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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

The Griz and Me by Mark Polet

I am a biologist, and the longer I work in this field, the more I marvel at the mystery of science, which is really the viewing platform where we glimpse pieces of the wonders of the universe. One of those moments of wonder arose while monitoring creeks in the McLeod River drainage, on the edge of the Alberta foothills. My work involved running transects twice daily across a broad river valley, crossing one river and four tributaries. The intent of this work was to ensure nearby construction was not affecting the local environment.

One day while climbing up the steep bank of the Mcleod into the spruce and fir forest, I realized I was not alone. Twigs snapping 50 metres to the north meant I had company. The size of the branches breaking meant my company was large: moose, person, or bear. I stood still, squinting through the trees. And there he was, a yearling grizzly, staring right back at me. Watching each other for that eternal moment, the bear appeared more curious than scared, and me, more scared than curious.

He did not charge, I did not bluff. Finally, I decided the best thing was to just keep walking my transect, and to my great surprise he walked beside me, always staying 25 metres away at the least. The first day was pretty tense. By the fourth day, I was more comfortable with his presence.

By the fifth day, he had left again, and I never again had the pleasure of his company. I surmised he was a young one, booted out of his birth territory by his mom, and chased by elder males till he found this one corner of the bush, where no bear would bother him, just some strange man who walked back and forth through his territory.

And it really was his territory. He was master of this piece of forest; I was the guest, the construction equipment 1200 metres to the west an intrusion. It was one of those sublime moments when the theory and the practice of science meet. Neither I or the construction activities compelled the Griz to run away, confirming our buffer zone and mitigation plans. For me personally, I had the pleasure of the company of one of the great creatures of the boreal forest I was charged to protect. I was grateful for his company, and thankful for those four days where I could share the forest with him.

Mark Polet is from Edmonton, AB.

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