Category Archives: Bears

Cougar capers begin again

This cougar has a belly full of dog.

This cougar has a belly full of dog.

Ahhhhh, spring is in the air and my garden is starting to grow. While I’m excited about all that spring and early summer offers with respect to new life and growing possibilities, there are things I am beginning to dislike about it–like the bears and the cougars. When the first signs of skunk cabbage are up, I know it’s time to brace myself for the possibility of ‘bear encounters’, because it signals that the bears are awake and heading down into the valley from their alpine boudoirs. Cougars, of course, don’t hibernate, so we can have trouble with them at any time of the year; but the longer days mean longer hours of worry.

Two Mondays ago, my neighbours’ dog went missing during the night: and not just any dog, but a Great Pyrennese guard dog. He was one of three Great Pyrennese dogs they kept to guard their sheep and llamas. The next night a second dog went missing, and by Thursday night they were no longer dog owners. I suspected there was a cougar in the area primarily because my dog had been barking her head off for several nights over the past few weeks, and in the direction where the cougars ‘hang out’.

The other behaviour that really solidified the idea was revealed last week while she and I were on our morning walk to the usual spot by the river, where I sit, have my morning coffee and enjoy the view. For the first time on our walks together, she behaved oddly. When we were about half way to the river, she suddenly came barreling back towards me, circled around behind me, sat down at my left hand side facing back from whence she came and began whining earnestly. When I walked forward and urged her to come along, she circled again in front of me, sat down at my left and whined. She made it clear to me that she would not continue on the walk. She has never done this before, so I decided to listen to her and head home. The second I turned back to head home she morphed back into the happy-go-lucky girl she usually is on our walks. That was some time last week. Three mornings ago, she repeated the drama with both my husband and me. I told him that she had done this last week. He agreed that we should listen to her, so we cut the walk short and had coffee on the safety of our porch back at home!

Two days ago, my friend Clarence went to have a look at what remained, if anything, of the neighbours’ dogs. He came by to let me know about the incident; he had ascertained it was definitely a cougar kill. The cougar had killed the first dog and dragged it into the bushes near their house. He found four visible beds around the area where the cat had bedded down to eat, or nap. He described finding the dog half buried in the bushes, “cached under some dirt and leaves, it was.” It had eaten the front half of the dog by the time Clarence found it: “From his rib cage on down to the tail was all that was left of that poor dog. That cougar’s coming back,” he told me. He emphasized that I should be on high alert (as if I am ever not!) and watch my dog carefully: “She wouldn’t last 5 minutes with a cougar.”

Cougar claw, front left paw.

Cougar claw, front left paw.

We arranged to go back the next day so I could get some photos and document this incident. We met yesterday, but the cougar had finished off the rest of the dog during the night. It took the cougar twelve days to eat three huge dogs. Since hunting season for cougar closed at the end of April and doesn’t open again until mid-September, our local hunters could not go after the cougar. Consequently, we had to wait for the Conservation Service.  As luck would have it, we got a new CO about the same day the cougar killed the first dog! How’s that for a welcome to the valley? The Conservation Officer came last night and set a snare for the cougar, and it was caught and killed today. I was invited to take a look. Whew,  now I can relax again for a minute or two! (When I started writing this post, I didn’t know what had transpired today).

Incidentally

I am told this is the 50th cougar killed in the valley since 1999–5 cats per year. There have been 5 killed by Conservation Officers, 2 by automobiles, 1 unknown death (it was found lying dead on a river bank), and the balance (42) by locals. Thirty-one of them were females, seventeen were males and two were unsexed. Some think the high number of females indicates that the Toms are killing the male kittens, and thus we have a higher population of females in the valley, which makes sense from a biological imperative point of view. This latest cougar is the biggest the valley has ever seen; a Tom, he weighed in at 146 pounds (nearly twenty pounds heavier than the last cougar I held!). The CO Service has been kind enough to let someone harvest the meat from the cat so it is not wasted. It will keep the hide and put it into a pool of such skins to be auctioned off  to interested folks like my taxidermist friend. Rumour has it that recent changes of legislation have, or are trying to, put a stop to such an auction, the argument being that wildlife should not be used as a commodity. If this argument carries, then instead of being honored in death the animals will be wasted. I wonder why many people find it acceptable that chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, steers, horses, turkeys, goats, and a host of other ‘domesticated’ animals–and their by-products, like eggs–are used as commodities (often with little regard), but not acceptable that bears, cougars, eagles and so on, are made use of upon their death, after a life of freedom?

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Cougars

Clearing the ‘front’ forty

Over the past few years a grizzly mama with her cubs beds down each summer just behind my pergola. I have watched in horror as she stole a whole garbage pale full of duck feed right out from under the ducks beaks and have been startled while hanging my laundry by her and her cubs as they raced through my front  yard having been scared off by the neighbour’s dog. I have also had them come in the yard and harvest many of my apples, breaking valuable tree branches as they go.

Because of the numbers of bears we have coming through the property each summer, one of the tasks I work on over the winter and spring is clearing the dense undergrowth from the second growth forest that is on the front half of the property. It is no where near forty acres, instead it is a two acre tangle of alder, birch, maple, fir, hemlock, spruce, and a host of dense ugly undergrowth species–the worst of which is devil’s club; a beautiful but deadly plant thanks to it vicious two inch thorns that can  take out an eye if you are not careful and has a penchant for grabbing hold of passers by and clinging to them with the tenacity of barbed wire.

What was once a tangle of undergrowth now provides a nice vista through the trees.

What was once a massive tangle of undergrowth is transformed into a nice vista through the trees.

While this undergrowth is impossible to get through when you are a human, the bears manage just fine. They tunnel their way through it creating an extensive network of trails that, with practice, I have learned to identify. Now that spring is almost upon us, I have found myself out there again hacking and hewing my way through this barely identifiable network and opening it up for human accessibility. It is hard going without machines. A few days with a front end loader and Bobcat would be all that it needed, but I haven’t got that kind of ‘pocket change’ to hire someone to just get the job done.  So  each spring I pick away at it by hand and tell myself it is better exercise than paying to go to the gym and run on a treadmill! Blessedly, I do have a Husqvarna power tool with a chainsaw attachment which has allowed me to reach higher up on the trees than I can with my hand cutters.

Clarence came by the other day while I was hard at work. He tenderly reminded me that I should be looking up every now and then being watchful of cougars. He then took me on a little walkabout and pointed to a spruce tree, “Why just there I shot a cougar a couple of years ago.” I told him I always bring my dog with me and sometimes even the goats. (Many days I just take the dog and carry the browse back to the goats.) It is a sad but true reality of living here, that one of my animals might save my life by sacrificing theirs. “It’s a good idea” he said when I explained the secondary reason as to why the goats were free ranging that day. They are efficient browsers and would make short order of clearing much of it for me but I couldn’t possibly let them out there alone to do the work. Sadly, it would be like sentencing them to certain death. When we are out there together, I know we all stand a better chance. There is safety in numbers.

Another bear trail system opened up for human use.

Another bear trail system opened up for human use. Notice the water source on the left hand side of the photo.

On the one hand, I’m clearing the brush for the sake of clearing the brush and on the other I have more than bear dissuasion in mind. Now that I have the area developed to a stage that I can walk through, I have begun fantasizing about a cow. While I would love to breed my goats and develop a dairy based on them, the cougars and bears make such a serious investment in goats much too high risk.They are not only part of the cougar prey profile, they are considered a gastronomic delicacy to cougars and because of this people keep telling me to “enjoy the goats while I have them.” Thankfully, cows are not part of the grizzly prey profile so farmers tend to lose few of them to those predators. It would be nice to have an animal that I don’t have to worry quite so much about. Rumor has it that there are a couple of dairy cows in the valley and that one of them is pregnant…

It is interesting to see the choices in direction made by the bears. This path goes past several different native berry species, an ovbious food source for the grizzlies.

It is interesting to see the choices in direction made by the bears. This path goes past several different native berry species, an ovbious food source for the grizzlies.

When I am doing this clearing work I always build a huge bonfire to clear the brush away and at the end of a hard day’s clearing I sit by the last of the glowing embers and enjoy a whiskey and roast some marshmallows. Someone asked me how I plan to render down the Birch & Maple syrup. This year, instead of just enjoying the fire at the end of the day, I intend to use the fire to boil down my sap transforming it into syrup.

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Filed under Bears, How to..., Learning to Farm, Sustainable Farming

Rod and Gun Club dinner and dance

David Hall's cougar watches over the Rod and Gun Club annual dinner and dance.

David Hall's cougar watches over the Rod and Gun Club annual dinner and dance.

Last weekend we held the annual Rod and Gun Club fundraiser dinner and dance. In preparation for the dinner, the members of the Rod and Gun Club prepared the meat they hunted this fall, butchered farm raised food animals, and taxidermied animals for the display. Earlier in the year, I helped Clarence butcher the turkey he planned to donate and also helped his son, David, skin and butcher out the cougar which he recently prepared for the display. The dinner provided me the opportunity to bring my duck breeding venture to a close. I butchered the last of the Muscovy ducks and took them to the dinner.

Gary carving the elk, moose and grizzly bear roasts.

Gary carving the elk, moose and grizzly bear roasts.

The vast array of different foods there was surprising given the small community and was a testament to the amount of ‘industry’ the people in this valley are involved in. I could have tried every kind of meat on offer but managed to limit myself to what I could fit on the plate and still be able to remember which meat was which by the time I got from the smorgasbord back to the dinner table. On offer was nearly everything one could imagine and then some: deer, moose, caribou, elk, wild boar, duck, turkey, beaver, llama, black bear, grizzly bear, and of course, David’s cougar. He presented it freshly roasted as well as smoked sausage and hams.

Animals of hunting trips past on display at the game dinner and dance.

Animals of hunting trips past on display at the game dinner and dance.

I tried everything except the caribou and beaver. I had tried caribou before and the beaver just wouldn’t fit anywhere on the plate by the time I got to it, though it did look delectable having been made up into a beautifully presented stir-fry. I was surprised to see that the dinner even catered to vegetarians, with salads of various kinds and several versions of tofu, vegetable stir-fries and bean dishes. I also took a home made loaf of bread and others had made rolls and biscuits. The meal was scrumptious and most of us ate far too much, but I did manage to save room for dessert!

What struck me most about the dinner, besides the fact that it was such a  unique example of local culture and something particular to this valley, was the fact that the vast array of meats differed little from each other. I was expecting to notice a greater difference in texture and taste between the carnivorous animals and the ruminants. My favourite meat was the elk, with the cougar and the grizzly bear roasts tied for second place. So similar in taste and texture were most meats that I’m certain I could feed my mother a grizzly bear roast and tell her it was beef! Of the options I sampled, the animal that had the most distinctive taste was the llama.

The Rod and Gun Club puts on this dinner and dance every year to raise money for the club and to raise awareness of hunting and animal conservation. Many would find it curious, if not ironic, that the hunters in this valley are some of the most aware of conservation and environmental issues and the most active people in terms of environmental conservation and preservation of animals. They are by far the most knowledgeable bunch of folks I have ever had the pleasure of learning from about the complexities of the natural world around us and the balance of nature.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Cougars, Educational, Food Security, Hunting, Locavore, Politics of Food

Bears still wreaking havoc

Well, it’s been two more days and the bear is still on the loose. It has hit two more people’s chicken shed, completely wiping their flocks out. Here’s hoping the Conservation Officer is able to trap them. If he is successful, we then have to hope he will kill them and not just relocate them, and the problem, elsewhere!

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Politicking with predators