It’s been going on for decades, he says, but in recent years, the trickle has become a flood.
“We’ve all of us had to adjust, make allowances and make room in an environment that becomes more and more constrictive and limiting every year.”
He says these accelerating, wide-rippling changes have made it difficult to raise families here on the coast.
“Our whole working environment has changed, and longstanding occupations and skills are no longer needed or valued. Just look at the pathetic salmon returns these past two years. You want to survive by fishing for salmon these days? Forget it. And that was how many of us earned enough to get through the lean months.”
But it doesn’t end there, oh no. My source continues: “Those still able to find decent work — even they’re finding it harder to make ends meet. Earning enough to raise our families is becoming increasingly difficult.”
On top of that, “we’re being squeezed out of our homes, and there’s no suitable, affordable housing for us to go to.“
The younger ones are moving on, he says. “Just like you people, they’re seeking opportunities elsewhere — often travelling long distances to find places where making a living might be just a bit easier. But, we older ones, our options are limited. I’m not sure what we’ll do or how we’ll survive or for how much longer we’ll survive here.”
Arthur (The name on his birth certificate is Arctos, but he goes by the anglicized Arthur) Ursus was born on the south coast, up Lund way, one of a litter of three. His first home was a funky earth-sheltered den, built into a hillside under a massive stump and located just a few kilometres up the mountainside from a rushing salmon stream. His dad took off before he and his brother and sister were born, and sent neither child support nor a forwarding address. His mom, left to raise the cubs by herself, worked her hams off from spring through late fall to feed the family and raise them to be upstanding, independent bears.
Despite the hardships, he describes his youth as a time of Arcadian-like innocence — big trees, ferny glades, magnificent mushrooms, bountiful berries, plentiful salmon and seemingly endless wilderness room to roam.
But once the cubs hit adolescence, they were on their own. Mom kicked them out.
“It was tough,” Ursus says. “We had to find our own way, fend for ourselves, find our own places.”
Living off the land is always a challenge for a young bear. It’s not so bad during old-timey salmon times, when there was plenty to go around and even the big, dominant, bad-tempered male grizzly bears would be too full of fish to chase young punks off. But the rest of bear season was tough, with not enough territory to go around, not enough ants, grubs, bear vetch, skunk cabbage or berries ever, and certainly never enough carcasses left lying around to scavenge.
“We had our fights,” he says. “Every grizzly bear wants the best territory and lots of it. You know what I mean — it’s the very same territory you two-leggeds hanker after, those lush valley bottoms where all the resources are. We grizzlies had to fight each other for it and, once we had it, we had to fight each other to keep it.”
Forced ever farther from the best real-estate holdings, it’s no wonder a young bear might gravitate toward humans and their strange dens. It’s no wonder a hungry young bear, desperate to eat enough in just a couple of months to increase the slim odds he (or she) will survive a half-year of hibernation, will stick around to snack on backyard fruit, birdseed, pet food, pets, compost and garbage.
But now, Arthur says, the salmon have given up and people are encroaching ever further and deeper into grizzly country. Today’s young, he says, are heading west. They’re leaving the mainland and swimming to the islands, looking for a better life, away from the crush and the pressure and the hunger.
“But you know what I’m talking about. You did the same thing. And your parents did, too.”
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