Bears and Wildfires

We have been submerged in wildfire smoke for the last week or two. So many fires in the interior have sent the smoke our way, but it is sitting over the Vancouver area like a very large hen incubating her progeny. My husband’s cousins were evacuated for two weeks at one point but have finally returned to their home near 108 Mile. The dry weather and lack of rain make wildfires an issue every year, but it seems to be getting worse year after year. The drought we’ve had has turned the grass brown, brought out the ants in great numbers, and made it harder for the black bears in the nearby mountains and forests to find food.

The invasive Himalayan blackberry is a nuisance in British Columbia. It grows all over the lower mainland. The bears don’t come for the blackberries necessarily, as they’re also in the wild, but they come down because so many people leave food waste out. The blackberries seem to be the dessert.

The heat and lack of rain mean that my plants outside need plenty of watering, so yesterday I headed out back to water the kale, arugula, chives, cherry tree, and beans, and I was already in the yard when a black bear emerged from the thick foliage in the back part of our yard. It seemed big to me at the time, but not as big as the adult I saw last summer when running, which was foraging through trash. I am guessing the bear was around two years old or so.

I had never seen a bear of any kind that close without bars between us. It was about three feet away. I dropped the hose, and froze, staring at it. I had never felt such fear or uncertainty in my life. It seemed to take a step toward me and then stop. It was actually very cute–seemingly inquisitive. Its eyes were searching me (or, probably it was just smelling me). I began to back up, and it did not move. I couldn’t seem to speak. I was actually more worried about my heart palpitations as I know what tachycardia is and feels like–as I had it my whole life until an ablation in 2012–and it felt like one of those episodes coming on. In that moment, knowing that the bear was not afraid of me, I did what nobody should do when encountering a bear that close. I turned my back to it and fled inside. I would not have turned my back and tried to run, but the door was just a few steps away. Even my closing the sliding glass door of my bedroom did not scare the bear away. But it had not come after me either. I proceeded to feel very shaky yet trying to calm myself. I ended up getting a couple bad, blurry photos through the window. In the meantime our 12-year-old cat was sitting in the window of a third bedroom, watching it curiously through the screen.

Black bear in back yard


A little zoomed in. That’s the cherry tree in front of it.


I keep thinking of that adrenaline rush when locking eyes with that bear. How the feeling of submergence lately (due to heart and foot issues as well as the smoke lingering overhead–and my not being able to run) has had me a little quieter, more introspective, concentrating instead on indoor work instead of outdoor enjoyment. I have been working on a big Game of Thrones project, which requires a lot of tedious note-taking, yet what drives me to do this is no less exciting overall than a good jog through the forest–this is, to me, how fiction can utterly move readers. But that wake-up call when eye to eye with the bear reminded me for the umpteenth time, very quickly, of the balance needed on this Earth for all species. That humans need to respect bears and other wildlife. Coming face to face with potentially dangerous wildlife does not remove us from the need for respect and preservation.

I warned some kids out front to be wary of the bear. I suspect it’s come down to the neighborhood, found food trash, and stayed for the numerous ripe blackberries in the empty lot next to us. Some of these berries have crept into our yard too, so we have to remove them. The kids said they had seen the bear in our back yard and in the guy’s yard on the other side of the lot. I did call the conservation officer, and they basically just add the sighting into a big database. He said they’ve had twice as many calls this year than they had last year. I also talked with my neighbor this morning, who said that the mama bear was in her back yard in October last year, and she has seen the cub as well. She said that it tore a whole through the guy’s fence on the other side of the empty lot. There was a recent story about a bear being put down after it came into a house through a door left open and actually opened the refrigerator door and began eating food.

It’s a little sad to me that these bears are obviously so hungry that they need to bother humans to find food. The town I live in is the biggest in BC for bear sightings, so I am not really surprised one was in my back yard. While the city is populated, we live close to Mundy Park as well as Burke Mountain, Coquitlam Mountain, and Eagle Ridge to the north. Two rivers run through the city: Coquitlam and Fraser, plus all their tributaries, which bring salmon in the fall. So while there are plenty of people, there are also lots of wild areas.

I only hope that the next time I see a bear, I won’t freeze up so badly and just try to stay calm and talk to it, letting it know that I am not afraid.  Fact is, the bear has made our yard and our neighbors’ yards home to one of its food sources, so it will be back again and again. So I need to get used to it. Regardless, I feel that a lot of bears are habituated to humans in this area, and are no longer really afraid, which leads to aggressive behaviors and bears being put down–rather than just relocating them.

The whole experience made me a little relieved that I am not running trails right now–as animals like bear and cougars (both in the area) like to pursue. Maybe I have picked the wrong sport to love. And with my heart issues at the moment (typically when I stand or climb stairs–not usually when sitting), I am very careful about the activity I do. I can still do my bike, and we did sign up for a two-hour canoe trip later this month for a salmon festival. I just like to be active, but at the moment, it is rather difficult to find the right sport. I think in another couple months if I am still having issues, I will rename the blog to “Outdoors in the Anthropocene,” which would continue to cover the beauty of being outdoors–in the forest, on the water, and so forth.

The featured image is by Diginatur – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

One Comment

  1. Christine Wagner

    What an experience!

Leave a Comment