Marianne Van Osch (Patrick Davies, 100 Mile Free Press photo)

Bears are prepping for winter in the Cariboo

Marianne Van Osch

Mosquitoes! Potholes! Dust! Wildfires! Bears! Bears everywhere!

Welcome to the Cariboo, folks. Yes, there are bears, with many more sightings than usual this year. They may have been displaced by fires, or by the increase in traffic and human beings into their territory. Perhaps there were fewer berries than usual because of the intense heat wave we had, and the smoky, sticky ashes that ruined so many garden flowers. They are simply looking for whatever food they can find before denning up for the long winter.

The danger of bears has become part of our folklore, fuelled by so many movies in which they are portrayed as predators, out there trying to kill humans. However, the bears in our local communities are generally black bears. Their food does not include humans. Bears are essentially vegetarians.

Yes, it is your right to leave your garbage can filled with food waste by the back door or on your deck. But the bottom line is that we are supposed to be smarter than the bears. Most containers can be picked up and brought inside for this period of time when hungry bears are foraging. In some places, a refuse site is close enough that garbage can be disposed of more often. It simply is not you arguing with a bear over your garbage but about you doing the right thing, with little effort. No bear should die for the sake of you leaving your garbage wherever you choose.

In 2010, we worked as park attendants in Bella Coola. We were based at the bottom of the hill, in the midst of a large grizzly population. We were surrounded by them so intensely that individuals became familiar. Every one of them had their own characteristic, a damaged eye, skinny with long legs, etc.

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Part of our job was to haul bags of garbage that contained fish entrails and other parts from camp sites and fishing areas to the Hagensborg dump. We would return to camp and hose down the truck thoroughly. However, I’m sure the smell lingered. One day we were eating lunch and a big, light-coloured fellow climbed into the back of the truck, looked at us, went about licking the truck bed and then left.

There were close encounters. Our trailer sat in a patch of grass at the edge of a drop to a tangled swamp. One day I walked to the bank. I looked over and onto the top of a massive head coming up the bank. I backed up thinking, “Well, here is where I die.” The grizzly came over the bank, stood up, sniffed, dropped down and started grazing. I moved slowly backwards to the safety of the trailer.

It was late summer and the grizzlies were looking for whatever food there might be, from tiny grubs to huge salmon. They were moving around in their habitat and we were intruders. We kept a watchful eye, stayed calm and let them pass through.

Park visitors were another story. Tourists with cameras chased after mother bears with babies. Drift boats full of noisy tourists, bristling with fanny packs and other gear, pulled into shore right in front of bears pacing back and forth, looking for salmon. The height of human foolishness was evident at the popular Fisheries Pool where a sign above the river read. “Do not throw rocks at the bears.”

As for our local bears, they will be roaming around for a bit longer. Winter is coming.

Giving hope

In a footnote to the Hope rock story, I received the following email from Shannon Wagner, Forest Grove Fire Department Chief and owner of Shannon’s Flour Shop. Wagner’s family had put in a horrendous night of worry following the birth of a new member.

“Your ‘hope rock’ has been found and a new home is yet to be determined. Our niece had a scheduled C-section this past Tuesday. Little Fynn has had a rough go of it and initially, it wasn’t looking good. When I went to work after the dire predictions, I looked down on the window ledge with this beautiful painted rock that simply said ‘hope.’ Thank you to whomever placed it … it reaffirmed my prayers were being heard.”

Wagner has since placed the rock where it will bring encouragement and hope to another person on its journey around town.

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