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Bear on the Beach! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

“No one belongs here more than you.”

Brené Brown

Wilderness is rare and beautiful. It is worth preserving as it benefits all creatures in so many ways (humans included). I hope my blog, website and images show just how much bears, wolves and nature’s landscapes reflect the value of wilderness and wild places for me.

Bear Stare 3! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

During those times when I can’t get far away, I try to find something wild in my life every day. That means sometimes I look close to home – spending time observing the quiet beauty of trees in the park next to our home, the sound of nearby streams flowing over rock, and the occasional wildlife visitor travelling through our backyard. Appreciating each sunset and sunrise. I feel that this must be true for everyone who values nature and the outdoors.

“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”

Terry Tempest Williams

Sunshine on My Shoulder! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

When I was with the Whatcom Land Trust, the vison was to protect those places wild and special to those who lived, worked, and visited Whatcom County – predominantly the roughly 350,000 acre Cascades to Chuckanuts (C2C) corridor, the last relatively undeveloped corridor connecting the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to the shores of the Salish Sea.

Scratchin Tree! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

When with American Whitewater for several decades (a lifetime member and supporter), the wild was found in diverse ways. You can find our wildest rivers listed on the nation’s Wild and Scenic Rivers List and highly visible as they course, rumble, and flow through many of our National Parks (special places in themselves). You can find wild rivers elsewhere; you just need to look for them.

Swim! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

While wilderness and wild places can be very personal and mean different things to each of us, sometimes we find ourselves in a place that just screams wilderness because of its beauty, wildlife, and scenic vistas. Or just extremely pristine conditions that whisper “wild” over and over in our sight, hearing, and mind. One of those places is British Columbia’s Khutzeymateen Inlet.

Sanctuaries like the Khutzeymateen cannot save the species, but as anyone who meets the inhabitants of this wild valley will tell you, they remind us of why the great bears must be saved.

Dan Wakeman, Fortress of the Grizzly

Bear & Lupine! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

Early interest in the Khutzeymateen area as a sanctuary began in the 1970’s when scientists working on a United Nations study on the northern coastal bear population discovered the high concentration of bears in this area. And just as the threat of logging came to this so-far nearly untouched valley.

Snack Time! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

The scientists recommended the provincial government set up an ecological reserve, but like so many conservation efforts at that time, it ran into logging interests and BC’s Ministry of Forests. As with other environmental successes, it wasn’t until 1982 when a small cadre of bear biologists and enthusiasts started bringing people in to see the area and bears, that protection started to get real. Wayne McCrory, Tom Ellison, Grant Copeland, Charlie Russell, Dan Wakeman and Wendy Shymanski are a few, and they brought in David Suzuki and his show The Nature of Things, the Discovery Channel, World Wildlife Fund, and, perhaps most effectively, organized a fishing trip in the Khutzeymateen for then BC Environment Minister Bruce Strachan who secured a three-year moratorium on logging while the area was studied.

Shake It Off! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

Around 1982, a hunting ban was established around the inlet and the province commissioned a study that determined the area could not be logged without harming grizzlies. Finally, in 1994, the Khutzeymateen Valley and Park was designated as BC's only grizzly bear sanctuary. Khutzeymateen Provincial Park is the first in Canada created specifically to protect grizzly bears and their habitat. Later on in 2008, The Khutzeymateen Inlet Conservancy was established to enhance and ensure the protection of important grizzly bear intertidal and foreshore habitats throughout the inlet.

Welcome to the Pacific Northwest! Devils Club in Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023


· At the time conservationists were looking to protect the Khutzeymateen, here in the United States we were addressing concerns over logging by creating the North Cascades National Park Complex (1968) and passing strong environmental protections including the National Environmental Policy Act (1971), Clean Water Act (1972), and the Endangered Species Act (1973) which would play a large role in the Timber Wars of the 80’s and 90’s (spotted owl v logging).

· In the United States, only five-percent of the U.S. landmass remains as wilderness, and half of this acreage is in one state, Alaska. Twenty -three percent of Canada remains wilderness, about the same as the planet’s remaining wilderness outside Antarctica and representing nearly a ten-percent decline over the past twenty years. A bit better off, nearly fifty percent of British Columbia remains wilderness. September is National Wilderness Month.

· As with so many environmental issues, protection doesn’t always deter new threats and impacts. In 2013, a plan was formed to build a natural gas pipeline through the Khutzeymateen coastal grizzly conservancy. In Canada, under the 2004 Provincial Park Boundary Adjustment Policy, resource developments can be built in parks with the proper permits. A huge public outcry halted this pipeline plan, although at least six other provincial parks and protected areas remain threatened by pipelines.

· Photography and conservation can go hand in hand. Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Safeguarding Coastal Carnivores Campaign.

· For more information on bears and the Khutzeymateen history, look at Dan Wakeman & Wendy Shymanski’s Fortress of the Grizzlies and Grizzly Heart by Charlie Russell & Maureen Enns. Both are hard to find and Grizzly Heart is out of print. The best way is to go to Amazon, links on the titles. I used both of these, and other sources, on writing about the Khutzeymateen.


Salad To Go! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

Usually, when I travel to photograph bears, it is in September or early October, and salmon spawning season. I am most often along a river corridor, and the fall colors are amazing.

"Lets Go... There"! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

This trip was different. Spring blooms instead of fall foliage, sedges instead of salmon, and, while still technically on a river, out in the estuary where the tidal saltwater mixes with the fresh currents pouring down from the mountains. An extra bonus, for someone who loves gradient and flow, the rivers, waterfalls, and the estuary were swollen and pumping from the melting glaciers far upstream.

River Crossing! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

I have seen bears in the spring before. Just a few months ago I was watching bears and wolves in the melting snow of Yellowstone. But this was maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity, a trip specifically to view and document bears in a remote location, and I had reservations, with less spring experience, on how successful this trip might be?

Seashore Lupine (Lupinus littoralis)! Khutzeymateen Inlet. 2023

So, I got into bear mode early on. I knew that my entire trip up to Prince Rupert would take me through some amazing bear country (all of British Columbia is prime habitat for black, brown, and the elusive Kermodi spirit bear). I drove as many unpaved back roads as I could find. I focused on roads where I had seen bears and other wildlife before. I got up early, and drove late in the evenings, always prime viewing times for wildlife. And I kept my eyes open, constantly alternating my view from down the road to gullies, wetlands, and woods to either side, and frequently checking the rearview mirror to see if I had missed anything.

Immature Bald Eagle. Prince Rupert, British Columbia. 2023

Perhaps most importantly, I kept my camera gear in close proximity. Nothing worse than finding your subject only to have your camera in the bag, or a dead battery, or set up for landscapes and sunlight when you need to shoot something moving and in low light. Unfortunately, that I do have experience with.

Flower Child! Babine Lakes Provincial Park, British Columbia. 2023

Early on, the signs were good. I saw nearly a dozen black bears before I ever got close to Khutzeymateen Inlet. As usual with bear sighting, most were bear butts disappearing into the woods, or moving too fast and leaving me with frustratingly fuzzy, out-of-focus images. With any photography, and regardless of skill level, you are still hoping for something to come out, for that one amazing National Geo image that will make it all worthwhile. On this excursion, it was the black bear in the dandelions. Sometimes you just know this is the moment, and I sat here taking photos of this bear for nearly an hour before he or she plucked that flower and then looked up at me.

In Search! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

Later on, in the Khutzeymateen, all of us photographers sat in our zodiac patiently waiting for the grizzly to step in front of the purple lupine. In that instance, we didn’t so much know that it was “the moment” as knowing it might be, or could be, depending on so many factors beyond our control. We waited for the bears to enter the water, to poke up from the grass, to get together so we could have multiple bears in our framing, and often for the person in front to get out of the way!

Chillin! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

It was mating season, so we waited for the bears to get together for that as well. But, at least for me, it was uncomfortable and I really felt that, in this place and at this time, we were interrupting something private and special. You won’t see mating bear photos from me, but the close-up images of two bears face-to-face, and side-by-side, were irresistible and produced some really intimate moments that, in my mind, are some of the best photos of the expedition. Some of the looks were adoring, some were “what the heck,” some were puzzled, one withering look (directed at a huge, lazy male) said “get-off-me-NOW.” All presented a rarely seen window into the lives of these amazing predators. Thank you, each and every bear, for letting us be there with you!

Looking Glass! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

I use “predators” here intentionally, as after a few days of watching them graze the late spring sedges, they somewhat reminded me of cows in the field. Four-to-seven-hundred-pound brown fuzzy cows with teeth and claws. But bears are technically of the order Carnivora, essentially omnivores that eat plants, insects, clams, fish, and other animals. After the skunk cabbage and sedge season is over (bears lose a lot of weight in the spring), these bears will move on to high-energy berries (elderberry, salmonberry, blueberry, huckleberry, and more), then to salmon, then to winter and very little to zero food as denning begins. In more populated areas, like the Bella Coola valley, bears are often seen munching on fruit trees. Basically, they eat anything and everything.

Mirror! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

A bucket-list trip of a lifetime! Tons of grizzly, more than a dozen black bear, eagles, otters (a brief view), mink, and beautiful country and an amazing, remote, and wonderful estuary locked far away from phones, development, and civilization. The Khutzeymateen is now fully protected, and I hope that never changes, and I am thankful and humbled by my opportunity to get there, Thankful also to the people on Ocean Light Adventures that made it possible. Most importantly, I am forever thankful to the bears of Khutzeymateen that allowed us, for a few days, to share their lives, loves, and home.

Home Sweet Home, Afterglow II! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023


· Adult grizzly males tend to be 30-50% larger than females. Bears weigh the least when they emerge from their dens in the spring and can increase their weight by over 50% during late summer and fall. Alaska’s Kodiak bear can weigh up to 1,600 pounds, about the same as a polar bear.

· Spirit bears are exceedingly rare and are found only in the Great Bear Rainforest, further south than Kutzeymateen, mostly on Gribbell and Princess Royal islands. Spirit bears are a subspecies of the American black bear (Kermode bear), but with a recessive genetic mutation that turns their fur white or cream It is estimated that only five-hundred exist in the wild. They are special to the Coastal First Nations people who call them “moskgm’ol” (white bear).


Whispering Sweet Nothings! Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, British Columbia. 2023

I was shrouded in mist, mountains, longing, and bears!

As the small floatplane descended into the estuary, we found ourselves enveloped in rain, fog, and fragmented beams of sunlight. An early morning hint of waterfalls surrounded us and there was an almost ethereal outline of the Kitimat Range emerging above us in the background of this twenty-plus mile fiord. This was Khutzeymateen Inlet, Canada’s only sanctuary for grizzly bears, and a place I had longed to visit for many years.

Here at Last! Khutzeymateen Inlet. British Columbia. 2023

The Grizzly is a symbol of freedom and understanding.

Frank Craighead

As the plane feathered onto the water and cut its engine, the serene calm, quiet, remoteness of place, an overall feeling of spiritual wellness, descended immediately. I had arrived!

Nearshore Reflection! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

The expected greys and blues of the Pacific Northwest Coast were apparent all around, but the brilliant orange, yellow and ochres of kelps and eelgrasses along the nearshore, the interface between land and ocean, were amazing as they reflected back at us from the waterline at low tide. Also reflected in the river estuary were the deep greens of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar, the scudding whites of clouds and fog, and misty mountains. On this morning, among all of this color and beauty, the only sign of human presence was the plane (soon to leave) and one boat, the sixty-foot Afterglow I where I planned to spend the next three days.

Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

I had learned of this place from my bear research, from stories passed along, and from talking to those few lucky enough to have visited here. This is a haven for bears, not humans, and less than two hundred people get to visit here each year.

Bear In Sedges! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

To no surprise, I had come to see and photograph bears! Driving from Bellingham, once again crossing the border into British Columbia (BC), north along the Fraser River Valley ("Sto:lo" in the Halqemeylem language of the area), a side trip to Babine Lake and Provincial Park to camp and look for moose and black bears, and another side trip (an entire morning) to visit Shames Mountain nestled among the peaks of the Coastal range. Finally, west down the Bulkley and then Skeena Rivers (the Skeena flowing some 350 miles as the second longest river in BC, after the Fraser), and then to the coast and Seal Cove in Prince Rupert, my destination to fly into Khutzeymateen the following morning.

Guardians Along the Shore! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

I had reserved time with seven other visitors and two crew (Chris & Jenn) from Ocean Light Adventures to watch and connect with bears, coastal wolves, otters, and eagles enjoying the fresh sedges of spring, along with skunk cabbage, clams, and shore crabs.

Breeding Male Harlequin Duck! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

Khutzeymeen/K'tzim-a-deen takes its name from the Tsimshian First Nations word that means sheltered place of fish and bears (also sometimes translated as “deep valley at the end of an inlet”). Far upstream, in the Kitimat Range of BC’s Coast Mountains, the Kateen and Khutzeymateen rivers join and flow into this wilderness area which represents the first protected and undisturbed estuary of its size along the north coast of BC. It lies within the planet’s last remaining intact coastal temperate rainforest and is home to perhaps the greatest concentration of grizzly bears on the northwest coast. This special sanctuary was established in 1994 in partnership with the Gitsi’is people (one of nine tribes making up the Allied Tsimshian Tribes) and is managed jointly with BC Parks and the Tsimshian Tribal Council. Along with the Khutzeymateen Inlet Conservancy, it encompasses 44,300-hectacres (over 100,000 acres) and approximately fifty to sixty grizzly bears, as well as wolves, mountain goats, and other species.

Guardian! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

The bear in Northwest Coastal Native culture represents strength, family, and healing. For me, grizzly bears are a symbol of strength and grace, environmental health, wilderness, and everything wild. They once roamed most of North America, from Alaska to Mexico and as far east as Ontario and the American Midwest. Approximately 35,000 grizzlies now populate BC’s coasts and the estimate is that BC hosts more than one half of Canada’s grizzly population with more than sixteen thousand grizzly bears. A ‘keystone” species, grizzlies help regulate prey and disperse seeds, maintain plant and forest help (aerating soil as they dig for roots, pine nuts and squirrels), and, as I have written before, moving spawning salmon carcasses into the forest to fertilize trees, plants, and forest growth by providing high levels of nitrogen.

Spring Romance! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

The inflatable zodiac we used was an excellent platform for taking images, regardless of the fluctuating tides. From our small craft, we were able to watch the bears eat so many different local foods (berries, seafood, grasses) and witness first-hand why they are at the top of a very complex food web. Like all species, grizzlies are at risk from habitat loss (development), climate change, the continued decline of salmon, and also from the slowest reproductive rate of any terrestrial mammal (one to four cubs only every two to four years). Bears usually reach sexual maturity between the ages of three and five, and we saw plenty of mating bears on our visit (as well as a few young bears that really hadn’t yet figured out the whole mating thing!).

Nurse Log! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

Protecting this species is why the sanctuary was created and why human activity is not encouraged. It is the reason for the limited number of annual visitors, and why land access is not allowed. I love bears, and photographing bears, and to assure I had the least adverse impact possible from my actions, I signed up with one of only two commercial operators permitted to take small groups into the sanctuary (other operators are allowed to view grizzlies further out in the Khutzeymateen Inlet, and two First Nation Rangers are stationed in the inlet).

Cruzin! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

For our time on the Afterglow I, our small party went out early in the morning, at the changing of the tide, and again in the evening. In between, we ate great food, told interesting stories on bears and nearly everything else, and reviewed our images incessantly from earlier in the day. We photographed bears from the safety of the zodiac (for us and the bears), which also greatly assisted with limiting our impact and prioritizing nature over photography. It provided a perfect, mobile blind as well as support for all of our cameras and large telephoto lenses (we had eight people in the boat, and at least a dozen cameras). All of the photos in this blog (and almost all of the others on this trip) were taken with those large lenses and, for my close-up images, cropped to bring the bears closer in.

Morning Reflection! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

The term “Sense of Place” refers to the emotive bonds and attachments people develop or experience in particular locations and environments; it also refers to a feeling of well-being engendered by a unique place 0r environment. Khutzeymateen encompasses all of this and more. Most of my fellow cohorts (new friends) on this trip had been to the sanctuary before, some multiple times. They already knew what I had long suspected, that Khutzeymateen is a special place and a home for the species I love so much -- and one that I can’t wait to return to in the future.

Teddy Bear! Khutzeymateen Inlet, British Columbia. 2023

As our plane lifted off on our final morning, we raced the eagles along the inlet as we gained altitude. Fifteen minutes later, we lifted over the range just north of Prince Rupert and all of our phones went off -- accompanied by the sound of text, email, and voicemail flooding into the cockpit. The magic of Khutzeymateen was behind us, not forgotten, and instilling a new promise to come back soon.

Bears keep me humble. They help me to keep the world in perspective and to understand where I fit on the spectrum of life.

Wayne Lynch


· See the Ocean Light Adventures website for really phenomenal photos of grizzly bears, cubs, wolves, whales, and otter. I heartily recommend them if you plan to go to any of the iconic areas along the BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest, Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island). Tell Chris and Jenn I said hello!

· The Coast Range runs for over a thousand miles, covering the entire length of Western BC. It has three subdivisions: the Pacific Range in the south (includes Garibaldi Provincial Park & Whistler), the Kitimat Range (home of Khutzeymateen Park) and the northern Boundary Range along the mostly inaccessible Alaska-Canada border. The Kitimat Range includes the Khutzeymateen area as well as the largest temperate-latitude ice fields in the world. Kitimat has 262 named peaks, with Tsaydaychuz Peak the tallest at 9,053 feet. There are nearly thirty conservancies and protected areas in the Kitimat Range, including the village of Bella Bella (gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest), Fiordland Conservancy which I visited in 2017, as well as the Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy which is the next place on my bucket list. To provide additional scope, the Coast Mountains are part of the Pacific Coast Ranges that includes the Cascade and Olympic mountains as well as the Saint Elias and Chugach mountains in Alaska, part of the American Cordillera that forms the western backbone of North, Central and South America, and Antarctica, and part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

· Protecting Bears – While I am not a hunter, I do believe (most of the time) in hunting for those who provide food and sustainence for their families, and as an important part of native culture and heritage. But since I spend so much time taking pictures of wildlife, especially bears and wolves, it is no mystery to understand why I am no fan of trophy hunting. Trying to scare people about bears, setting them up as vicious predators so they can charge large fees to hunt them and hang them on a wall – really sucks! I mean, look at these photos. How cool, how gnarly would I be to have a rifle and scope and be able to kill something I can get within 100 yards of (recommended distance from Washington State Fish & Wildlife and Yellowstone National Park), or closer? And I am not alone. A 2017 poll suggests three-quarters of British Columbians think grizzly bears should not be hunted in the province at all (an earlier poll found seventy nine percent support a ban on trophy hunting of grizzly bears and an equal amount believe it is unethical).

· Hunting v. Photography -- In 1984, that public belief against trophy hunting led to a complete ban on hunting in Khutzeymateen, and in 2017 a complete ban within the Great Bear Rainforest just to the south. A report in 2012, by the Center for Responsible Travel, says bear viewing in the Great Bear generated 12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting.

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