This morning I headed out with a friend on a long bicycle ride. Our goal was to complete 24 kilometers of riding on a back road. It was warm and it felt good to be moving under my own power with the wind in my hair.
At one point on our return home, as we rounded a curve and dipped into a downhill run we were shocked as a large black bear came out of the bush on one side of the road and then ran across our path and back into the forest. He looked as surprised to see us as we must have looked to see him.
We screamed, turned our bikes around in a panic and headed back the way we came.
After riding frantically for about a kilometer we stopped to assess our situation. We had a dilemma. Should we continue on to the first phone we could find and call a friend to pick us up or should we bravely head back down the road home? After some thought we decided that it would be foolish to fear this bear that had probably been as frightened as we were and who was miles away from the road at this point. We opted to ride the next few kilometers yelling as loud as we could to make sure the bear knew we were coming. Thankfully, we didn’t see any sign of our new friend and the ride back to town was uneventful.
Later, as I was driving down Highway 11 with some friends near Kirkland Lake we came upon three bear cubs that were desperately trying to cross the busy highway. We stopped for a while to watch these youngsters and at one point tried to manage the traffic to allow them to cross the road. It didn’t work very well and after a while we gave up and headed back down the road. It seemed as though the mother bear was nowhere to be seen. I assumed that as a result of the local bear hunt, the mother must have been killed. It was painful to have to leave those little bear cubs on the side of the road knowing that their chances of surviving in the wild was almost impossible.
There have been a lot of bear sightings this year. Many people are blaming it on the fact that the spring bear hunt has been cancelled and perhaps that has something to do with it. However, I think the real cause has to do more with the fact that we are destroying much of the habitat where these wild animals once thrived. Through the destruction of wilderness due to lumbering and mining development, animals like these bears must move into other locations and look for other food sources. Regretfully this brings them into contact with humans and they are labeled as dangerous pests.
When I lived in my home community of Attawapiskat there were rarely any interactions with bears. There was very little development in the Attawapiskat area at the time which meant that wild animals like bears had a home base and food sources so they didn’t have any need to venture into areas where people lived. It seems to me that if we as a society actually destroy homes and food sources for other animals that share the good earth with us then perhaps it should be our responsibility to manage things a little better so that these creatures are compensated in some way. Perhaps we should be providing alternate areas where there is no development.
Maybe we should be looking at more careful development so that we can preserve the land where it is used by other animals. Shooting more of them does not sound like the perfect solution to me. However, if that is to be considered as an option it should only be done if the entire animal is harvested. We should outlaw the killing of a bear just for its head or its hide for display purposes. Maybe it should be made law that you can only kill an animal if you can prove that you will use all of it. That means the meat, the skin and the bones. This has been the way of my people forever and it is really the only way to rationalize the taking of another creature’s life.
As I am heading off to bed tonight those bear cubs are on my mind. All I can do is say a little prayer for them and I am grateful for the opportunity to tell you this story.