Turning Fear of Wildlife into Something Positive

Reprinted from THE FREE PRESS
PHIL MCLACHLAN
Fri Jun 16th, 2017

Editors Note: Western Wildlife Outreach has long been warning mountain bike enthusiasts about the need for caution when riding back country trails in bear and/or cougar country. The “need for speed” puts you at greater risk for coming into accidental contact with a large carnivore and surprising them. Surprised animals can react defensively and unpredictably to protect themselves or offspring. Slow it down, and carry bear spray.

WildsafeBC Community Coordinator, Kathy Murray’s journey toward becoming a wildlife expert was inspired by a close encounter with a grizzly bear in Banff National Park, 19 years ago.

On an evening bike ride through the Pipestone Loop Trail, Murray rounded a corner and came face to face with a grizzly sow and her cubs. The bear bluff charged her, stopping three feet in front of her face, with nothing by the bike held in front of her to separate them. The bears dodged around her, and Murray escaped with no injury. This encounter terrified Murray, and deflated her ambition to hike or bike anymore.

Refusing to let fear overcome her love for the outdoors, Murray set out to learn about how humans can coexist with some of natures largest and most fearsome animals.

“I decided to take that fear and turn it into something positive,” she said.

So far this year, there have been many bear sightings, the latest being this past Monday on 4th avenue. Also recently, there was a grizzly spotted on Old Stumpy Trail, and up by the power lines near the Mt. Proctor trails. Murray knows that the summer will soon bring with it lots of people focused on recreating.

“It’s really up to all of us, to be responsible, share the habitat, share the trails,” she said.

The reason for the many bear sightings is due to our heavy snowfall, and cold spring. With little food for the bears in the alpine, they are being forced into the valley bottoms to feed.

Murray believes we can expect to see bears in lower areas for a few more weeks, until the higher areas start to green up.

“People in general have to have a better understanding of bear behaviour,” said Murray. “And a better tolerance, so that we can peacefully co-exist.”

Murray reiterated that it’s extremely important to keep garbage indoors.

“Once bears get a taste of human garbage, human food, and lose their fear of people, it’s pretty much impossible to reverse the process,” she said. “Garbage to bears is like heroin to a crack addict.”

If this happens, the bear becomes what biologists consider a ‘problem’ bear, that we (the public) created.

A grizzly found in town close to a month ago, was relocated 15 kilometres out. The hope is that the bear will become comfortable in their new home, learn to feed and stay put. However this grizzly found its way back to town very soon after.

There are currently several biologists working in the Elk Valley, studying the way grizzly bears use the landscape in the Elk Valley and how they interact with people. They plan on having radio collars on ten sample grizzly bears, in order to track them and gain a better understanding of their activities.

Biologists have been conducting similar studies in the flathead for the past 36 years.

The grizzly which returned to Fernie does have a radio collar, and biologist are monitoring her behaviour. She has not been back after being relocated again.

A previous method of removing bears from an area was translocation, which took bears far away. However even if they were taken hundreds of kilometres away, the bears almost always found their way back again, or they become problem animals in another community.

Murray believes relocation and translocation, “…are not solutions.”

“The best way to keep people safe, prevent human wildlife conflict, and the needless destruction of bears, is to not bait them into the communities in the first place,” said Murray.

With many newcomers in town, Murray believes it is up to the old-time residents to lead by example, keep their garbage locked up, clean up their fruit trees and bring in their bird feeders.

If an individual does not have access to a carport or garage in which to store their garbage between collection days, Murray encourages the use of the 24/7 bear resistant communal bins found at the Fernie Memorial Arena, the Aquatic Centre, and Max Turyk Community Centre.

Since her arrival in Fernie in 2000, Murray has seen a massive increase in trail usage. She believe the high speed and quiet travels puts mountain bikers at risk of animal encounters. When approaching a blind corner, yell or call out, and always carry bear spray.

Murray will be running several sessions throughout the summer, teaching individuals how to properly deploy bear spray. She is currently teaching people at several businesses and schools in the area.

Deterring Cougars

Deterring Cougars

by RDean, Humboldt County, California

It was that kind of moment, one that left us shocked and stunned into a state of questioning our own sanity. Over almost 40 years of living in our cabin-like little-house on the edge of the Redwood forest in far-north coastal California, we had dismissed occasional accounts of cougar sightings as very possibly “someone had smoked a little too much of something that maybe they shouldn’t have.”

We had worked and played in the woods on almost a daily basis without seeing any sign yet, in less than a heartbeat, a cougar had stolen our old housecat, Little Boy, off our front porch one cold January evening–right in front of our eyes–and disappeared into the dark of night so quickly we could do nothing. Flashlight and shotgun in hand, I followed into the night, blasting away at old growth redwood stumps in the backyard to let the big cat know it had crossed the line of our tolerance. I could empathize with challenges of living the life of a predator, but when they preyed on me and mine–I could become a predator, too.

We were sad and angry for a time, but my wife (a Japanese Buddhist) came to view the incident as Karma that had finally caught up with our beloved old house cat for all the little rodents he had dispatched in a similar manner over his 23 year lifetime. We still had two other members of the family, house cats, who needed protection lest the cougar returned to try a repeat performance.

Deterring wildlife predators from poaching domestic stock and pets was not a new issue, so I reached out to farmers and ranchers for their knowledge of what measures had proved effective in their experience. One very savvy old rancher recommended we get a mule. “Mules hate cats, and will kick ‘em into next week given half a chance,” says he. Adopting and responsibly caring for a mule had its own complications, so I kept looking. It seemed like most resources agreed on a few measures that were at least helpful:

First, you CANNOT keep predators out of a protected perimeter if you entice their prey inside that perimeter by feeding your pets outdoors, having open compost piles, or allowing DEER to forage in your yard!

Learn to think like a predator. They have senses that are exponentially better than ours, and predators will accept your open invitations to dinner without your awareness. When you treat opossums and raccoons to snacks, you are also gathering them up as delectable snacks for the upper end of the food chain. Do the little critters a favor—do NOT make them dependent on you for food.

Second, BRIGHT LIGHTS and SOUND help deter wildlife.

On various outbuildings we mounted motion-sensor floodlights and also wired an old flea-market radio into their circuits. When a floodlight goes on, so does the radio. We tuned the radio to a strong 24-hour station. Sound doesn’t have to be loud to be effective. We mounted the lights lower than normal to shine more directly into an approaching critter’s eyes. We set the lights to their “TEST” setting, so the lights and the radio come on for 10 seconds, and then go off. The lights and sounds stop critters in their tracks, and makes their night-vision temporarily useless. The moment the animals make another move, another cycle of blinding light and mysterious sound hammers them. Nearby resident critters, such as foxes, will eventually figure out this puzzle, and come up with a “work around” solution, but big cats, and even resident bears who are just passing thru the area, will say “screw it,” and wander on down the trail for easier pickings.

Third, as backup for the above, we use MOTION-SENSOR rain-bird type SPRINKLERS that come on for a few seconds when triggered. These work really well for scaring off deer. Wandering wild dogs, however, will attack and destroy the sprinklers if they are at, or near, ground level.

And finally, GAME / TRAIL CAMERAS have given us valuable information about when and where predators and prey come and go. Cameras have removed a lot of the mystery and apprehension, and replaced them with appreciation and empathy for the obligatory lifestyle of these (dare I say it) totally AWESOME critters.

We feel honored to share the local forest with cougars and continue our quest to find more and better ways to coexist with them.

Living with Livestock and Wolves: Tools for Coexistence

Living with Livestock and Wolves Cover

Special thanks to Stephanie Simek, WDFW Wildlife Conflict Manager

Western Wildlife Outreach, through funding and assistance provide through Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has created an integrated outreach program that can be presented to interested audiences of all types, although the primary target audience is small-scale livestock producers who want to know more about steps they can take to avoid conflicts with gray wolves.  In order to find the very best approaches applicable to Washington and similar regions,  WWO conducted a search of current research projects and techniques.  Those findings and recommendations are available at the link below:

Gray Wolf Photographed in Mount Spokane State Park leads to WWO Citizen Science Wolf-tracking Expansion

Living with Livestock and Wolves Wolf-Livestock Conflict Avoidance A Review of the Literature

PowerPoint Nonlethal Conflict Avoidance Measures

Fact Sheet 1 Introduction to Washington’s Wolves, Wolf Behavior and Nonlethal Wolf Deterrent Methods

Fact Sheet 2 Assessing Livestock Operations and Choosing Best Methods for Avoiding Conflicts with Wolves

Fact Sheet 3 Range Riders, Herders and Increased Human Presence

Fact Sheet 4 Reducing Attractants, Carcass Management, and Composting

Fact Sheet 5 Fencing, Fladry and Night-penning

Fact Sheet 6 Alarm or Scare Devices and Hazing to Deter Wolf Presence  

        Fact Sheet 7 Keeping Your Dog Safe in Wolf Country

Bears Are Outsmarting Us, and It Might Kill Them

By CANDICE GAUKEL ANDREWS Reprinted  with permission from the author


We all love our national parks. They are our places of solace and refuge; of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. They afford us the chance to get close to what’s left of what is still wild. Of course, there is an inherent conflict in that. Once we have gotten close to “what is still wild,” we change it forever. That has never been truer than it is with bears. Bears are smart and they learn quickly, and what they’re picking up from contact with us could kill them.

Just two years ago, in the summer of 2013, a female black bear in an area just northeast of Yosemite Valley demonstrated her impressive abilities in cracking open bear canisters, a human invention that is supposedly “bear-proof.” Although no one has seen her in action, apparently she didn’t paw or chew on the containers, as other bears have done in the past. At a campsite where the canisters, filled with food, had been stashed near ground level, she went in at night and moved them to a nearby, 400-foot-high ledge. She then pushed the canisters off it and promptly scrambled down to the cliff’s base to retrieve the goodies.Park personnel had never come across anything like this before. It appears bears are keeping abreast of our innovations to thwart them. And in the end, it will probably kill them.

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Today, it’s estimated that there are about 30,000 wild black bears in California.(Editors Note: Washington State has between 20-22,000 black bears and shares some of these same bear/human conflicts) In Yosemite National Park, there could be 300 to 500 black bears. If other bears were to start mimicking the Yosemite Valley female’s behavior, the state’s (and all states’) entire backcountry camping system—a key element of which is bear-proof food canisters—could be undermined. Bears are intelligent, and if one bear picked up that behavior, another could soon follow. It would create a free-for-all on backpackers’ food supplies and would almost certainly lead to bear-human interactions and conflicts.  Because park staffers can’t let that happen, last year they caught the clever bear and placed a GPS collar on her in order to track her movements. They set up extra patrols to haze her and to instruct campers to keep far away from the ledge. The incidents stopped in 2014, but this summer the bear started swiping canisters in the same area again. The park’s wildlife management department may have to pursue more drastic measures: banning campsites in the vicinity of the ledge altogether or euthanizing the bear.

Last August, in a study conducted at the Washington State University (WSU) Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center, eight grizzly bears were tested to see if they could use tools. In an experiment designed by student Alex Waroff, grizzly bears were enticed with a glazed doughnut dangling just out of their reach in their play area on the WSU campus. The researchers place a sawed-off tree stump below the hanging doughnut (which is not part of their normal diet) to see if the bears would use it to stand on to reach the treat. If they did that, then the stump would be turned on its side and moved away to see whether the bears would move it back under the gooey confection.  The study team hopes that this research will help us understand how bears think and that then we can anticipate their moves and alter our practices in the backcountry to keep us and the bears safe—mostly from us.

In the end, the Yosemite bear’s behavior is a reflection of our own. One mistake from one careless camper is all it takes to endanger a smart bear. In reality, as it’s often been said, wildlife management is 95 percent human management.  When animals outsmart us, should they be the ones to suffer? Since it is most often humans who make “problem bears,” should we be the ones that are hazed out of bear areas? Is euthanizing a bear ever the best solution?

Photo 1 ©Candice Gaukel Andrews, Photo 2 ©John T. Andrews, Photo 3 ©Justin R. Gibson

Originally published at http://goodnature.nathab.com/bears-are-outsmarting-us-and-it-might-kill-them/

The Insanity of Not Respecting Nature

by Mike Cavaroc, Free Roaming Photography. Reprinted with permission, September 15, 2015

2015 has so far seen a number of increased bison attacks on people in Yellowstone National Park, but despite what many visitors think, rarely, if ever, is it the animal’s fault.

Most people are surprised to hear that bison are responsible for the most injuries in the park. The cause is almost always the same. Someone who thinks of them as big, dumb and slow animals walks up to one to take a picture with it, ignoring the warning signs the animal is showing, and the bison is forced to its last resort: tossing the person up in the air and breaking several bones in the flight, at the very least. After all, they can sprint over 30mph and are anything but docile.

There have also been multiple bear fatalities in recent years just in Yellowstone. Two completely separate incidents were the result of someone hiking into dense bear areas defiantly leaving bear spray behind, claiming they’ve lived here long enough to know how to behave around a bear. Of course if you know what you’re doing around a bear, you don’t need bear spray, but spray isn’t for people that don’t know what they’re doing around a bear. Bear spray is intended for those rare close encounters that you don’t see coming, what’s ultimately suspected of claiming the lives of those two people.

You would think the increased wildlife-human interactions would lead to more education and understanding about our natural world, but sadly, dangerous narcissism (in more than one way) remains high in wild areas. Just recently, a section of the Colorado Trail was closed because too many people were taking selfies with bears. That’s literally telling the world, the animal included, that you have absolutely no respect for the animal or the environment you’re in. Trying to get as close as you can to a wild animal to make sure it’s visible within the picture is for one reason only: to show your friends that you saw something they didn’t. In that moment, you’re completely detached from the magic of the encounter and reverting to completely unnatural behavior in a vain and futile attempt to 1-up your connections online, and everyone they’re connected to hoping they’ll see as well, thereby putting you in the spotlight. The entire point of the encounter is lost entirely. This is not why wild animals are out there. They’re there to keep ecosystems healthy so that we can hopefully continue to have fresh food and water for decades to come.

What’s missed by blatantly disrespecting nature is a chance to understand yourself better which leads to a more rewarding and fulfilling life. Despite our best efforts to deny it, humans are still animals, and humans need a healthy amount of nature. In fact, multiple studies are beginning to show that children need outdoor exposure to properly develop. This is because our mind and bodies still depend on the natural environment for rest and relaxation. Trying to briefly “escape” to nature only carries the burden of trying to escape, so a true immersion into nature isn’t fully possible. Then, when a wild animal is encountered, the competitiveness to outdo friends is still there, leading to unnatural and dangerous behavior in nature. In fact it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that taking a selfie with a bear, or any wild animal, is a form of insanity. The etymology of the word insanity points to two origins that sum up that behavior quite accurately: “unhealthfullness” and “extreme folly.” I don’t think anyone who actually understands what nature is would argue against that at all.

The narcissism of trying outdo other people is completely misplaced in nature. It’s dangerous not just because you’re putting your own life at risk, but should a bear attack you, no matter how idiotic you were behaving, rules dictate that park or forest officials have to kill the bear. To put another life at risk so you can potentially outdo people you know is unquestionably insanity. Of course they probably don’t know that, but to be so disconnected from nature as to have your main goal be to satisfy narcissism at the sight of such a majestic creature would also qualify. Besides the obvious danger of it here, there’s also the danger of getting completely absorbed in the lifeless circle of not getting to understand or truly experience nature, and therefore yourself. This ultimately leads to a bland and unsatisfying life where the absence of nature is artificially and inadequately compensated for through other means, though never achieving the same result.

People often (semi-)joke that there should be a test before admitting people into wild areas. The sad and ironic truth is that most people would fail that test horribly,but raw and wild nature is exactly what they need to be cured of not understanding the natural world, and therefore, themselves.

Displacing Bear Myths with Bear Facts

written by WWO Intern Jackie Delie, August 2015

We all have, or had, preconceived notions of a bear’s behavior. Bears instill fear, awe, wonder, and curiosity in us. Our perceptions may be the influence of the 1947 campaign “Smokey the Bear” that cleverly markets for the people to save wildlife from forest fires, or the 1961 TV show “The Yogi Bear” that created an image of a musical, funny bear, or it can be the influence of the iconic cuddly teddy bear that was first created in 1902 after President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and continues to fill our households with childhood memories.    Then there are the sensationalistic stories of ferocious attacks on defenseless hikers or the charging of bears on one’s campsite that lead stories in the media and portray angry bears. However, it is important for us to dispel these myths, based on fear or the idea that bears are cute and approachable, and gain a greater understanding of bear’s behavior so we can peacefully coexist with  these intelligent and captivating creatures.

8 Myths on bears and the facts you may not know:

Myth #1: Bears can’t run downhill.

Fact: Bears can run more than 60 kilometers an hour and they can do it downhill, along a slope or uphill. Never try to outrun a bear!

Myth #2: Bears have poor eyesight.

Fact: Bears see in color and have good vision similar to humans. Their night vision is excellent and they are attuned to detecting movement.

Myth #3: A bear standing on its hind legs is about to charge.

Fact: A bear standing on its hind legs is just trying to better identify what has caught its attention. Bears have an excellent sense of smell through which they get most of their information about their environment. Standing up helps a bear both see and smell better to identify another human or animal.

Myth #4: Once a bear has tasted human-provided food, it won’t eat wild, natural food any more.

Fact: Bears are driven to put on the maximum amount of calories between hibernation cycles. They look for maximum caloric value with least amount of risk. When humans make food such as garbage and pet food easy for bears to aquire, they can overcome their natural reticence and fear of being around humans. Natural foods are actually preferred by bears, but conflicts tend to increase when natural food is at a low point, like the current drought throught the West – a good time to be more vigilant of bear attractants on your property. When all human-provided food is removed,  bears may still snoop around hoping to find some, but they will certainly resume eating natural foods.

Myth #5: If a bear charges you, climb a tree!

Fact: Climbing a tree in this case is a bad idea! All bears can climb trees, and much faster than a human can.  If a bear approaches you aggressively or not,  stand your ground, look big and yell and make noise. That alone in almost all cases will make the bear leave the area.   If the bear or any large carnivore charges, DO NOT RUN. That is just what prey animals do. Bears can outrun, out maneuver and climb faster than humans.  Black bears almost never attack people.  But it is always advisable to carry bear spray in grizzly country, be familiar with it,  and be prepared to use it. But remember that  attacks by either species, black bears or grizzly bears, are extremely rare. When they happen they make front page headlines. You are far more likely to end up hospitalized by a bee sting! WWO advises that all back country recreationalists practice “situational awareness” and carry emergency and safety supplies. Far, far more people recreating outdoors die of exposure due to unexpected weather events, falls , getting lost or drowning than animal attacks, yet many people still venture into the wilds unprepared.   Always be Bear Aware and carry survival supplies. And enjoy being out in nature, knowing you are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.

Myth #6: Bear that wander into inhabited areas such as campsites, rural towns or residential areas are dangerous.

Fact:    All large carnivores are potentially dangerous, and should never be approached. They are also very wary of humans and do their best to avoid them, so the first rule is to simply give them space enough to leave, clapping hands or shouting to encourage their departure. That will also help keep wild animals wild and human-averse. Bears may travel many kilometers in search of food. If you have stored your food and garbage properly and so have all  your neighbors, the bear will likely move on. Bear problems are not born, they are caused by mismanagement of human food and garbage.   Being aware of the issue and taking steps to reduce to near zero the number of negative encounters between people and bears takes commitment from all residents to keep neighborhoods free of all bear attractants, primarly accessible garbage or pet food. Western Wildlife Outreach is here to support your community, with a mission to promote an accurate understanding of how to safely and successfully live with large carnivores through education and community outreach. For more information on WWO’s work, and how to safely coexist with bears and other large carnivores, please visit our bear pages Grizzly Bear Outreach Project or Black Bear Outreach Project

Myth #7: Play dead during an attack.

Fact: The only time bear specialists recommend that you “play dead” when attacked is if you are suddenly attacked by a grizzly bear, and do not have bear spray or a chance to use it. In that case, cover the back of your neck with  your hands, curl in a ball and don’t move.   Adult-sized humans may be able to fight back against a black bear, and cause it to leave. Almost all  bear attacks that end in serious injury are by grizzly bears. Hunters are the group the most at risk of threatening encounters or attacks by a bear of either species  who has either claimed a kill, or is attempting to do so. Hunters should give way to the bear in those situations, and  please carry bear spray! Those who used firearms to defend against a charging bear were not seriously injured by the bear in 62% of cases, the same number as for those with no firearm or bear spray.  Using bear spray raises that number to over 95%.

Myth #8: Bears are carnivores that eat only other animals.

Fact: Although all bears belong to the Order “Carnivora” and we refer to them as “Carnivores” for that reason, both grizzly and black bears are actually omnivorous. They eat both plants and animals, with over 90% of their diet being insects or plant material which grizzly bears dig for underground and black bears find by tearing open stumps and logs. After a winter of hibernation, winter-killed deer or elk are an important source of protein for both species.

Be Coyote Wise

Courtesy of WDFW “Crossings Paths” Newsletter, February 2015

It’s good to be wise about wildlife year round to avoid problems, but it’s especially important at this time of year to be “coyote wise”.

Coyotes, which are abundant throughout Washington’s rural and urban areas, are paring up and breeding now in late winter to produce pups in April and early May. And coyotes that were born eight or nine months ago are striking out on their own at this time. That means there’s lots of coyotes moving about and making noise, yipping and howling to communicate with each other.

Like most wildlife, coyotes usually avoid people and don’t cause trouble. But coyotes are extremely opportunistic and adaptable to our ways and will take advantage of easy access to food sources. As a canine species, they also view domestic dogs as competitors. These two factors can lead to problems with coyotes now and through summer as young are reared.

Finding food is critical for all wildlife. But mature animals that are reproducing, and young animals that are learning independence, are really driven to feed.

Coyotes are actually omnivores – they’ll eat everything from fruit to large animals. Hungry coyotes will try almost anything.

NEVER intentionally feed coyotes. And think about how you might be unintentionally providing access to food, like unsecured garbage, uncovered compost piles, spilled seed from backyard bird feeders, pet food left outdoors, or even small pets like cats or toy breed dogs left to roam, especially from dusk to dawn.

Don’t feed feral cats (domestic cats gone wild). Coyotes prey on these cats as well as any feed you leave out for the feral cats.

If a coyote finds an easy food source close to people, it can easily become habituated, or so accustomed to people that it becomes abnormally bold. Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare. Only two such attacks have been documented in Washington – in 2006 a habituated coyote bit two young children in Bellevue and was later euthanized.

Finding mates and producing and rearing young can make adult coyotes more territorial and less tolerant of free-running domestic dogs. Learning how to make a living in the world, independent of a family unit, can make juvenile non-breeding coyotes more competitive with free-ranging dogs.

Avoid running dogs off-leash in areas where you have heard or seen coyotes, especially now through May. Coyotes might aggressively confront dogs running through their denning area, and some dogs are just as likely to curiously sniff out coyotes and end up in nasty encounters.

Coyotes carry parasites and canine diseases, like distemper and parvovirus, that are rarely a risk to humans but could be deadly for domestic dogs. Be sure to keep dogs current on vaccinations and consult your veterinarian if you know of or even suspect a coyote encounter.

More information on becoming “coyote wise” is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/canis-latrans

Coyote Conundrum: Rebranding the ‘Cat Consumer’

By Jordan Schaul, Associate Conservation Biologist, WWO

Coyote howling near Jasper, Alberta

coyote photo:  Darrell Smith, WWO photographer/Project Biologist

 


As gray wolves return to the lower 48 States after an absence of 100 years, many champions have rallied to their cause. Except for Minnesota, all gray wolf subspecies were federally listed as endangered in the lower 48 states as long ago as 1978. In the mid-1990’s federal efforts were initiated to restore wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho, which became conservation success stories for the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other federal and state agencies.

During the wolf’s prolonged absence, his smaller cousin, the coyote greatly expanded its range due to the extermination of gray wolves and because coyotes tend to adapt so readily to the presence of humans in both rural and urban settings. According to the IUCN, the coyote, a species listed under the conservation-sensitive category of Least Concern was “believed to have been restricted to the south-west and plains regions of the U.S. and Canada, and northern and central Mexico, prior to European settlement (Moore and Parker 1992).” Today, coyotes have successful populated every state in the US and many Canadian provinces. While the gray wolf is possibly the most studied wild carnivore on the planet, and certainly the most studied canid, the coyote remains largely misunderstood and unappreciated and certainly understudied relative to its numbers.  Yet the coyote is the canid who lives among us.

The wolf,was once universally hated and ultimately extirpated from much of its historic range out of wide-spread fear for human safety and loss of livestock. However, The wolf today, an iconic carnivore of the West, much like the grizzly bear has assumed a symbolic role as an indicator species of wildness and intact ecosystems and draws particular attention to a growing demographic of environmentalists. However, the same audience has not demanded that the same scientific principles of wildlife management be applied to coyotes. Is it time to rebrand their image?  Efforts to rebrand other victimized species of wild canids, like African wild dogs, which, like the coyote, have largely been regarded as vermin, have met with some success.

Although data suggests that coyotes are frequently not the culprits responsible for losses to the companion pet population, the reputation of coyotes precedes them.  A 2009 study by Grubbs and Krausman suggested that coyotes are “cat killers” and unfortunately the media has successfully blown this notion out of proportion to the great detriment of this valuable meso-predator.

Although coyotes are known to take feral cats and house cats permitted out of doors, (bad for cats and native birds alike) the interpretation of the study was a bit shortsighted. Not only was the sample size of radio-collared coyotes in the study, very small, but in close critique it would appear that consuming cats was a learned specialty of certain individuals and it is not a behavior common to coyotes, which are skilled opportunists capable of preying on a vast array of small wild mammals and other vertebrate species.  Hence, it is not the affinity for cats that have drawn coyotes into suburbia, but rather their role as uber-opportunists that make them so adept at living just about anywhere. Although many coyotes occupy home ranges of many square miles and incorporate forest- lands or preserves, other coyotes have been documented to make use of broken patches of habitat intercepted by roads and other human structures. They have proven exceptionally good at finding small openings and corridors, which allow them to navigate around human habitations, rarely detected.

Perhaps its time for more focus to be placed on the ecological services they provide: the ability to control populations of small mammals inside and beyond urban areas, especially at a time when resources of animal control and wildlife agencies are so few and far between and when the poisons in commonly-used rodenticides are coming increasingly under fire for their long-term damage to humans, wildlife, pets and the environment.

Many North American Tribes respected “Coyote” as the great teacher, admired for a great ability to adapt, to live as a generalist, to out-smart humans, to protect and raise pups in the context of a larger family unit, and for tolerance of the proximity of humans. Coyote is a survivor. Coyotes fills an important ecological niche in rural, urban and suburban settings alike and should be recognized for the important role they play in controlling true human pests, like species of rats and mice introduced from Asia and Europe which are especially prolific around and in human-occupied areas and can be vectors for human diseases.

Want to know more about coyotes in suburbia? We recommend the book, Suburban Howls by eminent coyote researcher Dr. Johnathan Way, or Hope Ryden’s classic, God’s Dog.  Also, watch for “Coexisting with Coyote—Tips for Avoiding Conflicts” in an upcoming blog on this page.

Bears Without Fear: A Book Review

by David Stalling WWO Guest Blogger

We fear bears, bears fear us and fear leads to conflict. Bears ultimately suffer. My biggest fear regarding bears is that we won’t give them the respect and space enough they need and deserve to survive into the future. Bears are neither the mystical beasts nor the dangerous vicious killers we sometimes make them out to be; they are bears. The more we get to know and understand them the less we fear them and the better we can all get along.

Kevin Van Tighem of Canmore, Alberta, knows bears and (considering all the time he’s spent around bears since he was a child in the early 1960s) it’s probably safe to assume a few bears know him. A naturalist, hiker, hunter, fisherman and biologist who recently retired as the superintendent of Canada’s Banff National Park, Van Tighem has combined his extensive knowledge and experience with research and fine writing to produce a wonderful, informative book called Bears Without Fear (Rocky Mountain Books, 2013).

“They haunt the edges of the forests of our imagination. Since the dawn of time, humans and bears have lived uneasily together. . . There was a time when humans had little defense against bears. Now, in most cases, bears have no defense against us.”

Van Tighem

With human populations and development continuing to expand, and critical bear habitat shrinking, how can we ensure wild bears always grace our planet?  “Bears and humans can share our increasingly crowded world safely,” Van Tighem writes.

“But for that to happen, we need to learn to respect bears for what they really are, and to see that the choices we make almost always affect bears and other wildlife.”

Through facts, stories and photos Van Tighem’s book helps us better understand bears and how to live with them. Sections include the history of bears in human cultures, myths about bears, and the natural history and habitats of black bears, grizzlies and polar bears.  A section about bear research includes studies on how to reduce human-bear conflicts, and the book concludes with lists of places to see bears and tips for keeping ourselves and bears safe while in bear country.

“While it remains true that bears are capable of attacking and killing people, it remains no less true that they almost always chose not to,”  Van Tighem writes.

“The most dangerous thing about a bear is not its claws, teeth or disposition; it’s how we react to it.”

When we destroy their habitat, cause unnatural mortality, or they perceive us as an imminent threat to their young or their food, Bears don’t have a lot of choice as to how they react. We do.

“Past human choices have brought us to a time when almost every bear species in the world is under threat,” writes Van Tighem. “The choices we make tomorrow – about resource development, roads, agriculture and tourism, as well about our own personal behavior in bear country – will determine the future of the dwindling bear populations that survive today.”

Bears Without Fear is packed with knowledge to help us better understand bears; let’s hope it helps us all make better choices.

You can find more of David’s posts on nature at http://thoughtsfromthewildside.blogspot.com

Why I Hunt: Thoughts from a Wolf-Loving, Elk-Killing Tree Hugger

by David Stalling, Guest Blogger, August 2013

“When the buffalo are gone, we will hunt mice, for we are hunters and we want our freedom.” — Chief Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, 1831-1890.
I’m a wolf-loving tree hugger and I hunt. I kill and eat wild elk.Does this seem contradictory? It’s not if you consider our Nation’s conservation heritage, and see that most of our conservation heroes–including Theodore Roosevelt (who created national forests and wildlife refuges), Aldo Leopold (author of the conservation classic, “A Sand County Almanac“) and Olaus J. Murie (founder of The Wilderness Society)–were all hunters.

I can understand people’s disdain for hunting. As Edward Abbey (himself a hunter) once wrote, “Hunting is one of the hardest things even to think about. Such a storm of conflicting emotion!” I can’t speak for all hunters, but will try and explain why I choose to hunt.

I love elk. They are a magnificent, mysterious and powerful animal. I spend all the time I can in elk country, year-round, hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, observing and admiring elk. And yet, each year during bowseason I head into elk country with the intent to kill one. Why? Partly because I can think of no more ecologically-sound way to live in my part of the world. I cherish wild elk meat; it’s healthy, and it’s derived from healthy, native grasses and forbs in the wilderness near my home.

I like to think I’m a vegetarian of sorts, living off the the wild grasses, sedges and forbs that grow near my home. Most these plants are not directly palatable to humans, so I let elk convert them to protein for me. Perhaps someday I can travel through the digestive system of a grizzly and fertilize the vegetation that elk eat: Seems only fair considering all the elk I’ve killed and eaten.

We’re all part of this land.

I hunt to experience and celebrate a fundamental connection with nature, because we must all kill to eat, and eating elk nourished on native grasses and forbs has as low an impact on the environment as any of the alternatives. Even eating soybeans and soy-based products supports an agricultural industry that displaces and destroys wildlife habitat to grow a non-native plant, requiring irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuels, trucks, roads and industry to be shipped around the country. Not to mention the thousands of deer and other wildlife killed to protect valuable agricultural crops. Most people are not aware of the impacts of their lifestyles and actions, or they choose to live in denial. Aldo Leopold wrote: “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

We all kill to eat.

Everything we do has consequences. Whether we choose to eat vegetables or meat, store-bought food or homegrown, cattle or venison, we all contribute to the death of animals so we can eat. I choose to eat the wild meat of elk, mule deer and antelope. And the money I spend in pursuit of these wild animals, through license fees and excise taxes on hunting equipment, helps protect the wild places that sustain them and sustain me. It’s the most efficient, environmentally sound and sustainable way I know to live in this somewhat arid western landscape we call Montana. And the countless days and hours I spend pursuing elk and mule deer through the rugged mountains in the wilderness area where I hunt have provided me with a keen understanding and awareness of these incredible animals and their habitat, which has fueled a passion for the protection of wild elk, deer and other wildlife, and the wild places they roam.

North America’s system of wildlife management, of which regulated hunting is an integral part, is a tremendous achievement. The value of wild elk and deer to hunters supports the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat for an array and abundance of wildlife, including large predators and threatened and endangered species, and supports ecologically-based research and management. It’s a sustainable system that gives many hunters a stake in wildlife, and fuels public understanding and concern for conservation.

I am growing increasingly angry over the ongoing loss of crucial wildlife habitat from human subdivision and development; the people who want to mine and drill our last remaining wild places; the people who deny and evade critical topics such as climate change, and the people — and a society — that seems to put greed, profit and money above all else. Throughout the West, homes are rapidly replacing critical elk and deer winter range, calving and fawning habitat and migratory corridors. Not only elk and deer suffer, but all wildlife that depend on that habitat, including everything from ducks and trout to grizzlies and pine martens. My love for wild elk and deer provokes a strong desire to protect their habitat; That desire is fueled, in part, by my passion for hunting and the meat that sustains me.

Hunting has a large ugly side, to be sure, which seems to be growing larger. I sometimes feel like an anti-hunter who hunts. Far too many hunters reveal a disturbing lack of knowledge of, or concern for, wildlife and wild places and actually promote efforts — and support the politicians and organizations who push for efforts — to erode and degrade our wildlife and last remaining wild places. They are as detached from the wilds as as most Americans are, and increasingly replace knowledge, skills and effort with technology and other short cuts; They selfishly do everything and anything they can to boost their egos and overcome insecurities by killing other creatures; They fear and hate wolves, they fear and hate grizzlies, they fear and hate wilderness, they fear and hate the wilds; They fear and hate to actually hunt. They just love to kill.

Several national surveys have shown that only about 10 percent of hunters fall within a “naturalist” group of hunters who seek an intimate bond to the wilds and cherish and fight to protect wildlife and wild places. Having worked for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen Conservation Project and the National Wildlife Federation; Having served two terms as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation (Montana’s largest and oldest hunter-angler conservation association); Having helped found Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, and being a part of a great dynamic group called Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, I am fortunate to have met and worked with many dedicated, conservation-minded hunters working hard to protect our fair-chase hunting and angling heritage and the wildlife and wild places we all cherish. I’m also grateful to live in a place like Missoula, Montana, where even hippies hunt and fish.

I can think of no better lifestyle than roaming wildlands as a participant of nature, taking responsibility for the deaths I cause, and securing my own sustenance. In his essay, “A Hunter’s Heart,” Colorado naturalist and writer David Petersen summarizes it nicely:

“Why do I hunt? It’s a lot to think about, and I think about it a lot. I hunt to acknowledge my evolutionary roots, millennia deep, as a predatory omnivore. To participate actively in the bedrock workings of nature. For the atavistic challenge of doing it well with an absolute minimum of technological assistance. To learn the lessons, about nature and myself, that only hunting can teach. To accept personal responsibilities for at least some of the deaths that nourish my life. For the glimpse it offers into a wildness we can hardly imagine. Because it provides the closet thing I’ve known to a spiritual experience. I hunt because it enriches my life and because I can’t help myself . . . because I was born with a hunter’s heart.”

to read more of David’s blogs visit http://thoughtsfromthewildside.blogspot.com