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January/February 2004 issue


Canadian Geographic magazine Reverberations: Grizzly rumours

Grizzly rumours
I have lived in the central Arctic for more than 20 years and have been learning about these coastal bears (”Grizzlies on ice,“ CG Nov/Dec 2003) since I got here. Every April and May, grizzlies are out on the sea ice in the Cambridge Bay/Bathurst Inlet area, walking along the ainiqs, or cracks, looking for seals. (Their normal diet of roots and ground squirrels is not available at this time of year.) For the Inuit of Omingmaktok in Bathurst Inlet, this is normal. Sightings on Victoria Island are also not unusual. In April 2001, a grizzly denned less than 20 kilometres from Cambridge Bay. What is unusual is the High Arctic aspect to their wanderings. A big grizzly was seen repeatedly on Melville Island this past summer by geology students doing fieldwork, and if this is the same bear that biologist Mitch Taylor tagged in 1991, then it would be an old one. If that bear has been breeding with other bears there for the past decade, this story may just be starting.

I helped the Canadian Wildlife Service do an eider survey in north Bathurst Inlet for 12 days in June/July 1993, and we counted five different grizzlies out on the sea ice. Rumour has it that last summer, grizzlies were seen in interior and northern Victoria Island.

Doug Stern
Cambridge Bay, Nun.


As a professional naturalist who makes most of his living in the wilderness studying wild creatures, I would like to say how much I enjoyed your article on Arctic grizzlies and how much it disturbed me. I wonder whether this kind of esoteric knowledge, while fascinating, is worth the cost of gathering it — not to our species but to theirs. I hearken back to your own excellent, timely piece asking this same question about biologists with their ubiquitous radio collars ("Intruding on wild lives," CG Nov/Dec 2001). I have sat on numerous panels with many biologists whose favourite battle cry has become, “Put a collar on it!”

I wonder if the general public out there realizes, when they read an article like this, how very little a priori effort biologists put into determining the effects of their own actions. How infrequently discussions of ethical concerns — as opposed to financial, logistic and political concerns — arise in the planning stages of a collaring-research project. How few biologists are willing to become advocates for "their" species — their most crucial role — when the chips are down and the going gets controversial. How few of these studies are primarily about conservation but, rather, about maintaining or advancing the social status of the researcher. How alternative technologies exist with which to gather information on these same species without ever laying a hand on them.

Of course, the last point involves considerably more time facing rugged field conditions than many of today’s researchers are comfortable with, and therein lies the rub. The animal-instincts, observational and survival skills of the biologists of a bygone era have been largely replaced by radio- collaring technology, computer modelling and meddling. Researchers such as Mark Edwards and Andrew Derocher should ask themselves before they next board a helicopter bent on terrifying bears: "Is this really what the animals need? Am I willing to be an advocate for this creature, or am I primarily just a wildlife voyeur?"

Jonathan Wright
East Coulee, Alta.

The more the merrier
Large families are alive and well in British Columbia too (“Kindred spirits,” CG Nov/Dec 2003). I’ve been married to the love of my life for 25 years and am the mother of 12 children. Our oldest is 24, and our youngest is 3. We are not a blended family, nor have we adopted. We have never been on social assistance and hope we never will be. The whispers are, "They can’t all be her children." We find it humorous. My life is my family. People don’t know what they are missing.

Elaine Redel
Creston, B.C.

Trade places
“Trouble flows north” (CG Nov/Dec 2003) refers to a flooding problem that has plagued the community around Devils Lake in North Dakota for several years. Interest in the scheme to allow pathogen-infected saline water to overflow into the Sheyenne River, through Lake Winnipeg and ultimately north into Hudson Bay goes up and down with the lake level. There is a huge political story here, as you have spotted, but there is an equally interesting geography story. By using a pipeline of modest length, 55 to 65 kilometres, the extra water could be sent southward to the Juanita Lake system and on through the James River to the Missouri, Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico.

In which direction is it better to send the unwanted dirty water? No one wants to talk about the James River alternative because it is more expensive than the Sheyenne route and it is easier to get the water out of the country going north through two states than it is to send it south through 11 states.

If Canada wants the International Joint Commission to help the folks in Devils Lake, maybe it should come up with some of the extra cost of building the James River pipeline. That would put the issue of its expense to rest, and we could then see what the 11 states affected by the James River drain would propose to do about it.

David Laher
Whistler, B.C.

An uphill battle
Normally, I find Canadian Geographic an interesting read and regularly refer to the magazine and website for stories that augment my geography of Canada class here at the University of Manitoba. However, I am profoundly angered by an aspect of the story on Lake Erie (“A late great lake?” CG Sept/Oct 2003).

I have been a geography professor for seven years, and I do not, nor will I ever, fit the prescribed look for a professor in my discipline according to your contributor Walter Stewart. To quote, he writes: “[Henry Regier] looks just the way a professor should look, except for his air of outrage …. He is grey-haired, grey-bearded, sharp-eyed, articulate and glowing with energy.”

Such a statement undermines the long, difficult and ongoing struggle of academics, especially in the environmental sciences and geography, who are not older white males to be accepted and acknowledged as equal, valued contributors to their disciplines and as important creators of knowledge. The message is very strong that if you are anything other than an older white male (that is, female, a visible minority, disabled, gay), you are out of place in geography, in the sciences and, more generally, in the academic world. It also implies academics should not be outraged by the wrongs and problems we research and that often are our life’s work. This is simply utter nonsense and erodes the role of academics as advocates.

Dr. Bonnie C. Hallman
Winnipeg, Man.

Fire’s other victims
Re: the comments on the Kelowna fire in “Editor’s notebook” (CG Nov/Dec 2003), your readers might be interested to know that while this was the most devastating fire for humans in terms of homes and possessions lost, the Chilko fire, which ripped through the Chilcotin’s Brittany triangle, was the season’s largest, at 29,200 hectares. This fire burned 90 percent of Nunsti Provincial Park and the core range of the Elegesi Qiyus Wild Horse Preserve. The herd of more than 200 horses, which has been here for over 200 years, escaped the immediate effects of the fire by fleeing before it. However, there is considerable concern over winter losses due to the burning of the meadows in which they forage for the grasses and sedges that sustain them through the cold Chilcotin winters.

Fortunately, we were able to organize volunteers to extinguish the peat fires, which would have destroyed the remaining meadows by winter’s end. The B.C. Ministry of Forests was content to let these burn through the winter.

David Williams
President Friends of the Nemaiah Valley
Victoria, BC

Just as they predicted
As can be expected of your fine magazine, the article on the impact of the relocated Canadian wolves on Yellowstone’s ecosystem was well presented (“The ripple effect,” CG Sept/Oct 2003). Please allow me to add some perspective.

The headline on your article states that the effect of the wolf releases was “swift and surprising.” Swift may be a matter of opinion, but it certainly was not surprising. The plans for the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone had been debated for years, and a million dollars was spent on soliciting expert predictions.

In fact, all the ripple effects were predicted, including: wolf kills would provide carrion for a host of scavengers; wolves would kill coyotes; wolves would alter the habits of elk; and if wolf predation were to help reduce the overpopulation of elk in Yellowstone, it would ultimately lead to better regeneration of poplar and willow, to the benefit of beavers and other wildlife.

These ecological interrelationships are not new to science and were described 60 years ago by Ian McTaggart-Cowan, the dean of Canadian zoologists, who conducted the first official wolf study in this country. His main focus was the impact of wolves on elk and their habitat. Since then, several other biologists, park wardens and naturalists, including myself, have reported on wolf and elk dynamics in Jasper National Park over 40 years.

Dick Dekker
Edmonton, AB

A ship captain’s reply
Your article on Lake Erie hits close to home. I am a ship’s captain on the Great Lakes and depend on the health of all our lakes for my livelihood. My peers and I have noted a great improvement in water quality and clarity since the mid-1970s, when the look and smells of Lake Erie were pretty obnoxious, but it sounds as if we still have a long way to go.

I found Henry Regier’s comments on ships’ captains being “bandits” disturbing for obvious reasons. Ships are regulated in all aspects of their operations and must comply with myriad rules, guidelines, inspections and surveys from both sides of the border. We work closely with the Canadian Coast Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, Transport Canada, the Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada, to name but a few. We are also participants in many voluntary programs aimed at keeping our environment clean and safe. We do have a ballast-exchange program in place, monitored by the Coast Guard, with random ballast-water testing to ensure compliance. In addition, we have state-of-the-art sewage sanitation units, garbage-disposal regulations, cargo wash-down regulations and dust-control policies to guard the health of our Great Lakes. Ships’ owners and their crews understand the long-term effect of abusing one of nature’s greatest gifts, the Great Lakes, and we all work diligently to protect them. We can only hope that in future, more industries will see the benefits of shipping cargo by water and work toward reducing the traffic congestion on roads and eliminating the combined pollutants of the 3,000 truckloads that can be carried by one ship. The ship I currently work on makes an average of 70 trips per year. That lifts a great burden at border crossings — 210,000 trucks — by this one ship alone.

I wonder whether ships could also help with the dead zone. Could the lake stratification be agitated and blended by a ship’s passage, getting much needed oxygen down to the deeper depths? A ship’s draft of 8.3 metres, combined with squat and displacement, may prove beneficial to this cause. If so, then we need an increase in ship traffic to help revive our patient, Lake Erie.

Finger pointing to any one industry for our current situation can only prove counterproductive. We all have a role to play, including recreational boaters, commercial and sport fishermen, riparian industry and citizens as a whole. Much of what we dump down our toilets and spread on our lawns ends up in the Great Lakes, adding to the toxic brew. We then have to filter and drink this same water!

Captain Ross Armstrong
St. Catharines, Ont.


* Letters may be edited for length, accuracy and liability.

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