’s financial
assistance— eventually bought the land from Wynndel Box and
Lumber, the sawmill that owned it. Under the deal’s terms, the
Frog Bear Conservation Corridor would remain farmland, with
the conditions that it couldn’t be subdivided or built upon.
Michael Combs, Wynndel’s CeO, was pleased with the agree-
ment he’d struck. “How often do you have the opportunity to
save a species, protect farming, and, obviously, get a return on
the land?” he asked me. Plenty of corporations within the North-
ern Rockies evince Combs’s brand of compassion-tinged prag-
matism. Fording Coal, whose flacks once protested Heuer’s
talks, has ceded to Teck Resources, by one metric Canada’s most
sustainable company; no matter how cynical you are about a coal
company calling itself sustainable, conservationists agree Teck is
far more pleasant than its predecessor. Tembec, among south-
east B.C.’s dominant logging companies, has donated thousands
of acres of easements to NCC. By any measure, the region is
light-years removed from the distrustful 1990s, when the Union
of British Columbia Municipalities passed a resolution con-
demning Yellowstone to Yukon.
Nonetheless, Tom Swann described NCC’s relationship
with Yellowstone to Yukon as a “delicate dance.” After all, NCC
prides itself on relationships with loggers, miners, and ranchers, and Y2Y’s name still isn’t golden everywhere. In southern
Alberta, where grizzlies are trundling onto the prairies for the
first time in a century, I met with ranchers who were modifying
their operations to accommodate bears — installing grizzly-proof
grain bins, better disposing of dead livestock, giving up raising sheep. Y2Y and others have nurtured those e=orts, and one
environment-minded rancher had recently held a seemingly productive meeting with conservationists. Bears were more numerous than people realized, the rancher told the greens, and emerging science corroborated his observations. The conservationists
seemed to agree— but in subsequent quotes in the media, they
continued using low-ball population estimates.
“They’re looking at the same stats as us, but they pick the
numbers they want to use,” the disappointed rancher told me.
“My opinion is that if they tell the whole story it won’t look as
bad, and so they’re not bringing in as much money.”
Whether that’s fair or not, Y2Y’s greatest asset is indeed its nar-
rative. The constant risk, however, is that the grand story becomes
grandiose, consuming local e=orts that, in many cases, predate
Y2Y’s involvement. That’s why Michael Proctor keeps himself
at arm’s length—not because he’s a glory hound, but because
the perception that his research is driven by Y2Y’s agenda could
TWO DECADES AGO, ANY ANIMAL
THAT STRAYED BEYOND PARK
BOUNDARIES WAS LIABLE TO CATCH A
BULLET OR GET PANCAKED BY A CAR.