Canadian author/adventurer/educator Stan Walchuk Jr. is on a mission he calls ‘The Bear Truth’. He has just released ‘HORRIBILIS’, a gritty novel that entwines aging game warden Tom Beck, his family, and a grizzly bear gone bad. He has also launched BearBlog.ca, a site where bear stories, sightings, conflicts, articles, and studies can be shared. Mr. Walchuk describes Horribilis as a dramatic and personal story about confrontation between man and bear. A reflection on human/bear conflict in our present society where he brings home the reality of bears in our outdoor lives, our yards, and in our homes. He makes it clear that it is not an ‘anti’ bear story, but that it is a wake-up call.
Its release appears to coincide with the unfortunate Black bear mauling of Leosette Canoy, Analyn Shurtliff Bartolome and her son, October 4th, near Dawson Creek, BC. The ladies suffered life threatening injuries, and the son, minor injuries. But the novel took shape over a year ago, and Mr. Walchuk’s inspiration, his conviction about the state of bears in our lives, comes from a lifetime of living in the wilderness, as well as common sense and a scientific view on wildlife management cultivated while earning a zoology degree from the University of Alberta.
“The reality of bears in our lives, how they impact humans and how they impact wildlife, can be far from the perceived reality of bears in our lives. The perceived reality of bears is often very different for urban dwellers compared with those living in mountainous BC, the north, or ranchers along the forests and foothills of Alberta. Bears are often seen as iconic symbols of the wilderness. For many, feelings toward bears have taken root since early childhood. Bear love is deep seated - Smokey the Bear, Yogi and Booboo, Care Bears, Whinny the Pooh, and others, have left their indelible mark. Reality and science often takes a back seat to emotion and opinion. Various factions of society have argued for years over the accuracy of Grizzly and Black bear numbers, and their actual predatory impact on moose, caribou, and elk. But studies since 2016 using camera’s strapped to bears, and modern DNA analysis with bear hair samples in specific study areas, have revealed a new set of statistics that the public needs to be informed about.”
The hunting of grizzly bears ended in 2006. Grizzlies were given ‘Threatened Species’ status in 2010. Ranchers, farmers, many indigenous communities in the north, and outfitters and guides, complained that population assessments were not accurate, that there were far more grizzlies in areas of BC and Alberta than their studies indicated, and that the governments decisions were politically motivated, not science based.
And then came more accurate counts of bear numbers in specific areas using hair samples. Bear management area BMA 4, for example, which includes an area east of Banff National Park to Highway 22, has an estimated 88 grizzly bears, which is approximately twice as many as reported in 2005, when the first count was done in this area. In the re-survey of the Yellowhead region east of Jasper, known as BMA 5, researchers found that the population had approximately doubled, from 36 in 2004 to 74 in 2014.
The increase in Grizzly numbers has been a reason to celebrate, for some. For those co-inhabiting with bears, who have experienced and are presently experiencing conflict with bears, the increase in populations means potentially a greater incidence of conflict and confrontation. Bear maulings and deaths have been on a slow but steady increase since the 1960’s.
“There were two deaths last May, 2021, within one hour driving distance west of Calgary, Alberta. Dr. David Lertzman and a 68 year old woman. As sad and shocking as this is, deaths from bears remain relatively rare. Canadians are more likely to die from dog attacks or bee stings as from bears. But being confronted, charged, or mauled, is another matter. In this past year, since I began researching bear conflict for my new novel, HORRIBILIS, the number of bear charges or maulings that I have been told about that are not reported to the public has been surprising. I have travelled extensively in the wilderness by horse, canoe, and foot. I have been charged 4 times by grizzlies and have always considered my personal experiences expected fallout from a wilderness lifestyle. At our home, near the town of McBride, BC, we have had grizzlies walk past our house and attack our horses, had them on hind legs ripping the cedar siding off our house. There were three different grizzlies feeding in fields one kilometer or less from the high school. In our area of the upper Fraser River, the Robson Valley, there were stories of individuals who have been injured by bears that I had never heard about- one man had been mauled twice. Several years ago I took a horse trip up the Halfway River in northern BC. We made camp in a small poplar glade. That night something was knocking our pack boxes around about five steps from our open-faced lean-to. My friend and I sat up instantly, the outline of a large bear a spit away. My friend turned on the flashlight and the startled bear crashed off through the brush like a bulldozer. We continued on our trip. A couple weeks later, as we rode out, we were told that another group had camped in that exact same glade and a man was mauled and was flown out in a chopper. I looked for a news article about the mauling but there was nothing. More recently, this year, two men were hunting south-west of Calgary off Highway 40, 6 km west near the Trans-Alta road. They were bluff charged by a grizzly but the bear left, then came back and attacked. The bear was chewing on one mans leg as the other shot and killed it. The man who shot the bear was somehow swatted on the head by the bear. This is second hand information, as are reports of many confrontations, since they are not reported as news items in print or online. As far as I know there is no mandate that requires officers or government officials to release information about bear/human conflict or incidence.”
But it is not Bear/Human conflict that most concerns Mr. Walchuk. It is the tragedy of the deaths of moose, caribou, elk. Mostly calves, killed in shocking numbers by expanding bear populations. Predation on declining populations often already under pressure from wolf and cougar predation.
“It has always been known that black bears and grizzlies feed on moose, caribou, and elk calves, but the extent of the kill has been only recently revealed in studies that used cameras strapped to bears. A March 2017 Wildlife Society Bulletin artic le regarding the actual numbers of calves killed by bears was shocking to many. The kills of calves by Brown bears May 15 to June 17 was 1.4 calves per day per bear, moose and caribou combined.
An Alaska Grizzly bear study by biologist Wade Nolan had cameras strapped to bears taking a 10-second video clip every 15 minutes from mid-May to the end of June, which is calving season. At the end of the study, bears were re-darted and camera collars collected. What they learned was remarkable. Video camera footage of these seven brown bears showed that they killed approximately 238 moose and caribou calves across the 45 days, an average of about 34 moose and caribou calves per bear.
We could say that’s just nature running its course. But these seriously declining moose, caribou, and elk herds are under a variety of pressures including expanding road systems, atv use, mining, government practices of chemical defoliation of deciduous trees, other commercial activities, and possibly global warming. These ungulates urgently need our help to recover. To expect moose, caribou, or elk populations to recover by limiting hunting alone, while increasing numbers of predators remain unchecked, kill many thousands of ungulates each year, is like putting your finger over a pin hole leak in a bucket while water gushes out a fist sized hole.
The Tahltan First Nations from the Dease Lake, BC area is taking matters into their own hands. This comes from the Tahltan Predator Management Policy, June, 2022.
‘The decision by the NDP government to ban grizzly bear hunting throughout British Columbia was made without consultation with the Tahltan Nation and has left the Tahltan governments, communities and people feeling very dumbfounded, disheartened and disrespected…………. In response, the Tahltan Central Government and our Tahltan people must take predator management into our own hands. Since no one in the Province is allowed to harvest grizzly bears other than the Tahltan people for cultural purposes, we will be educating our Tahltan people on the issue and practising such rights more than usual until we are satisfied that our communities are safe and our wildlife populations are not under further pressure from increased predation. We would prefer that resident hunters, guide outfitters and Tahltan people can all harvest grizzlies, amongst other animals, based on science-based decisions that suit the best interests of our wildlife and ecosystems for generations to come.’
We all have opinions about bears and wolves, and that is as it should be. But opinion is not the answer to effective wildlife management. If we have medical problems, we place our trust in the actions of medical doctors. If we have biology problems and need to step in and save wildlife, at times bears, at times moose or caribou or elk, we need to place our trust with Doctors-of-Biology - science based decisions unfettered by public opinion and politically motivated bosses. Politics and emotions be dammed. I find some rhetoric surrounding the protection of bears exaggerated. I find the idea that euthanizing a bear in a family’s back yard or in their chicken coop will negatively affect the numbers of bears in the wilderness, an exaggeration. If you do not agree with those who feel that a bear in their yard is just too much, who want rid of it, well, you need to live the reality.”
Studies about bears are there for everyone to see, everyone who can read and with a computer. Mr. Walchuk’s just released novel, Horribilis, is reality based but it is not about studies, it is about entertainment - the tragedy that can, and does, happen. It takes bears in our lives to a whole new level. It is praised as ‘captivating’ ‘a real page turner’ ‘miraculous’ ‘as real as it gets’ ‘gritty’. For more information see vistapublishng.net.