My favorite grizzly bear

My favorite grizzly bear

Conservation Northwest / Jun 26, 2019 / Coast to Cascades, Grizzly Bears

The story behind a grizzly bear named GP.

BY mitch friedman, executive director

I want to introduce you to GP, a big male grizzly bear that Canadian bear biologists Steve Rochetta and Bruce McLellan trapped last fall and fitted with a GPS collar for research purposes. There’s a story behind GP’s name, and it’s very personal and emotional for me. I’ll tell that story after I describe the area, the research, and why it matters to Conservation Northwest.

Canadian bear biologist Bruce McLellan with collared grizzly bear, GP.

Steve and Bruce trapped GP in British Columbia’s Upper Squamish River Valley, a bit northwest of the popular resort area of Whistler. This valley is within the giant project area of our Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative (C2C), a collaboration of First Nations and conservation groups, including Conservation Northwest. The C2C’s objective is to recover grizzly bear populations of southwest B.C. by reversing the effects of habitat fragmentation, which include genetic isolation and human-bear conflict, among other things.

The project is making great progress. The capable and experienced C2C team has closed major roads that split critical grizzly habitat. They’ve been raising awareness about the value and behavior of grizzlies, with the intent of reducing illegal shooting and other preventable human-caused grizzly bear deaths. They’ve influenced decisions on recreation infrastructure that threaten grizzly habitat, and have reached out to ranchers to gain their help in grizzly conservation.

Most importantly, all this work is done in close cooperation with First Nations communities in the area, and is supported by local and regional governments. Their diligence in building community support has led to the B.C. government’s commitment to undertake and support actions on a broader scale to restore and reconnect the area’s grizzly bears.

A large, collared, male grizzly bear, believed by biologists to be GP, documented on a trail cam near Squamish, British Columbia. Video by C. Mather.

The data from GP’s fancy satellite collar tells us where he’s been traveling these past months. Like all male grizzlies, he’s put a ton of steps on his Fitbit! If we could show you the data (which is not made public out of concern for the animals’ safety), you’d see that the landscape GP covered is a large area between Whistler and Pemberton. It’s in the very southern portion of B.C.—not too far from bustling communities.

One thing I love about B.C. towns, including smaller, rural ones, often belonging to First Nations communities, is their appreciation for grizzly bears and strong support for their presence and conservation. They make me optimistic about a future where communities around the North Cascades can learn to welcome grizzly bears, which we hope will grow in numbers there in the coming decades.

Gregory Paul Friedman.    Photo provided by family.

Now I’ll tell the personal story. The collared bear is named GP after my nephew, Gregory Paul Friedman. Greg was an amazing young man who we tragically lost in August, 2017, to the effects of a recreational drug. Greg and I once hiked together in the forests around Whistler, the area that’s home to GP the Bear, and it means more than I can say that there’s a majestic young male by that name still roaming those woods. I had a grizzly bear paw print tattooed above my heart to keep Greg and GP always close.

The story of Greg’s life is inspiring people, even as the story of his tragic death is shared as an educational opportunity. This excellent recent segment on a Chicago news channel covers it so well. This process of keeping Greg’s memory alive and put to a good purpose is being driven by my brother, sister-in-law, their family and close friends. I’ve been humbled to see their strength show through incredible despair as they’ve built the GPF Foundation, a nonprofit organization to improve and save lives by spreading its mission. Greg lived magnificently, but he passed away too soon and avoidably.