Category Archives: Politicking with predators

A grizzly end to self-sufficiency

Well, the inevitable has happened. It was a dry summer, so not  many berries around for our ursine co-inhabitants here in this remote rainforest valley. In addition, the fish runs were down. Then last weekend we had our fifty-year flash flood, which swept away both fish and berries, and blurred the notional “boundary lines” which the officials fondly imagine keep humans from bears/cougars and keep the peace. For the last month there have been intimations that those boundaries were about as effective as Chamberlain’s piece of paper in 1939: neighbours reported seeing a grizzly bear routinely ambling around my property; my husband (who is tending the farm while we decide what to do with it and our lives) eventually saw him/her sitting thirty meters from my house, across the grass and orchard, behind the two boundary fences, calmly surveying the pickings. The next night he made his move and broke the main branches on my two pear trees and apple trees. David reported the attack to the RAPP centre in Kamloops and also crosses the road to the Ministry of Earth and Water, where a generous parks official lent me an electric fence, which friends and he set up encircling the orchard; meanwhile we picked almost all the remaining fruit. He thought about ringing our year old $22 000 chicken barn instead, but felt it was as solid as a building could be.

Two weeks later he heard that at least two neighbours down the highway had their chicken houses ransacked and lost their entire flocks. Then the floods hit, and everyone was preoccupied with surviving, then with trying to save their possessions, cars, houses, fences, bridges, stock, food. That same night one of my egg customers phoned to warn about these attacks and offered the use of her gun; frankly, she said, she wanted to protect her food supply.

David decided to move the electric fence, but was suffering a back injury and decided to postpone it until the weekend and some more healing had first taken place. Meanwhile he increased the lights and radios around the chicken house, and stowed away and secured the bags of feed even more securely behind at least two four inch thick doors.

The following night around 11  pm he heard the scream of a hen. There was a new moon so it was black outside, but from my house he could see an illuminated side of the chicken shed about two metres  away and he could see no commotion. He could only guess that the bear had entered from the side, the weakest side of course. Without a dog or gun, surrounded by neighbours, with the flooded slough still saturating the ground all around, he could do little besides yell “shoo bear!” and bang some pots and pans. Later that night he heard more shrieks, but at dawn my restless fears were allayed when he heard the familiar cock crow. Unlike Peter, he felt relieved of his guilt–until he dressed and went down to let them out to free range, and discovered the side door ripped open, and a line of carcasses stretching through the broken page wire fence and under the trees towards the neighbour’s lawn. Inside, the remainder of my flock were traumatised, the biggest rooster hobbling about with one wing extended, a claw puncture mark on his back. There was even one dead chicken, otherwise untouched, inside the hen house.

He reported the attack to Kamloops (a mere 743 kms drive away) and was contacted at work later that day by our Conservation Officer who by good fortune had just made it back into the valley that day. They rendezvoused at 6 pm and David showed him the wooden barricade  had erected overt the broken door. The CO laughed and said a grizzly would toss that side with his little ginger, literally.

“That’s what I feared,” Davie confessed, “but I have no other defence save the electric fence. And that seems so puny.”

“Actually that’s the best defence,” he said. They tracked the bear scat and chicken bodies across my neighbour’s property and back into the bush which stretches a hundred meters to the highway. He didn’t want to go any further.

“So,” David quite rightly asked, “since you’re staying nearby, when I see the bear tonight I’ll phone you and you can come and shoot it?”

“I wish I could, but no,” he sighed again. “If the fence is broken, then I can.”

“So twenty carcasses, a ravaged chicken house and a loss of livelihood aren’t enough.”

“You got it. Ministry policy. I must obey. If he attacks your goats, on the other hand, then I can shoot.”

“Who makes these rules?”

Apparently, he shrugged with–what I hope was–embarrassment and turned away.

David spent the next three hours and into the darkness moving the electric fence to surround my chicken house. My remaining flock reluctantly returned to the scene of the crime except for one canny rooster which, for a time, tried to roost in a nearby tree. David left them to the tender mercies of the night, the barricaded door and turned on the electric current, and hoped for the best.

That was last night. At dawn they were all still safe, but the biggest rooster was barely dragging himself around. David did, however, find bear scat outside my living room window on the grass and in front of the goat gate ten meters across from my house. He noticed the wooden superstructure above the five foot log railing fence (which I had erected to dissuade the goats from jumping out) had been broken down. I have seven pygmy goats now, and five get moved every night out of their pen and into their locked quarters in the nearby barn; the two grown boys like to take their chances in their run. They were safe, but I wonder for how long. Part of me dreads going out tomorrow morning and finding two goat carcasses by the fence; the other part looks forward to it so that then I will have reason to get the CO to shoot the grizzly.

Or maybe I should work with the current capitalist regime, move back to the farm, and put a sign at my gate saying: “BEAR VIEWING STATION: see the grizzly at close quarters as it kills chickens, smashes fruit trees and rips apart pygmy goats–LIVE! P.S.: Since my livelihood is being destroyed in front of your eyes, donations gratefully accepted.”

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Chickens, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Goats, Politicking with predators

Needless Suffering Comes Home to Roost

Last year, I recorded the devastation that my neighbours suffered through at the hands of a grizzly bear (see Needless Suffering for the story). This year, it has hit my own yard. Two nights ago a grizzly bear broke into my chicken shed damaging the door, the locks, and the hinges before killing half my chicken flock. This is not some flimsy, clap board, slap together $1000 chicken shed that would be sufficient to meet most chickens’ needs. No. This is a full on, two x six construction, cement floor, pony walls, with heavy duty plywood exterior, replete with wire on the windows, barn that cost me over $22,000 to build (and people wonder why the economics are no longer there for farmers). How many years will it take me to pay that back at $5 per dozen eggs minus expenses? It is so far into the future that is hardly worth calculating.  Now let’s factor in the loss of, and replacement cost of my stock…

Last night, he was back though we were armed with an electric fence around the chicken house. Though the bear did not enter the chicken house last night he instead worked his way into the goat pen. I now not only fear for the life of the rest of my captive chickens but I am now worried about my goats. The conservation officer won’t do anything about this because, according to him, “it is just chickens.” According to the Ministry of Environment, chickens lives are not valuable. Not valuable to those who have a nice, well paid, government job replete with benefits and holiday pay and affords him the luxury of going to the store to buy their eggs (which come from a factory farm, mostly likely in Chiliwack, on land that has already been taken away from the grizzly bears). Somehow, history doesn’t feature for many people. In their minds it is OK to farm in Chilliwack  where we have killed and/or otherwise displaced all the bears, but not in Bella Coola.

How are we to develop a local food system if we are supposed to let the grizzly bears eat what we are raising for our own needs?

I’ll write more later. Right now I’m just too upset (and believe me, that is putting it in terms fit for the public).

Kristeva

If you are new to the blog and want to follow the bear issues, see the following:

Bears and fruit trees:

Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four

Part five

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Food Security, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food

A mouse in the house?

The picture of innocence, no?

As you know, I’ve been in transit for a few months now looking for a place to settle and, with any luck, relocate Howling Duck Ranch in good time. Recently, I was sleeping/camping out on the living room floor of a friend’s place in the country near Okotoks, AB, when I was rudely awoken during the night with the thought, “Something just bit me.”

I laid there wondering for a moment if I’d dreamed it or not. “Surely not!” I thought as I lay there pondering the options. I closed my eyes to go back to sleep. A second later I felt a trickle of wetness on my finger with my thumb. I got up and went to view my finger by the paradise-of-the-bathroom-light. Sure enough, there were two little teeth marks, broken skin, and blood trickling from my left hand third finger. I washed it off as best I could (it actually bled like small faucet). I then applied polysporin and went back to bed and thought nothing more of the event–for a week.

Fast forward and I’m now in Grande Prairie visiting a friend (who happens to be a vet) that I’m going to house sit for. As we talk about all the things that need doing on the farm,  I relay the ‘bite-in-the-night’ incident to him. His stride and thought train come to an immediate halt: “Do you know what bit you?”

No.

“Are you sure it wasn’t a bat?”

No.

“Have you been to public health to see what they say?”

No.

“Well my god, you’d better get there right now if you can!”

Really, why?

“Because you don’t know what bit you.”

So?

“Well, it is not usual for mice to bite people in their sleep. That is the modus operandi of bats.”

Um… so?

“Well, the issue is that bats carry rabies. In fact, all the cases of rabies in humans in North America were caused by bats biting people in their sleep. That’s how people die. They don’t know what bit them. Most don’t even know they were bit and until they show up with symptoms. But then it’s too late.”

How nice.

Seriously, this could have bit me?

Being a vet, he was up on his ‘things-that-go-bit-in-the-night’ knowledge. In fact he is THE vet for the region that people turn to in cases of rabid animals–you know, the one who picks up the de-headed dogs and bats and performs the tell-tale autopsies on the brains. The furrow in his brow, coupled with the intensity with which he found the public health contact information for me, convinced me I should perhaps go get looked at in the morning.

The following morning I called the nurse line. After about 20 minutes of intense questioning and the nurse telling me more than I wanted to know about the possible dire outcomes, she concluded, that yes, I should definitely see someone.

Enter public health. I relayed the story to the nurse who relayed the story to the Medical Health Officer who, without letting her finish, issued the rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine. They were not going to take any chances. He echoed my vet friend in saying that it is unusual for mice to bite people in their sleep but not unusual for bats to perform such antics.

He dispatched the order. Immediately not one, but several nurses leaped into action. “Seventeen years on the job and you’re my first rabies case,” the nurse said to me before  admonishing me to the waiting room. One of them came to discuss the pros and cons of the immunoglobulin, while several others went behind closed doors to assist the first nurse with the detailed calculations. “We want to get the dose right,” one of them said when she surfaced long enough to weigh me. “It’s extremely important because we have to give you such a high dosage.”

Calculations complete and triple or quadruple checked, I was escorted back into the office.

“Here is the pamphlet with all the contraindications. I’ll just read you the potential side effects…”

“Oh how about we get ‘er done.” I interrupted her, “I really don’t have a choice and believe me, you really don’t need me any more paranoid than I already am!”

“OK. Are you going to faint? Like, can you handle needles OK?”

She turned to prepare the ingredients. When she turned back towards me she was wielding the largest needle I’d ever seen–it was Darth Vadars light saber, replete with sound effects–brummmmmmm.

I had those exact thoughts and feelings myself!

“I’m sorry, but they have to be big to get deep into the muscle,” she explained, responding no doubt, to the look of horror on my face.

I was sitting in my underwear and tank top and about to become a human pin cushion. “This is going to hurt because it is really thick liquid and it takes time to get it into you,” she said as she plunged the first needle into my leg and held it tight, slowly releasing the immunoglobulin and repeating “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Six needles later–two in each thigh and one in each shoulder, plus a tetanus shot to the left shoulder for good measure–and I was good to go.

Before pulling on my jeans I turned to her and said, “You sure you don’t have anything for my calves? They feel left out.”

She gave me the shot schedule and told me who to see the next time I was in. I was going to be a regular visitor to the Public Health over the next six weeks so I might as well get on a first name basis with everyone. The shots left me exhausted each time. By the end of each day I felt tired and head-achy. Overall, in light of the possible horrific side effects, I’m doing well. I have more or less come through the ordeal unscathed.

The good news is, now, I really can run with the wolves with abandon!

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Filed under Animal issues, Educational, Politicking with predators

Bears and fruit trees – part 5

The solution:

“Lasting success requires both HUMANS and BEARS to change their behaviors otherwise bears will continually get into trouble”

Southwest Alberta Bear Management Program

I began this series because of a discussion the British Columbia Food Security Network was having about how to make bears and fruit trees get along. Members in Powell River, BC were being told by their local Ministry of Environment Conservation Officers to cut down their fruit trees and then being threatened with fines if they did not comply. As a farmer, a food provisioner, and someone who is passionate about food security and community development, I was concerned by this attitude of the regional Conservation Officers. Because it is not policy (yet) on the Ministry of Environment’s site, it makes me wonder why these COs are suggesting this as a reasonable solution to the human-bear conflict. I believe it is because they are convinced by some of the myths I have outlined in previous articles (see part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 of the series), in particular, the theory that humans can control bear behaviour if we remove all the attractants, which is simply not true. Furthermore, it is a ridiculous fantasy that we can live ‘in harmony’ with wildlife. As one Bear Smart BC program coordinator told me during an interview, “Living with large predators has its limitations and we can’t expect people to ignore the risks associated with bear/human conflict.”

Sadly, the only outcome of these ‘animal-centric’ ideas is for humans to be held hostage to the bears which, thanks to changes in legislation in Canada, now have the backing of the Conservation Officers and, thanks to the preservationist media agenda, now have the backing of the public at large. The New Jersey example proves that the act of withdrawing is futile (see New Jersey Bear Problem); despite the mammoth efforts to control city garbage, their bear problem is worse than ever!

As the New Jersey example shows, once you have habituated bears and then remove the attractants (food, garbage, barbeques, fruit trees) outside your home, bears will enter houses, because they are accustomed to acquiring food at those locations and are no longer afraid of humans. Instead, they see human settlements as a source of food. “We don’t know exactly how long it takes for a habituated bear to become ‘human food conditioned’ but in some observations of specific bears we have estimated it took approximately 10 days,” the Bear Smart BC program coordinator told me. What is worse, they may even consider your property part of their home range territory and defend it aggressively. While not strictly territorial by nature, bears do conduct a modified form of territorial defence (what some bear behaviour experts call ‘home range’ defence), where a bear will defend access to resources such as the best salmon spawning rivers, the best berry patches, or other areas with rich sources of food (resources) and they will defend those areas aggressively. This home range defence is an important distinction in bear behaviour that has implications for our Food Security. When you develop a food secure piece of ground in bear territory, you could find yourself (or your yard/farm) being considered part of a bear’s ‘home-range’ territory. If your yard is in prime bear habitat then it is not likely that you will end up with a young, inexperienced (or marginalized) bear, but you could end up with an older, more experienced (and thus more aggressive) bear laying claim to your fruit trees. It is even likely to be a dominant female with cubs. She may not be able to hold prime river access, but because your farm/yard/trees are close to the river, she can lay claim to that habitat. In other words, you could end up with a bear that is willing to fight aggressively to keep (or take) the access to the fruit trees. Females with cubs are an even more dangerous situation because of the ‘cub-defence’ behaviour — the most common type of bear aggression towards people that results in injury. Younger or more inexperienced bears can sometimes be deterred more easily (with bear bangers, or dogs, loud noises, electric fences, and so on) but more experienced and/or determined bears (especially females with cubs) will not be so easily deterred — especially if they have had access to this food source over time. For the most part, it is the younger bears which are being forced to access people’s yards (around cities and less wild spaces) but it is certainly not always the case.

The typical bear to get into trouble with people is a sub-adult between 2 to 5 years old for Black Bears, and 3 to 5 years old for Grizzlies. Black bear cubs stay with the sow for two years and Grizzly cubs stay three years. After that they are forced to fend for themselves and at that point they become very vulnerable. Sub-adults are vulnerable to predation by other bears, cougars and wolves, so they are forced further away from their original home range territory. Sub-adult males are bolder than females and they are usually the first source of the conflict. The next ones to get up close to homes are sows with cubs. These sows approach human development for the same reasons that sub-adults do, to stay away from predators, especially dominant male bears. Because of this, they choose “safe zones” where the dominant males (as well as other predators) are less likely to be present. Drawn in by their strong sense of smell to the odours around homes, these bears explore for opportunities. Because we are no longer trapping, snaring, and shooting these intruders, these bears quickly learn that human settlements are a safe haven so they push the envelop. It is here that the trouble begins and finding a solution becomes paramount. We can categorise bears, regardless of species, in three ways.:

1. Wild – No previous experience with humans.

2. Human Wise – They know what humans are; they have seen them, smelled and heard them.

3. Habituated – These bears are accustomed to being around people and have learned not to fear them. These are by far the most dangerous kind of bear to deal with.

Wild bears and human wise bears are not problem bears, only potentially problem bears. Problem bears are habituated bears. In order to address those bears effectively, humans have to accept that we are part of the problem and change our behaviours accordingly. If we want to keep these animals alive then a mammoth effort in lifestyle change is required. Step one is to acknowledge that we are in competition with them for resources (food, land, access to food sources, waterways, etc — even if we are vegan) and step two is to act accordingly. Here are the four main ways we may minimise the human-bear conflict: 1. We can stop habituating bears to our food sources by not putting any food into garbage cans in our neighbourhoods or into community garbage dumps. Professor Stephen Herrero found villagers in Italy surrounded by mountains and bears, who, despite growing much of their own food, keeping fruit trees, and composting in they own yards, do not have bear problems. He documents his experience in the village in his book, Bear Attacks Revised: their cause and avoidance. The people in these Italian mountain communities put NO food garbage into their dumps! Not a drop. In addition, the households compost all their own food and thus the bears do not become accustomed to human waste food in the towns or at the dumps. They also defend their settlements so the bears know not to come to town and that humans are a threat.

2. We can keep bears wild by delineating preservation areas for bears where humans are not allowed to go. As a May 2010 Sierra Club Canada Media Release so rightly states, we must “… protect adequate amounts of grizzly bear habitat and restrict the number of open routes and motorized access in other places.”

3. We can make bears more human wise by defending our territory aggressively. Enter The Wind River Bear Institute and their ‘Parters-in-Life’ program. An innovative leader in this work, the Wind River Bear Institute uses non-lethal methods of reducing the human-bear conflict problems. Their goal is to teach the bears and humans how to avoid conflict. Their mission is ‘to reduce human-caused bear mortality and conflicts worldwide to ensure the continued survival of all species of bears for future generations’. When a ‘nuisance’ bear shows up, a dog trainer and team are dispatched to aggressively defend the property and/or human settlement a bear is encroaching upon. This technique is called ‘bear shepherding’: the idea behind it is to teach bears to recognize that humans have territorial boundaries and they are not welcome inside them. Of her program, Hunt says, “We have developed a system for teaching safe, meaningful lessons to bears and use a variety of loud noises, rubber projectiles and Karelian Bear Dog (KBD) Wildlife Service Dogs (WSDs) to safely ‘herd’ bears out of off-limit areas such as roadways, campgrounds, developed sites, and back country camps.” It is the aim of The Wind River Bear Institute (WRBI) to successfully ‘retrain’ the bears to recognize humans and see them as a threat to be avoided. “Because our lessons are based on wild bear behavior, the bears are taught to view us as much like a dominant bear and learn to avoid human developed sites as ‘our’ territory.” Because the technique is based in wild animal behaviour, it can be used as a template for other animals that pose human-wildlife conflict. The WRBI has also used this shepherding technique with cougars, moose, big horn sheep, and wolves. Enter the government. Our government officials could put more money into supporting programs like the Partners-in-Life, and have Conservation Officers trained to do Bear Shepherding. We could also give back land owners some power through policy changes, and allow them to defend their territory as a preventative measure. This could entail trapping, snaring, and shooting if necessary. Property owners should not have to wait until a bear is habituated to their land before something can be done. They should not have to wait until the bear has broken into their chicken shed and killed every chicken before a Conservation Officer is dispatched to ‘deal’ with the problem bear. After all, once the chickens are all dead the bear is no longer a problem!

Destroying the bears is not the only way to deal with them, but sadly, sometimes it is the only solution. Habituated bears are very difficult to discourage. A Bear Smart BC program coordinator admitted, “some bears get too possessive and aggressive around people’s homes and there is no other solution but to destroy them… As a program our first responsibility is to human safety.” He is speaking from experience not from emotion. Why not simply relocate problem bears? An article in the Journal of Wildlife Management by Blanchard and Knight (1995) states, “Because of low survival and high return rates [of relocated bears], transporting grizzly bears should be considered a final action to eliminate a conflict situation.” Many relocated bears die either by fighting with other bears in their newly relocated to territory, or by fighting with bears whose territory they have to cross in order to get back to their own home range territory. Because of the low survival rate (and the high resource use and transportation costs), bear biologist Carrie Hunt implores, “relocation and destruction must fade into history as something we do as an exception rather than the norm.”

4. We can control our population growth. We must control our population and limit our growth, period. Otherwise, there will be no space left for bears or any other wild creatures to thrive. What you ‘can’ do: Removing food sources from bears has its merits and does make a positive difference in reducing conflict. The Bear Smart BC program has been working with bear-resistant garbage can makers who have developed some successful and innovative solutions. In order for any container to received bear-resistant status it must undergo stringent testing through the Living with Wildlife with Wildlife Foundation in Wyoming.

One particular maker, Tye Dee Bins, makes metal bins that, during their test trials, no bear could get into no matter how hard they tried. Electric fencing has come a long way over recent years and installation is the key to dissuading bears from trying to reach a garden, fruit trees or even barns. Bear Smart has obtained effective electric fencing from Gallagher Fencing, a New Zealand Company which came to BC and trained the Bear Smart Program Delivery Specialists on the proper installation of their electric fencing. It is paramount that the bears do not defeat the fence when they attempt to access food. In the Kootenays, BC, Grizzlies had been attacking chicken coops and pig pens, so Bear Smart BC staff responded to complaints and erected a Gallagher electric fence. After one successful electric shot, they find that the bears get the message and never return. The down side to the electric fencing is its high cost.

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

Bears and fruit trees, part 4

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent, pervasive false beliefs about the human-bear relationship. Some of these beliefs are even enacted into public policies and laws, and contradictory policies at that. For example, there is a lot of talk in the media these days about local eating: the 100 Mile Diet, re-localization, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and so on. There has even been some B.C. Ministry of Health interest in promoting the aforementioned with their recent ‘access to produce’ initiative. However, the Conservation Service (Ministry of Environment) seems to be at odds with this food security agenda by advising people to cut down their fruit trees whenever there is a bear-human conflict. This issue is the fuel that sparked this series of posts—when I found myself in conversation with some folks from the B.C. Food System Network who were alarmed by their Conservation Officer threatening them with fines if they did NOT cut down their fruit trees.

It’s a question of food security

While it may sound as if I would have all bears and wildlife destroyed, it is not the case. My position with respect to the human-wildlife conflict is rooted in terms of food security and community/rural survival: we cannot have food security when there are oppositional philosophies being enforced by different Ministries.

What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. The other post of this series are:

1.How to make bears and fruit trees get along

2. Bears and fruit trees, part two

3. Bears and fruit trees, part three

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #4: After all, you are in ‘their territory’

Some readers’ responses to one of my posts about the human-wildlife conflict provide a departure point for discussion of this false belief: “Any thoughts about the fact that you are placing tasty food morsels in the bear’s territory? Why are you keeping fruit trees in bear territory?” … “If you have animals and fruit trees then you are just asking for predators to come”… “Well, you are in their territory so you just have to accept this” (my personal favourite). The very concept of ‘territory’ is the essential problem. It is a neat fiction which presumes a boundary between the bears’ ‘territory’ and ‘ours’, and a contractual agreement as to where that boundary-line is. If so, where is it? At the edge of cities? around all rural areas? or should we all move out of the countryside and back into cities… again, where is the edge of the city? At this field, or that fence-line? As with so many issues, this debate is over boundaries, borders, and margins, and yet there is no demarcated boundary to any natural creature’s territory—only constantly changing niches or ill-defined ranges, constantly fought for with tooth and claw. The idea of identifiable borders is a human invention (viz. Hadrian’s, China’s, Berlin’s, Peach Arch Park and the 49th parallel) and we have difficulty maintaining even those (look at Gaza, or the Mexico/US border, or China and Tibet, or the Northwest Territory now Nunavut, to name a fraction of the infractions). Animals like bears do understand territory and mark theirs distinctively, but that territory is a living, changing thing, depending on each bear’s niche, condition, and the state of the food supply. That food supply is intimately linked to the general bear population; if the food supply or population changes, the bear’s fight for territory becomes more competitive; the delineation and extent of that territory shift and morph under these pressures. With respect to our current bear problem, a poor summer with few fish or berries coupled with an increase in bear population means their food source is too scarce in their own food shed, so the fight for territory between bears has become more vicious. Consequently, the weaker and younger bears that are denied access to prime habitat are pushed out of what we think of as ‘their territory’ and into ‘ours.’ Easy pickings are chicken houses, fruit trees, gardens and garbage; combined with a policy of ‘non-attractants’ it’s not long before bears consider ‘our territory’ theirs. When we add the fact that people are no longer ‘fighting’ back as we once did against these carnivores, their assumption is understandable. Unlike the bears along the river fishing for salmon, who drive us and each other away in order to protect their food source, we humans didn’t even put up a fight when they came and ate all our chickens, turkeys and ducks; nor did we complain when they harvested all our carrots, parsley, plums and pears.

So how do I establish and maintain my border? A border, however loosely defined, only has existence if both sides acknowledge and maintain it. In contrast to predators’ shifting borders, humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and raised domesticated animals in this valley. While the bears’ boundary is shifting, our human boundary has always been clearly delineated (mown lawns, driveways, and often a fence, etc.), and we have throughout history educated the animals by trapping and shooting. Everywhere in the world, people have marked their ‘territory’ by shooting and trapping offenders in this way, and thus they have trained predators not to intrude across the humans’ clearly delineated, and relatively unshifting borders. Like dogs, bears and cougars can be trained, and that is why we have a residual idea that those animals have a natural fear of humans. But there is nothing innate about it; it is a learned behaviour and a direct result of an ancient human-wildlife conflict in which we have always been engaged.

I have come to understand that the remaining predators need constantly to be ‘trained’ not to come where humans are. One of the reasons that the large predators are coming back into cities in broad daylight, and generally to where humans are, is that we are no longer shooting at them. Consequently, they no longer see us as an equal predator, or even as a threat. Contrary to the misconception that these animals are innately nocturnal, they have figured out that they can even get away with being out in the day time, so every year there are more reports of their daytime marauding on farms, and through garage bins in cities. The assertion of my blog respondent, that I am in their territory, creates the misconstrued dichotomy of ‘their territory’ versus ‘our territory’, as if humans only ‘belong’ in cities, and that those cities have always existed. However, all North America’s great cities (the same goes for Europe, India, China and so on, though with different predators) were once the bears’ ‘territory’ before ‘we’ decided to stop being hunter gatherers and develop human settlements, based on cultivating crops.

The ‘our territory/their territory’ theory arises from a flawed preservationist philosophy, which mistakenly presumes that bears have a ‘territory’ which we humans have encroached upon, and now drives policy and legislative decisions in British Columbia (and North American in general, as shown in their responses to my blog). Am I really ‘in the bears’ territory’ when I am in the confines of my property’? If so, isn’t all of the North American population? And most of the European (or Chinese, or Indian, or African, etc.) population too, for that matter? The reason we have the few agricultural areas we do, is that we’ve shot almost everything that once moved there (hence the European eradication of wolves and bears and the dearth of them in large parts of the USA that they formally occupied), and continue to let the survivors know they don’t belong there any more. Our food security depends on our making more enlightened land use policies based on historical and biological realities, not these neat, fantastical conspiracies of cartographers.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Bears and fruit trees, part three

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent themes (false beliefs) that are pervasive about the human-bear relationship. What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. The first two post of this series are, ‘How to make bears and fruit trees get along’ and ‘Bears and fruit trees, part two.’

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #3: We can live in harmony with wildlife

This belief is held by people who are insulated from the essential biological condition of all animals, including the human one. The commonalities are: people refuse to hear facts from local people who know, preferring instead to will their own believed reality into existence; people get their information from television, where reality is at one remove and often distorted by Disney-fied commentary; despite the close encounters and reports of deaths, people insist that those incidents are the exception, that the responsibility for such attacks is the humans, who were too close, too unkind, to…, or that Nature has somehow let them down, backsliding from Her normal benign ‘co-existence’ model.

In his new book The War in the Country (Vancouver: Greystone, 2009), Thomas F. Pawlick recounts an incident in Algonquin Park, Ontario, when he advised a European couple not to have their photograph taken close to some nearby black bears with its cubs. “Oh no,” said the woman, “we’ve seen bears on television lots of times, and people pet them and everything else.” Pawlick explained that not only were these wild bears, but also that one of them had cubs, which meant the mother would kill the couple on the spot. Ignoring his advice, the couple approached the bears until the mother stood up and growled, which prompted them to retreat, the woman complaining indignantly, “Well, that didn’t sound friendly.” (Pages 266-7) I have had the same experience here where I ranch.

The second commonality is deeply entrenched in our western urban psyche. From Disney to National Geographic, well-intentioned nature films, with their telescopic lenses and generally uplifting environmental commentaries, give the comfortable couch-sitter the impression that all nature, including the big animals, is there as a backdrop to uplifting or cute human encounters. Even ‘educational’ films about bear safety often feature individuals in close proximity to bears, safe only (I presume) in the knowledge that there is an array of sharpshooters just out of camera range. Whatever the unseen ‘big picture’ of these movies may be, they are irresponsible in not telling us the whole truth of their construction. Even the experts in these movies can be ill-informed, as the  sad example of Tim Treadwell (the “Grizzly Man” of the movie) and Amie Huguenard demonstrates. In the opinion of another bear expert, Kevin Sanders:

Anyone that spends as much time in the field as Tim and I have, will no doubt have had similar experiences. I remember once out at my bear viewing area sitting alone one day, and feeling a bit sleepy in the warm sun I decided to lay back and close my eyes for a moment, when I remember feeling that something was watching me. I slowly raised up and looked around, only to discover that a family of six coyotes had moved in behind me, the adult alpha’s sitting within feet of me while the pups played nearby. After a few minutes, I decided to get up and walk across the meadow, only to have the whole family follow along beside me. The only difference between Tim and I is, Tim felt that the fox were kindred spirits, whereas I knew that the coyotes were looking at me as they would any other large carnivore in the wild, and that hopefully I would lead them to food much as a bear or wolf would do. Or maybe, I was the food! …

Tim’s foolish disregard for his own safety, and over confidence dealing with bears in the past, luck really, not to mention his mistake of placing anthropomorphic values on bears, and disregarding established federal guidelines when photographing and camping with brown bears contributed to both Tim and Amie’s death. Grizzly bears are wild animals and should always be treated as such, wild and unpredictable. Not a pet, or lovable cuddly bear…. (Kevin Sanders, 2008)

The third commonality is related to the other two, in that it, too, places humans at the centre. I have often seen people going into bear areas without any defense system (knife, gun, bow), or carrying their pepper spray and clicking their rocks, every so often shouting “Yo Bear!” and secure in their belief that by intruding into bear territory openly yet adhering to the ’10 commandments’ of ‘being bear aware’ (making noise, clicking rocks, sticking to the trail, and so on) they will not really be intruding into their territory and thus will not have any deleterious encounters. “If we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us,” they are told, and so they believe. Jim West, who survived a bear attack in 70 Mile House British Columbia in 2008, by killing the bear and requiring sixty stitches on his head and body, was harassed for his actions. Gary Shelton documents several similar cases where bear attack victims were vilified by the (largely urban) public. He argues that so deeply held are people’s beliefs in our ability to intrude safely into the wild, that contrary evidence can cause psychic trauma:

Most modern young people who have careers that require working in the field have university degrees. In many universities, like the ones in British Columbia, these people often obtain a view pint about mankind and nature that is incorporated into their beliefs about life. One principle in that viewpoint is that animals attack only when people have wrongly intruded on their space, and if you obey the rules of retreat, animals will back off as they don’t really intend you any harm. In some types of bear attacks on a person with such beliefs, where the bear exhibits behavior contrary to that belief system and the person is severely injured, their psychology of belief is also injured. This may sound minor in significance, but considering that this type of person is often someone who has embraced nature pantheism, the resulting trauma can be deep, lingering, and hard to diagnose. (Bear Attacks II: Myth & Reality, Hagensborg: Pallister, 2001,  p.147)

To sum up, all three commonalities which lead to what I call ‘False belief #3: We can live in harmony with wildlife’ exhibit the human ability to deny reality in favour of a deeply held, prior belief. As Francis Bacon so wisely stated, “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.”

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Fruit Trees, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food

Bears and fruit trees, part two

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent themes (false beliefs) that are pervasive about the human-bear relationship. What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. Other posts in this series are, ‘How to make bears and fruit trees get along‘ and ‘Bears and fruit trees, part three.’

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #2: We are not in competition with bears

Many people don’t understand that, despite trappings of modern civilization that buffer us from this reality, we are in direct competition with wildlife for our existence. Not only have we lost sight of this fact, but we have also begun to believe that there is a way to ‘live in harmony’ with nature and we work hard to convince ourselves this is achievable.

If you are one of these people, then you are wrong to think this way and here’s why.

Everything out there is trying to make a living just as we are, from the bears, to the fish, to the squirrels, to insects, and bacteria. Since humans have walked on this earth we have been in direct competition with nature for resources and thus have fought to protect these resources. If we weren’t successful, we starved.

Historically, humans hunted for our food and thus we understood our direct relationship with the natural world. We understood that if the wolf population was too high the deer numbers would be low and this would threaten our chance of survival. Consequently, humans understood we needed to kill some wolves in order to protect the deer numbers and, in this way, indirectly protect our own species‘ survival. We understood we were, and must be, part of that equation.

Today, every time we spray our lawns with insecticide, every time we build a new home, each time we pave a road, each time we build a shopping mall or a university, each time we fell trees to make lumber, every time we fill our gas tank, every time we buy some product that has been shipped half way around the world, every time we buy packaged food from the grocery store, and so on, we displace and destroy (or already have replaced and destroyed) the native plants, insects, birds and animals — and the resources they depend upon for their survival — that previously existed in the are area in question for our benefit.

Today however, few people would recognize the environmental cost to changing a track of forest into agricultural land and the inputs necessary to raise a cow, or a pig, or even an acre of soybeans to grow food for humans. Few would understand that it is environmentally more sound to keep the forest in tact and harvest a moose who is perfectly suited to that forest and requires no artificial inputs, let alone be willing or able to make the lifestyle changes necessary to manage that resource.

Only those who can afford food can ‘afford’ to entertain this false belief system.

Few people in North America today rely on hunting or raising food on their own land for their direct economic survival. Instead, we have accepted that large swaths of nature should be severely altered (if not completely destroyed) in order that we can live in city suburbs, and that agricultural (and other) products can be made cheaply and can be transported long distances to us. So it is not that we are no longer directly in competition with nature, rather that the competition is out of sight and out of mind. We are no longer aware of it because we don’t see direct evidence of it on a daily basis.

California’s bears and other flora and fauna have been displaced and/or all but been destroyed, its landscape severely altered to make way for suburbs, highways, orchards and market gardening, and its waterways re-routed for irrigation, as have the Okanagan and Frazer Valleys in British Columbia, great swaths of the prairie provinces across Canada and the USA, and the Niagara region of Southern Ontario. These areas are some of the major agricultural production areas on which we North Americans depend most for our food production and, therefore, survival. That these areas were once wild, and remain domesticated only by force and vigilance, is an idea forgotten or ignored only by those who can afford to buy food instead of growing it themselves (provisioning). It is only those whose economic livelihood is not threatened, those who live an indirect economic lifestyle by selling their time for a wage so they can buy food, clothing, housing, etc., for their (indirect) survival, who can afford to uphold the misconception that we are not in direct competition with wildlife for our existence.

We all are in competition with nature, even urban dwellers. Ironically, it is urban dwellers who are, not only the most food insecure because they are more dependent upon an agricultural production and distribution system that is completely out of their control, but also often the most unaware of how much competition they are in with nature for their survival. How many urbanites consider the tons of pesticides that are sprayed annually on wheat alone to keep the average crop from succumbing to weevils? While weevils are not bears, they too compete directly with us for our wheat!

Which brings me to two other important points about direct competition.

The privilege of living close to nature

We have developed strategies for competing with all aspects of nature, from traps (mice and rodents), to fungicides, herbicides, insecticides (molds, weeds, bugs), to windbreaks and rip-raps (erosion by wind and water). We have become so conditioned to these agricultural weapons that we no longer see them as such. We certainly don’t see weevils on par with squirrels, or squirrels on par with grizzly bears.  Many bear enthusiasts would not object to a farmer spraying crops to prevent weevils from destroying it but would be horrified if the same farmer shot a bear to protect his apples. However, if you were dependent upon the apple crop for your livelihood, or to keep you from starving, you wouldn’t. The privilege of a full stomach affords us the luxury of seeing these two actions as vastly different.  Today, most North Americans would tell me to go buy the apples from the store and save the bear because they are no longer engaged in direct economics and can afford to be blindly unaware of the cold hard realities of what it takes to put food on their tables.

If you have a stomach full of food bought from the grocery store, then you can afford to see squirrels, deer, hawks, and bears as part of the wonders of nature and feel ‘privileged’ that they are traipsing through your yard and let them eat your berries, apples, and carrots. But even then, there is a big difference between tolerating squirrels, deer, and hawks, and tolerating bears and other large predators. Squirrels can’t kill you but large predators can. In order to keep our yards and communities safe, we cannot tolerate large predators in our human settlements, period.

However, if you are dependent upon the food you raise for your economic survival (directly or indirectly) you cannot even afford to let the squirrels eat your strawberries or the deer eat your apples. Imagine that every time a deer came in to your yard you lost 1/3 of your annual wage. How long would it take before the joy of seeing a deer to wear off? How long could you ‘afford’ to feel privileged at losing 1/3 (or more) of your annual salary? In order to have food security, you must have the right to defend the food.

In Defense of Food

In short, humans have a right to livelihood. By that I mean the right to grow food instead of selling our time, collecting a wage, and then spending it at ‘the store’ (where cheap food magically appears). We therefore have the right to defend our food sources just as we did in the past. Salaried employees don’t lose wages when a bear comes through their yards, why should a provisioner or farmer? Some will argue that that should be part of the cost of ‘doing business’ as a farmer. Many will argue that I (and other farmers) should buy electric fencing, install bear proof feed bins, build bigger, stronger, bear proof chicken houses and so on in order to prevent the bear conflict. I am against this line of thinking for three reasons: this argument is based on false belief #1 (that humans can control bear behaviour by removing all attractants); there is little enough (if any) profit to be made in farming these days and the additional cost would make their products out of reach for many consumers; and finally, fencing out large predators and leaving them to roam the neighbourhoods around fence lines does not promote human safety.

If we want sustainable farming to be something that younger people choose as a career, if we want food security for our communities, if we want to have agricultural animals raised ethically and humanely, if we want good clean safe food, if we want the right to livelihood, then we have to support those who are willing to do the work and make it worth their while. Otherwise, we will have to accept that those farmers who could get well paying, secure jobs elsewhere, should get them; that we will have food insecurity; that we will give up our right to livelihood; and that we will have to rely upon the corporate agricultural production and distribution system.

Finally, because we all need to eat and that act displaces large tracks of wilderness in order to ensure our survival, then the cost of maintaining wilderness with its full compliment of flora and fauna, in parallel with local food security, should be borne by all society, not just those who choose to live close to the wild and raise our food.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Gathering from the wild, Hunting, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Making bears and fruit trees get along

I’ve recently been involved in a discussion with the BC Food Systems Network about the relationship between bears and food security. In terms of food security, this issue is an extremely important one for anyone living where large predators exist. I plan to write about it over several posts in order to dispel some common misconceptions about the human-predator relationship in terms of food security, and to propose some practical solutions.

Please feel free to voice your opinions in the comments section. I welcome the input, as it gives us all a chance to talk about this important issue. Your comments also provide me with food for thought, and the chance to develop my ideas.

How to make bears and fruit trees get along

A member of the BC Food Systems Network recently wrote about their community’s experience with the Conservation Service. According to this source, the COs in their area, instead of dealing effectively with any nuisance bears, are threatening people with fines if they don’t cut down their fruit and nut trees. While outraged with this Ministry’s attitude, I’m not surprised by it. Here in the Bella Coola Valley, too, people are being advised to cut down their fruit trees by the Conservation Service, instead of being offered support, protection (part of their motto!), and–oh, yes–conservation.

False belief #1: The ‘remove the attractant’ theory

In terms of food security, the idea that we must ‘remove all attractants’ to prevent bears from entering our communities is a dangerous line of thinking (particularly in light of our economic times). The logic may sound reasonable when you are living in the city and dealing with a bear in your garbage can. However, it is not consistent with the goals of food security, because in rural BC there is no limit to the list of attractants. Therefore, we cannot have food security in our communities and be consistent with these Ministry guidelines.

Most specifically, and to put it simply:  if we ascribe to the notion that humans can control bear behaviour by ‘removing the attractants’, then we cannot raise food. Fruit trees, berry bushes, carrots, and parsley all attract grizzly bears. Chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and rabbits, all attract grizzly bears. The duck feed, the goat feed, and the chickens’ corn all attract grizzly bears. Fields of corn and oats attract bears. Beehives attract bears. (Many of the above also attract a host of other predators that threaten our food security, such as eagles, foxes, wolves, cougars, mice, owls, hawks, martin, weevils, and so on.)

If we are to be consistent with the ‘remove the attractant’ theory, then the next ‘logical’ step is to pass public policy laws that forbid people from raising their own food. In order to ‘remove all the attractants’ we will have to cut down all the fruit trees, plant no vegetable or herb gardens, and get rid of all the feed and grain for our agricultural animals–chickens (see Needless Suffering), ducks, geese, goats, pigs, turkeys, sheep, and so on–lest we be seen to be ‘baiting’ the bears. Instead, maybe we could free range our agricultural animals? No.  To be consistent with the ‘non-attractant theory’ we must leave it to the corporate agricultural producers who can afford (both ethically and financially) to keep animals indoors, behind Fort Knox type fenced areas, or on feedlots.

New Jersey Example

The idea of removing the attractants simply doesn’t work. This line of thinking got the state of New Jersey into its conundrum with their bears. They have gone a long way down this path, having made city wide efforts of removing the ‘attractants’ from their city streets and neighbourhoods. They have made huge efforts to limit the times in which garbage could be out on the street for collection, and even made centralized collection stations. Nevertheless, despite the fact they have removed all the so called ‘attractants’, bears have NOT stopped coming into people’s yards. Now accustomed to viewing human settlements as good food sources, bears are now entering houses. We should learn from their experience instead of continuing down the same path.

If we are going to have, and support, real food security in our province, we have to change the way we look at this problem. If not, then we will eventually lose the right to keep fruit trees, grow gardens, and raise animals for food. The evidence of this is revealed in the current attitude of British Columbia’s Conservation Service Officers.

Living under siege

The idea that humans are responsible to not ‘attract’ the bears is ridiculous. Humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and domesticated animals in places where large predators roamed. Since humans have been on earth they have been in direct competition with other large predators for their food (livelihood) and, by shooting, trapping, snaring, or other aggressive measures, have trained these wild animals not to intrude into their human settlements. Until very recently, we have known and understood our relationship with the natural world; part of our role was teaching wildlife what is appropriate behaviour. We have lost that understanding now that most of us buy food from the grocery store, agricultural production is out of sight and out of mind, and the closest we get to a grizzly bear is by watching the Discovery Channel,

It is time to re-educate ourselves to re-educate the bears. Even the Conservation Officer Service acknowledges that humans  can ‘teach bears bad habits’, so why not teach them some good ones?

To view the series of posts on this topic, see:

Part two

Part three

Part four

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Filed under Agriforestry, Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Walk softly and carry a big gun

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Mine is a Remington 700 series limited edition .280

The above photo was taken on one of the first days out on my hunt. I was on foot with Clarence and it was my first time walking back into the depths of the Little Rainbow Mountains. To say the least, I was a bit nervous. It was quite cold (even though it was a beautiful sunny day) and we were alone on the mountain. His son and wife had not yet arrived at camp by the time we struck out, and part of me was counting on the fact that they would know where we were if we got in trouble. Not that I expected to have trouble, or even really worried about my 84 year old hunting partner’s ability. Rather it was my ability–or lack of–and the thought of something happening to Clarence, that had me concerned: I wanted to know there was a ‘back-up’ in case one was needed. I know I am inexperienced and that I could make a wrong decision if push came to shove in these winter mountain conditions. Luckily nothing untoward unfolded and we had a great hunt!

LittleRainbowIMGP3137

One end of the Little Rainbow Mountain range.

The early part of the day was spent in preparation and getting to camp, and then we headed out on the trail. “This trail runs due south,” Clarence kept reminding me, “Mah dear, to get back to camp we just have to walk due north. It’s that simple, um-hum.” What Clarence never seemed to understand that–for an inexperienced greenhorn–nothing in the hunting/outdoor survival world is ‘that simple’. He is so comfortable in this world that it is beyond his comprehension that someone wouldn’t be. Without him seeing, I got my compass out and verified his statement. Then I set the dial and tried to convince myself that I felt more at ease.

Over the years of knowing him I’ve realized that he has difficulty teaching these kinds of skills. He is sometimes quite unaware of the depth of his knowledge, and thus can’t seem to separate what should be highlighted  because of its importance, sometimes even when I ask. For example, today while we were traveling along the trail I asked how he knew how to find his way. “Well it’s flagged,” he said matter-of-factly as if the answer was obvious.

As I stood there looking perplexed a look of bewilderment crossed his face then his chin jutted out in front of him nodding towards some trees ahead of us. My eyes followed his chin and looked for trees wrapped with ‘flagging tape’ but saw none. If I was going to get a clear answer from him I had to press further, “I don’t know what you mean.” He walked towards a tree and pointed at a yellow mark made from the tree’s own sap, “My sons and I made these marks nearly 40 years ago with an axe.” The trees then produce the yellow sap to heal the scar which becomes the ‘flag’. That, is what I needed to know.

Once I had these two crucial bits of knowledge the going was easy and I soon lost some of my nervousness and began to really enjoy myself. However, it did not last long. Minutes into our hunt we cut some fresh tracks; ones that made me glad to be carrying a big gun. I was out in front so I saw them first. My mind filtered through all that Clarence had taught me about tracks last year and ruled out most critters. I was just working my way round to the realization that it  was not a wolf, when Clarence caught up to me and looked down at the tracks.

“Oh my aching back,” his eyes widened with delight as he surveyed the scene, “that’s a cougar track. Wow…  it’s fresh and it’s a big one.” Oh good. Cuz that’s what I wanna hear… I looked due south along the nice little ‘moose hunting’ trail that I had–until that moment–felt relatively safe on. Then I looked due east towards the cougar tracks and felt a chill run down my spine: I wanted to get as far from this spot and those tracks as I could, and fast. As my mind worked in overdrive trying to keep my emotions in check, I was only dimly aware that Clarence was verbally reconstructing the scene for me. Suddenly he said something that brought his voice to the foreground, “Well looky here mah dear… there’s three of them traveling together!”

As ridiculous as it may sound, like the Spanish Inquisition, I wasn’t expecting to see cougar tracks, let alone three sets of cougars all traveling together close to where I stood. I was, after all, out looking for moose. Why would there be anything else out here? “A mama and cubs?” I ventured, my mind grinding back into focus. “Noooooooo. See that track here,” he said pointing at the largest of the three sets, “That is a huge Tom print… biggest I ever saw.” In light of the fact that Clarence has hunted cougars for more than 50 years, that statement is saying something (and that something is not something I was comfortable with at that moment!). “Why would cubs be traveling with a tom?” I asked still hoping he would reconsider his analysis. “Oh, those other tracks are not cubs… nooooooo, they are also full grown cougars… probably all toms.”

They had come from the west and were headed due east when they cut our north-south trail in two. As if this wasn’t enough to put a chill in my bones, Clarence had declared the tracks only minutes old. He showed me how they had been walking slowly on the west side of the trail, how they had all stopped in their tracks right on our trail, and how they had taken off on the run to the east: “Hey mah-dear… Why they were probably looking at us!”

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Clarence Hall, cougar hunter through and through.

It was not easy to get Clarence re-focused on the task at hand. In his world cougar trumps moose every time. It was in the midst of yet another one of his ‘I-wish-I-had-my-hounds and do-you-wanna-track-em’ reveries that I thought of another use for the parachute cord in my possibles bag: a Clarence Hall lasso.

As I watched him drift east talking more excitedly with each step, I wasn’t sure how else to get him back on track and headed due south again. It took some time but eventually I more or less got him re-focused, but it certainly wasn’t the end of his ruminations. The last thing he said to me before falling asleep was, “I wish we’d tracked those cougars today. You know, in hindsight.”

 

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Filed under Animal issues, Gathering from the wild, Hunting, Politicking with predators

Goldilocks and the three bears

Compared to previous years, it has so far been a summer free of bears here in the valley. Friends visiting have been disappointed to see none on the hour long drive from the foot of the hill down the valley to our community, and I’ve heard of no home or chicken shed invasions since late spring. One theory is that this summer’s forest fires have spooked them all back up the side valleys; if that’s the case, maybe we should organize for a controlled burn every spring!

Not that there haven’t been close encounters. My own was in July, when my dog was more than usually vocal one night. Usually she’ll bark off an intruder once or twice a night, while I lie in bed judging the size of the attacker by the distance Tui moves away from the house towards the perimeter fences. If I hear her echoing against the forest in the distance, it’s a fox, while if she stays close to the front porch and whines, it’s a cougar.

This night it was an in-between barking distance so I knew it was a bear, whose size I didn’t know until dawn when I went out to free the turkeys, laying chickens and meat birds from their respective barns. The stucco wire fence and gate adjoining two of them had been broken down, probably with one swipe of a massive paw, dragging a rail along with a six inch nail away from a wall (see photo).

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

He or she (I suspect it was a she as each year I meet a mama grizzly in our yard with her cubs at some point) was probably excited by the smell or sound of our turkey flock, several of whom perch on the open window sill behind stucco wire, to take advantage of some cooler night breezes. If the bear had been insistent (as we had seen on other properties) our plywood walls would not still have been standing, but they were. I walked thirty meters along the fence line to the forest edge, the bear’s normal trail and entry point into our property, and sure enough, there was the flattened trail in the same place as previous years.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

I began taking my windfall apples and dumping them there as peace offering, but they haven’t been touched in three weeks. This hot summer has meant a good year for wild berries, and now the creeks are full of writhing salmon, so we may be spared any bear predations this fall.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to give myself or you the impression that the bears aren’t around. My friend Clarence told me just the other day that his daughter, who lives across the highway from his place ‘on our side’ (as he put it ominously) stepped out from her back door last week midmorning to confront a grizzly only meters away. And when I went to pick blackberries in Clarence’s patch last week in the last of our heat, I was un-nerved to come across a maze of flattened vines and grasses. I suddenly felt I was in the middle of a vast alfresco restaurant, with various intimate nooks where bears had lain in the shadows and feasted on the berries hanging off the ‘walls’ in all directions. It was strange to think that a giant paw may have recently brushed over the very berries I was now tenderly plucking. Clarence confirmed the fact by complaining that there is a mama black bear and cub that have been frolicking in the blackberry patch “flattening it and making a mess”.

While picking I was always on the lookout for the mama ‘just in case’. My theoretical ‘bum-per’ sticker says ‘I brake for bears.’

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food