The sad human impact on bears

Humans should take precautions and do all that’s necessary to avoid killing bears

It was mid-August. I’d driven to the Zymoetz River knowing full well that even in years of robust returns there was little chance of provoking a strike from a steelhead. According to the best indicators, this year was definitely not one of those. I just wanted stand in the river and cast a fly and use that desire as a pretext to give the dog a walk through the woods.

As it turned out, the river was coloured and the sun was beating down upon it, all of which conspired to reduce my chances of a hook to almost zero. The days when I needed to hook a fish to have a good day have long passed. When I broke down my pole and made for my truck late in the afternoon, I felt the day was a success.

As we drove toward Copperside, a woman waved at us. I stopped. She walked around the front of the truck as I powered the window down.

“There are grizzly bears in the area,” she said with an urgent look on her face and a tinge of panic in her voice. “Here, here, look!”

She punched the face of her mobile phone then turned it so that I could see a picture she’d taken of a pair of magnificent brown bears as they snuffled at grain behind her barn.

“Yeah,” I sighed, unable to muster up the level of concern I was sure she expected. “Those are definitely grizzly bears.”

“We just want to warn people who might be fishing the river that they’re around,” she said, eyes widening.

“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate it.”

“Damn it!” I thought as I drove off. “One or both of those big brown bears are going to die.”

The well meaning woman who waved me down can’t be blamed for her over reaction to the appearance of the bears. She couldn’t be blamed for not understanding that the threat they represented to her apple tree, her compost heap, her garbage can, and her bird feeder, was a hundred fold greater than the threat they posed to her and her loved ones.

The appearance of a pair of grizzlies in Copperside is rare now, but a hundred years ago you can bet it was commonplace. The reason a bear sighting is now a rare occurrence there is because bears are highly intelligent creatures who recognize that frequenting a place with homes and ranches is contraindicated despite the fact that a productive salmon stream runs through it.

The bears moved on. One of them made it as far as Thornhill before it was killed under the pretext that it was “acclimated” to humans and, therefore posed too great a threat to them.

A few weeks later a kermode was sighted in the area of the Howe Creek Trail. To reach that point the white black-bear must have been acclimated to humans, since the Howe Creek Trail runs through a far more densely populated area than Thornhill, but having the great good fortune of being an icon whose names, spirit bear and kermode, are everywhere, the bruin was tranquillized and relocated.

So, you would be forgiven for asking, why wasn’t the errant Thornhill grizzly not darted and shipped off? The answer you will be given by the department of FLNRO in charge of bear issues is that the bears will just return to the same spot and create havoc again. To some extent this is true. The range of grizzlies is vast. For example, great grizzled bears tagged in the Khutzeymateen Valley in the spring were found foraging in the estuary of the Exchamsiks. Similarly, some of the grizzlies of the upper Kitimat make their way to the Lakelse River.

Still, this is a lame excuse for executing the great bears. It may cost money to do so, but if a bear returns, relocate it again. I don’t think the creature will return perpetually.

Yes, a grizzly is a potentially dangerous animal, as is a moose in the rut, or a texting motorist, but the sensible way to respond to the presence of bears – after taking the common sense initiatives like moving bird feeders, and storing garbage inside – is to move out of the way and let them pass.

The inland grizzlies are far more dangerous creatures than their coastal cousins, yet everything is done to avoid killing them in Banff or Jasper. Corridors have been built for them over the trans Canada highway. People are aware of their presence and take the necessary precautions and nobody gets mauled.

Grizzlies roaming around looking for an apple tree, or a feast of garbage are not shepherding cubs or zealously guarding a kill. Grizzlies aren’t Bengal tigers. They don’t stalk, kill, and eat humans.

Given that we have carelessly logged much of their prime habitat, senselessly slaughtered them for their hides and claws, overfished the salmon stocks so vital to their health and survival, and are the largest single force contributing to changing the climate, which has led to warmer, wetter winters that have made their denning problematic, maybe we should cut them a break.

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