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Sometimes There Are Bears Living There

As a young boy I grew up in a very small town surrounded by mountains and foothills. I’d sit in my grandfather’s nearby backyard while he told me stories, including those about the many caves in the mountains.

“There are bears living in there sometimes”, he would point out, nodding his head knowingly. I took his word and that of others, at face value in those days. As I got older I went to those “caves”, and walked the lands between them, with an eye to finding out what really was there. I never saw a bear.

These were the years not long after the second world war, which together with the “dirty” thirties, was a time in our history when people were waging low level war on the environment, scratching for anything they could to make a living, feed themselves, and “protect” themselves and what ever they owned, from the bogey man they had been led to believe lurked out there on the land and in the dark.     My grandfather was an avid berry  and mushroom picker, and for years each fall we would travel in his “old” ‘49 ford to the edges of the wild lands that stood, speaking relative to today, unmarred by the heavy industrial hand of humans and corporations.

Not that industrious people weren’t searching and scrounging through the landscape, shooting virtually anything they could; where bears should have been, they’d been exterminated by persecution.

But Canadians had then only begun to destroy the ecological capacity of the land. The methodical destruction was a few decades away. There were no 10 km long clearcuts, mines were small and localized, and the dense road and right-of-way system hammered later into the landscape by the oil and gas industry was obscure in the future.

We picked huckleberries in his favorite places each fall, and I did once see a bear!

Humans can be shockingly efficient at eradicating animals they want to eat or have grown to fear and hate because they believed fairy tales about “born to kill cattle” or hunting down humans. I’d long been curious about these “tales”.

Several decades later I found myself awaiting the capture of “my” first bear. The big picture intention was to determine if, and then how and to what extent roads, oil and gas wells and pipelines, the people that worked this system, and all the ready hangers-on that crowd into a landscape behind this onslaught, known today as cumulative effects, would impact the regional grizzly and black bear population.

The politics of this undertaking were mind bending, but that’s another story, or book.

I remember very well approaching the very first bear, a female grizzly, I and my crew captured. The air was so thick with excitement, anticipation and suspense you could, as the saying goes, “cut it with a knife”. There she was, an immense, magnificent,  hugely impressive bear quite likely terrorized beyond anything we could imagine.

After we immobilized her, attached a radio collar, and released her, I recall feeling a strange sense of knowing something, having stepped into a world few people knew of.

Over the next few years we captured and released almost 50 grizzly bears and 150 black bears (along with 30 moose) and spent thousands of hours investigating their where-abouts and activities. I had already spent a decade doing the same thing with bighorn sheep, mixed with years working with caribou and moose.

There is no doubt these activities were intrusive; at the time it seemed a reasonable tradeoff. It was the early years of wildlife research and thinking people were rightly worried that humans and their ever expanding industrialism were destroying the capacity of a landscape to keep a bear population viable.

Starting then, and even more conclusively today, we know the answer is an unequivocal yes.

This eventually allowed me to participate in over two dozen legal proceedings and over a hundred government administrative and “consultation’ processes.  I was comfortable by then with my standing as a biologist.

Further I had come to know well the democratic, social and environmentally oppressive dynamics of organized people acting for their own financial interest, aided and abetted by governments, including the civil service, and the choke hold they have on citizens, voters and taxpayers.

I guess you could say I’d finally become an armchair biologist.