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Bear Convergence

August 16, 2013

I had a whale of a time in the bear country

Where America bares its soul with peaks volcanic and snowy

It is not a Canada or US of A that the Rockies here divide

If only you know Pacific and Atlantic watersheds are which side?!

Then peering into mesmerizing blue greens of Lake Louise

Apart from the magical interplay of the clouds and sun therein

I thought there also was a grizzly glaring at me!

Back in the Pacific Northwest, this time away from the world of cetaceans, I was land locked having landed in the prairie land of Calgary, Alberta. The bear signs and bear proof garbage bins, across left behind Washington, with no sightings, only heighten the anticipation of spotting a grizzly as one commences the ascent into the Canadian Rockies. Once in sylvan Banff, the street signs and place names just about suggest a Hollywood enactment of the Grizzly, any minute.

There are fewer than 700 grizzlies in all of Alberta, which led the province to declare the species threatened and develop a recovery plan in 2008.  Going through the newspaper life story of Charlie Russell, an Alberta naturalist who has been dubbed the Jane Goodall of Canada, one realizes how conservationists have been resisting reconsidering a hunt.

The Calgary Herald quotes Russell saying “We aren’t doing very well at getting along with them. The idea is to get them off (the threatened species list) so they can justify a hunt”. He suggests there are options to control problem bears. “It should be done by professionals”. “To zero in on that bear that is creating the problem is tricky thing to do and it has to be done by someone with a lot of skill.” Russell says it’s time for people – particularly hunters – to stop depicting bears as dangerous animals.

“Grizzly bears want to get along with us,” he says. “We need to understand them. We can’t keep telling lies. The lies that we tell about them are that they are ferocious animals. These are lies. I say so profoundly because I spent my life exploring these ideas.”

“It makes it very hard to live in bear country if you are all afraid of bears and bears are afraid of us.”

It’s a sentiment supported by Kevin Van Tighem, who just released a book called Bears: Without Fear. “He’s got a really important body of insights into bears that need to inform how we coexist with them in future,” says the former superintendent of Banff National Park. “It’s just such a crowded world”.

“We can’t simply keep on trying to keep bears and humans separate, because the bears are the ones that are going to lose. So we need to live closer to them, and that’s really what Charlie’s experiences have given us some clues about.”

As one begins the exploration within the Banff and Yoho National Parks, the erudite and exceptionally articulate guide Murray Wilson prepares for the first sighting. And lo, just before he can finish his list of do’s and dont’s there is something which is not a burnt tree stump but a baby bear prancing its way through the alpine thicket. The mother bear is not too far and the astute guide picks up her ear tag number ‘64’ and alerts us for two more cubs. There they are. Busy picking berries from the shrubs, delicately, without damaging a single leaf and no wastage. In the spring season they must eat vociferously and build their reserve for the winter hibernation.  An adult can consume as much as 20K calories a day! While they stay focused on the task at hand we shoot wildly with the cameras, they carry on blissfully, ignoring the human presence – unthreatened.

With no large cats or the likes of elephants, the grizzly is indeed the rightful king of North American forests. Unlike the cetaceans it is not even in contention to be counted a human. All it needs is a human treatment. Perhaps we have a lot to learn from the respectful coexistence practiced by the First Nations people. The Grizzly will be fine and so would we, living in each other’s backyard.

“the earth is a living thing”

is a black shambling bear

ruffling its wild back and tossing

mountains into the sea…

LUCILLE CLIFTON

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