Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Problem Bear

My final project with Carrick Design was called Muskoka Bay. The golf course was carved out of 250 acres of bush and rock with the golf course is strung out over 11 kilometers. The surveyor laid in centerlines for the holes by clearing a 5 wide meter opening from tee to green. This brought the first bear sighting of the project – from a distance.

The next stage was for Doug Carrick and me to go out and flag out the trees for removal and the trees to be preserved. The tree cutters established paths between holes for access and once again the bear was sighted – on one of the paths. The cutters dropped the trees that were flagged out and the Skidder team followed them in picking up the trees and taking them to the burn piles. After a while the bear found the tree cutters coolers and enjoyed a nice meal. The cutters tied their coolers in the trees, so after a while our frustrated and brazen bear approached the cutters looking for food. Initially they would light up firecrackers to scare the bear away – usually quite effective - but after a few weeks it would not even turn after a firecracker was let off. We now had a problem bear.

The bear took to looking through the parking area for food after finding a meal one day and this caused chaos. When one of the workers was followed right into his truck – everyone was scared – even the tree clearing crew that were used to bears. We all walked in and out of the site from the same location and using the same trails and it unnerved all of us.

At this point one of the site supervisors had enough and took to carrying a shotgun to scare the bear away from the cutters. He wasn’t the only one to carry a gun on the site in the end. The skidder team and cutters worked closer together since the bear didn’t like the skidders – food or no food. The concern became the individuals walking the trails or the site.

Our role throughout was to go out into the areas - to be cleared - where only the centre lines were cut so we could flag the full clearing widths along with all the key trees to keep. For perspective – this was thick bush – we yelled back and forth to see where each of us was using a flash of orange jackets for a quick location. With the bear clearly unafraid of humans, the supervisor thought we needed to carry a gun for our safety. Doug was reluctant and chose to stick with his large can of Pepper Spray.

I had one too but always thought that once the bear was close enough to use effectively use the pepper spray – it was more likely he would be scared of by the smell from you shitting your pants – than the pepper spray. The joke on the site was it was better to walk in pairs with someone you could outrun - or if you were the slow one, the trick was to trip the other guy first and then run away.

Anyway, I carried a shotgun with me for nearly a year – particularly during the times that I was out there by myself when Doug was away or elsewhere on site. There was nothing more upsetting and nerve-racking than the couple of times that I could clearly smell the bear nearby – kind of like extremely foul breath or almost like rotting meat. It was most nervous I have ever been – safety off the gun – and hearing noises everywhere. Imagine your heart beating 100 beats a minute and unable to get reception on your phone – all the while wondering why I chose this line of work.

It would be a perfect ending to say I’m writing this in front of the fire with my feet out on my bear skin rug, but the truth is someone else ended up having to kill the bear as it began to venture into town looking for easy food.

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