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006 Unethical Photographers, Amazing Parks Dog and Handler Honoured, Book Reviews, ice Age Migration Dilemna, and Ground Squirrel Reflections

This week we’ll look at unscrupulous photographers using telemetry antennas to try to track wildlife. As a counterbalance, we’ll profile one of Banff’s dog handlers and his dog who have been recently honoured. We’ll look at a few recent book releases and

Ward Cameron here and welcome to episode 6 of the Mountain Nature and Culture Podcast. As I record this on August 16, 2016, there are lots of cool and, as it always seems this year some not so cool stories. I want to thank you for taking the time to tune in and if you like the program, please be sure to subscribe on our iTunes feed so you can be sure to receive every episode as soon as it goes live. You can also listen to the show at www.MountainNaturePodcast.com. This page will keep you up to date on new videos posted as well as other mountain related news and stories. Also, feel free to share the posts on your social media. We’d love to get the word out so that we can bring more people to the party. The more the merrier.

This week we’ll look at some breaking news and some heartbreaking news. We’ll take a look at a few new book releases that you may want to check out. We’ll also talk about new research that seems to be finally disproving the long-held belief that the earliest humans in North and South America traveled via an ice-free corridor between Banff and Calgary. Finally, we’ll hear some reflections from a few of the ground squirrel researchers that were featured on last weeks program. So let’s get to it.

Story 1 – News
Parks canine unit honoured

Now it’s time for a good news story. Parks Canada has a long history of using dogs in many roles. Tracking dogs helped biologists determine the vast numbers of buffaloberries consumed daily by grizzly bears. Karelian bear dogs are integral in helping to re-educate bears that are hanging out in areas where they run the risk of conflict.

Dogs are also a key aspect of law enforcement in Banff National Park. This month, dog handler Mike Henderson and his dog Cazz were awarded the Parks Canada CEO Award for Exemplary Service.

We often forget the important role of dogs in all kinds of criminal investigations and search and rescue. Mike and Cazz have been partnered for the past 5 years and have spent their time tracking lost and missing hikers, skiers, avalanche victims, poachers and criminals.
Trained by the RCMP Cazz has a nose that just won’t quit. In November of 2015, he followed a car thief for 6 km after the thief crashed a stolen car through a wildlife fence and made a run for the hills. As the man made a final desperate bolt for freedom, risking his life in a bid to try to swim the partially frozen Bow River, Cazz was able to tackle him so that Mike could drag his pitiful ass back onto solid ice. Cuffs, cops, well done Cazz and Mike.

I have often thought of service dogs as one trick ponies. There are tracking dogs, avalanche dogs, aversive conditioning dogs…the list goes one. But Cazz shows the diversity of skills that a single canine can bring to the mix. Kudos to Mike and Cazz for their service.

Telemetry being used on bears and wolves for photography

I’m sorry, this is going to be a bit of a rant! Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks have had to ban the possession of wildlife telemetry gear because unscrupulous wildlife photographers have been using it to track down wolves and bears to photograph. These hand-held, portable antennas allow wardens and researchers to track animals fitted with radio collars. While these collars are slowly being replaced by satellite collars, they are still widely used in many parks and wilderness areas.

Last year we had photographers leaving whole turkeys out to bait wildlife. This year already, we’ve seen the loss of two adult wolves and may yet see the loss of a third due to human feeding and habituation. Where does it end? I’m a wildlife photographer. I have friends who are wildlife photographers. Buying a camera does not make you a wildlife photographer. Combining great imagery while respecting the animal from a distance is a start. Baiting, enticing, tracking – none of these is the mark of an ethical photographer.

Since when did capturing an image become more important than the life of the animal you’re photographing?

As a guide in the Rockies, I don’t just know good places to see wildlife, I know individual animals. For most of my career, I was lucky enough to see Grizzly Bear 64. This bear taught us more about bear’s use of the wildlife over and underpasses in and around Banff than any other bear. She raised at least two litters of cubs and managed to survive in the busy bow valley for much longer than most bears in an area where there are so many hazards.

Bear 122, better known as Boss, is the biggest and baddest bear in the area. This tough guy has walked away after being hit by a train, killed and eaten a black bear when the buffaloberry crop failed. And has a home range in excess of 2500 square km. He is also another of the most visible bears in Banff.

Bear 136, better known as Split Lip killed and ate a smaller 90 kg grizzly in 2015 due to the food stresses created by a failure of the buffaloberry crop. He earned his name because of a visible injury to his mouth.

Bear 148, the daughter of famed bear 64, has taken up her mother’s turf and is now the most visible bear in and around Banff. Now 5 years old, she is expanding her wanderings and has been highly visible in both Banff and Canmore. Hopefully, she can continue to implement the lessons learned from her mother during the time before Bear 64’s death.

These are MORE than just bears. These are our neighbours. Losing any one of these bears is like we’ve lost a close friend. They are important to the ecosystem, important to the future of grizzly bears in the central Rockies, and important to the locals and visitors who have been lucky enough to have seen them over the years.

No photograph is worth their life. No photograph is worth the life of any of our local animals.

Parks has now implemented a maximum fine of $25,000 for possession of telemetry receivers along with a mandatory court appearance. This second aspect can often prove to be the most onerous part for offenders as they need to take time off work, or for foreign visitors, book and pay for a flight to the area to level their defence.

I have been pleased to see parks increasing human patrols at campgrounds, day-use areas and picnic sites. Clearly, the messaging has NOT been getting out. Often visitor services, the front line of most parks, is often the first to be subject to cutbacks. Now is the time to invest in front-line staff to be on the ground.

In the busiest year we’ve ever seen in the parks, oh wait, until next year, we need boots on the ground to help make sure these iconic bears, wolves, cougars…and even ground squirrels, are there for future visitors to enjoy.
Buy a postcard – Let’s keep the wild in wildlife.

On the bookshelf

There are two books of note hitting the shelves recently. The first, written by biologist Bunther Bloch and illustrated by images taken by local wildlife photographer John Marriott details the rise and fall of a previous Bow Valley wolf pack.

The Bow valley wolf packs have been a transitory thing over the past 10 years or more. Wolves appear on the landscape and then run into the gauntlet of cars, trains, campers, temptations and then ultimately, termination.

In the winter of 2008-9, a pack previously from the Pipestone Valley near Lake Louise decided to make a play for the Bow Valley. Within a year, the resident pack had been displaced and the Pipestones were in charge.

Biologist Bloch and photographer Mariott worked in concert. John spent long hours in the presence of the wolves in order to be able to photograph them. These were different times. The park was not inundated with photograph at any cost snappers and John usually had the pack to himself. Unfortunately, he eventually decided to move on as more and more pressure began to descend upon the valley. As numerous photographers and biologists have told me in the past, once they know YOUR vehicle, you can’t shake them.

Like the current bow valley pack, the Pipestones suffered a slow death due to human-caused mortality. We need to act now if we want to stop seeing the conveyor belt of wolf deaths that now characterize the Bow Valley.

The second book, ironically titled: The Great Kananaskis Flood collaborators Derek Ryder and Gillean Daffern compiled a collection of images that showed the damage wrought by this incredible flood. This was no ordinary flood. It completely redefined the geography of the Canadian Rockies. In many areas, thousands of years of deposition and soil growth were carried away by the flood waters in just a few minutes.

As luck would have it, I lived adjacent to Cougar Creek where the flood first initiated. I had been out in the rain the day prior taking wildflower photographs in the rain. Colours are always better in the soft light of a rainy day. I stayed up late editing the day’s images so I slept in a bit the next morning. I was awakened by my girlfriend Julie calling and asking what I was up to. When I explained my late night, she interrupted me and said: “look out your bloody window”. I looked out and the hockey rink across the street was now less than half a hockey rink. The power utility poles outside my window were leaning precariously in my direction and hours earlier many of my neighbours had been evacuated as a tiny creek swelled into a monster. Within hours extensive backyards were gone and the floodwaters were undercutting the foundations of the homes of friends I had known for years and neighbours I had yet to meet.

Being the techy sort that I am, I grabbed my cameras and computers and headed to the evacuation area. Kind folks in yellow school buses shuttled me and my gear along with fish, birds, cats, dogs and terrariums. It was like a Dr Suess book but it showed the solidarity of this small town.

Every person that lived here before the floods saw the changes that the floods wrought. We all found different ways to cope. I created a Facebook page called Canmore’s Flood Heroes focused on trying to find the stories of the people that had touched other people’s lives during this tragedy.

This is a book that people affected by the flood as well as those curious about the power that a sudden flood can bring will be interested in checking out.

Story 2 – the ice-free corridor theory busted

Science is fickle. Science gives us cool stories, transforms theories into facts. It teaches us about our landscape and our history. It brings clarity…and then it takes it all away.

One of the most enduring theories (yesterday it was a fact) about the human occupation of North America involving the ancestors of all the first nations on this continent (and our southern neighbours), migrating across a land bridge joining Siberia to Alaska some 13,000 years ago. During this period, so much water was locked up as glacial ice that the ocean levels would have been much lower than they are currently. As a result, Siberia was joined to Alaska by a land bridge.

In Banff, I often connect the first nation’s history with some of the local landforms in Banff that carry a first nations connection. I want to start this talk by inserting some live tape. This audio is from one of my tours and was recorded at the Hoodoos viewpoint in Banff. These columns of debris are a very common landmark in the park and this commentary talks about their formation as well as their connection with some of the larger first nations culture in the surrounding area. Let’s listen in…

There’s one thing about launching a podcast. Suddenly you need to do research to back everything up. It’s really quite a bother but what it does do, for old geezers like me, it forces us to constantly re-evaluate all of the things we used to believe.

Within Banff National Park, we have, according to Parks Canada, some 766 archaeological sites, including 416 aboriginal sites. The life of an archaeologist is a difficult one. You find a stone tool here, a firepit there…and from this sparse evidence you need to infer an entire civilization.

For decades the sites along this ice-free corridor have been attributed to the Clovis culture, the oldest culture on the continent…and while in my prerecorded talk I may have accidentally exaggerated the length of human occupation towards 12,000 years, our oldest site is actually a bit younger…around 10,800 years old. These are some of the oldest archaeological sites in western Canada.

As a storyteller, I love a good story and this one was one of my faves…until it all came unravelled due to those dang scientists.

The idea that people walked across a bridge and then simply followed the path left behind by the gap between two ice sheets seemed so plausible. Well, as is often the case reality is often much different. The historical theory, it turns out, may have neglected one key fact…there wasn’t anything to eat 13,000 years ago in the area through which these potential immigrants would have had to travel in order to cross the Bering Land Bridge.

According to a recent study, scientists analyzed core samples and DNA samples to come to the conclusion that there simply were not enough resources to allow a primitive first nations group to have travelled across the Land Bridge.

Another study examined the DNA of bison skeletons taken from various areas within the ice-free corridor and dated within this potential travel period. The research shows that north and south populations were genetically unique until around 13,000 years ago at which time they began to interbreed. The study also seems to suggest that the corridor opened from the south first, suggesting a south to north colonization of areas vacated by melting ice. Essentially, the south was already populated by the time the ice-free corridor opened up.

In recent years, archaeological sites as old as 15,000 years have been discovered in South America. It seems there simply must have been another way for these early immigrants to get here. What are they gonna suggest next? A boat?

As it turns out, that is exactly what they were suggesting. It wasn’t magic that saw the first Aborigines of Australia arriving on that continent around 50,000 years ago. These early peoples had to be seafarers.

In North and South America this research has revived a long-lived theory about a migration along the west coast, aided by boats. It’s clear that early peoples had the technology to travel by water but what has always held this theory back was the simple fact that there is a distinct lack of evidence of any human occupation along the west coast during the time that this would have occurred.

Blah Blah Blah, whatever, the ocean levels were lower then, and the beach sites that would have yielded this evidence would be submerged under hundreds of metres of seawater. Well…as inconvenient as this may seem, it is looking more and more likely that the precursor of the Calgary Stampede really didn’t occur until much more modern times.

As a favourite blog of mine says…I F***in Love Science – except when it gets in the way of a good story.

Story 3 – Reflections from researchers

Last week I aired a talk presented by 5 ground squirrel researchers based at the University of Saskatchewan and working in Kananaskis as part of the RB Miller Research Statement. The presentation was very well received and this week I wanted to share some of the personal reflections of these same researchers.

They were kind enough to sit down with me after their presentation and share some of the fun experiences as well as a little of the behind the scenes stories of their time in the field. The talk begins with Elly Hedt. I hope you enjoy it.

Once again, I want to personally thank Sophie Tuppen, Jorden Gladden, Elena Plana, Elly Hedt and Danielle Rivet for sharing their work and taking the time to sit down and share their personal experiences.

With that, it’s time to wrap up this week’s episode. Don’t forget to head to iTunes and subscribe to the show and leave a review if you enjoy the show. The best way for us to grow is to build a community of listeners and we appreciate every review and comment we get. Also if you are looking for a speaker or expert naturalist for your next visit to the Rockies, drop by WardCameron.com to book your Rocky Mountain Experience. Thanks again for listening to us. You can follow me on Twitter @wardcameron and visit the show notes at MountainNaturePodcast.com/ep006.