She was the first wild grizzly bear that Kristin and I ever saw. As we came around a corner one October afternoon she sat in the middle of a wide trail, so stuffed with apples she could barely move, under the tree she had just been denuding.
The first thought that entered our heads was to flee. But this bear seemed if anything a little comical, certainly not menacing. She scratched and grunted and tried to raise herself awkwardly into a standing position as if preparing for a formal introduction.
That first sighting of a wild grizzly bear seemed auspicious for Kristin and I, recently arrived from Europe. We had already put down a small deposit on Grizzly Bear Ranch and were trying to wheedle more financing out of reluctant banks to make the place ours.
Four months later, mortgage secured, we arrived with all our belongings in two heavily-laden vehicles on a snowy late winter day. Over the years the bear we had seen that day became an integral part of our lives.
Apple, as we began to call her after the eponymous fruit that she so liked to gorge on, furnished me with much of my early bear knowledge. She was a good teacher.
At times she would deign to walk within a dozen feet of me without a raised eyebrow, but on others, especially when she was on a kill or felt hemmed in, she would become wilder, huffing and moving her head anxiously at the first sign of my approach.
I learned to watch the position of her ears, the subtle open and closing of her mouth, and the stiffness of her body posture, all indicators of her mood and intent.
Several years later Apple had two cubs and we watched them grow up, returning to our valley each year to feed on the salmon. For many of our guests she was the first grizzly bear they ever saw. Sometimes we watched her stride like a monarch along the dirt road next to the ranch.
On other days she would dextrously feed on red-osier dogwood berries that grow alongside the river. More than one guest over the years stood in awe, tears rolling down their faces, after an ephemeral early-morning meeting with this wild grizzly bear on the banks of our misty river.
Locally she became something of a celebrity too. Her image hung in photo galleries in the nearest town. Once, thanks to a timeless photo taken by my friend Jakob, she graced the cover of the Wall Street Journal. And then in 2015, just as she was rearing her second set of cubs, she disappeared. Her cubs returned alone.
We never could prove that she was shot by a trophy hunter. But according to information we winkled out of the ministry, they shot four grizzly bears in the forest behind the ranch that spring. She may have died of natural causes.
Bears, just like the rest of us, grow old and die. They too can suffer from human ailments such as heart disease. But she was in great shape the autumn before, well-rounded and apparently healthy. And grizzly bears usually keep their cubs for two or three years. She certainly wouldn’t have willingly abandoned her cubs at such a young and vulnerable age.
I asked the official responsible for the grizzly hunt in our area for a breakdown on the age and sex of the four bears killed. We know that one was female, but we are still waiting for the age of the bear. Either way, it won’t make any difference. Apple is gone.
The only thing we can now do is redouble our efforts to try and get the grizzly hunt banned for good. It really should be a no-brainer. More than 90 per cent of British Columbia residents oppose the hunting of grizzly bears.
Grizzly-viewing brings at least 10 times as much into the provincial coffers as grizzly hunting. Grizzlies have been listed as a “species of special concern” and one population, according to the government’s own numbers, has dropped 40 per cent in population while under a “managed” hunt.
Yet still the politicians maintain that grizzly hunting is laudable. And still the bureaucrats in the ministry fight tooth and nail to keep the hunt alive. It is as if their jobs depended on having a grizzly hunt, and, for some, it may.
Meanwhile we are doing everything we can do get grizzly hunting banned. We have had several meetings with ministers and local and provincial representatives, and even a brief hand-shake with the premier.
But we can’t do any of this without you, our guests. For every guest we have in the autumn grizzly-viewing season we take $100 and put it into Apple’s Fund. And this money we spend on local conservation initiatives and to try and get the hunt banned.
If you like to become a part of the drive to ban grizzly hunting in BC forever and donate to our conservation fund, we would be most grateful.