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Archive for the ‘Politicking with predators’ Category

Compared to previous years, it has so far been a summer free of bears here in the valley. Friends visiting have been disappointed to see none on the hour long drive from the foot of the hill down the valley to our community, and I’ve heard of no home or chicken shed invasions since late spring. One theory is that this summer’s forest fires have spooked them all back up the side valleys; if that’s the case, maybe we should organize for a controlled burn every spring!

Not that there haven’t been close encounters. My own was in July, when my dog was more than usually vocal one night. Usually she’ll bark off an intruder once or twice a night, while I lie in bed judging the size of the attacker by the distance Tui moves away from the house towards the perimeter fences. If I hear her echoing against the forest in the distance, it’s a fox, while if she stays close to the front porch and whines, it’s a cougar.

This night it was an in-between barking distance so I knew it was a bear, whose size I didn’t know until dawn when I went out to free the turkeys, laying chickens and meat birds from their respective barns. The stucco wire fence and gate adjoining two of them had been broken down, probably with one swipe of a massive paw, dragging a rail along with a six inch nail away from a wall (see photo).

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

Fence rail smashed down beside meat bird run.

He or she (I suspect it was a she as each year I meet a mama grizzly in our yard with her cubs at some point) was probably excited by the smell or sound of our turkey flock, several of whom perch on the open window sill behind stucco wire, to take advantage of some cooler night breezes. If the bear had been insistent (as we had seen on other properties) our plywood walls would not still have been standing, but they were. I walked thirty meters along the fence line to the forest edge, the bear’s normal trail and entry point into our property, and sure enough, there was the flattened trail in the same place as previous years.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

Fence smashed beside turkey barn.

I began taking my windfall apples and dumping them there as peace offering, but they haven’t been touched in three weeks. This hot summer has meant a good year for wild berries, and now the creeks are full of writhing salmon, so we may be spared any bear predations this fall.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Bear path into my yard where I leave apples for her.

Nevertheless, it would be foolish to give myself or you the impression that the bears aren’t around. My friend Clarence told me just the other day that his daughter, who lives across the highway from his place ‘on our side’ (as he put it ominously) stepped out from her back door last week midmorning to confront a grizzly only meters away. And when I went to pick blackberries in Clarence’s patch last week in the last of our heat, I was un-nerved to come across a maze of flattened vines and grasses. I suddenly felt I was in the middle of a vast alfresco restaurant, with various intimate nooks where bears had lain in the shadows and feasted on the berries hanging off the ‘walls’ in all directions. It was strange to think that a giant paw may have recently brushed over the very berries I was now tenderly plucking. Clarence confirmed the fact by complaining that there is a mama black bear and cub that have been frolicking in the blackberry patch “flattening it and making a mess”.

While picking I was always on the lookout for the mama ‘just in case’. My theoretical ‘bum-per’ sticker says ‘I brake for bears.’

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The latest cougar killed in the valley; it had killed three Great Pyreenees dogs before the CO finally caught it.

The latest cougar killed in the valley; it had killed three Great Pyreenees dogs before the CO finally caught it.

Because of animals like the above cougar–which are becoming frighteningly more and more common in our valley–we are now clearing some more land in the front of our place in the hopes of discouraging them from entering our property. ‘Discouraging them’ is the best we can do. Unfortunately, there is no way of keeping these critters out of somewhere they want to be. Well, not any economically viable way. Even our local dump who recently built an electrified, chain-link fence around the dump has not been able to stop the bears. They’ve had to shoot about 18 grizzly bears and the blacks are presently digging under the fence and still entering!

We’ve hired our friend David to do the clearing for us. He’s a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. He’s also a cougar hunter and one of the two men who tracked the cougar in January when it was marauding the neighbourhood. That cougar was ‘only’ 128 lbs, the above cougar is 146 lbs.  He harvested the meat off both cougars. He made roasts and some sausages and shared it with us. Surprisingly, cougar roast tastes a lot like pork roast–the best part of the pork roast. He tells me it is the 50th cougar that’s been killed here in less than 10 years, “And we still have plenty of them!” Like many of us, he thinks the hunting season on cougars should be open year round again. There used to be a bounty on them and people regularly hunted them. Consequently, twenty years ago I would sleep outside with my neighbour and not worry about them. No one used to talk about cougars back then. Now we are regularly seeing them and losing our cats, dogs, and livestock to them.

After consulting with Dave, we’ve opted to go with his suggestion of using 7 foot, 6 x 6 concrete wire for fending. “It’s what we put down at dad’s place for the hounds.” ‘Dad’ is our friend Clarence; David is Clarence’s son and helped build that fence. When I ask if it will be the solution to our wildlife problems he laughed, “No, it won’t stop a grizzly bear or be tall enough to stop a cougar,” reminding me of the night the grizzly bear broke into Clarence’s dog pen, “There was fur and dogs flying everywhere. The dogs weren’t backing down and the bear was killing them.” Clarence managed to shoot the bear, but not before they lost one of the dogs.”But it will stop a truck in case of a crash!” What a relief.

You can’t keep a cougar out without about 12 feet of chain-link fence with another couple of feet of slanted barbed wire on top (which of course we’d need about $100,000 to fence the property), and it is virtually impossible to keep bears out of anything. It would need to be electrified, buried, reinforced with concrete and have armed guards standing at the ready with bazookas 24/7. Even then, the guards should be nervous!

Here is how the bush looked before we started clearing.

Here is how the bush looked before we started clearing.

After some preliminary clearing of undergrowth and brush by hand and machine, Dave falls the first big alder. The birch at the centre of the photo was one of my best producers for syrup in February–it’s a keeper! At present, we are only taking out the dangerous snags or leaning trees along with the larger alders that are along the fence-line. It was logged many years ago now and they left a huge mess behind. Instead of felling a tree and cleaning it up, it is obvious they felled a bunch of trees and only took the best wood leaving behind all the limbs and stumps and mess. It is difficult to even walk through.

I don’t want a clear-cut when we are done, but I do want to shed some light on the subject. Already, it is a lot sunnier on that ground that it has been since Jesus walked on the earth.

Dave falls the first big alder.

Dave falls the first big alder.

My role is firewood hefter and hauler.

My role is firewood hefter and hauler.

Even though we don’t yet own a wood stove, we are now sitting pretty with several cords of firewood from the trees we have felled. Dave cuts and his wife and I clean up after him and we all move on. It is a great system and we are making good progress; certainly much moreso than when I’m out there with hand tools!

The new view from the front clearing!

The new view from the front clearing!

There is still a lot of work to be done and the fence to be erected, but it’s a start! On that note, I’ve got to go and join the work crew this morning.

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