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009 Whirling Disease, Franklin’s 2nd Ship Discovered, Banff Experience, Swimming Bears, and Expired Bear Spray

  1. In this episode, we look at the discovery of Whirling Disease in the greater Bow River watershed. We explore connections between the Franklin Expedition and our local glaciers. I examine the changing Banff Experience and we look at other news.

Story 1 – Whirling Disease

Last week we talked about the discovery of whirling disease in Johnson Lake in Banff National Park. This was the first discovery of this devastating parasitic disease in the country and resulted in a huge flurry of research to see if it had spread beyond this tiny mountain lake to the larger Bow River watershed. Unfortunately, it has shown that the answer is YES. That’s all we know at this point.

Story 2 – Franklin’s Ship

How about a great discovery 160+ years in the making?

In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin departed England in command of two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror.

Franklin was tasked with finding the fabled Northwest Passage…and it was not his first visit to the Arctic, but his third. It was the 19th attempt by the British Navy to traverse the passage. It was seen as a potential trade route to the orient that could cut months off the current route around Cape Horne. Whoever could find the way through would be guaranteed fame and fortune.

Franklin’s expedition did not find success in the cold arctic waters, but only death and mystery. After becoming hopelessly trapped in ice near King William Island, the crew gradually had to abandon both ships and fend for themselves. On June 11, 1847, Franklin died and his grave has never been discovered.

The two ships were the most advanced ever sent to the Arctic. Along with heavy reinforced beams and steel plating to harden the ships against the punishing ice, they each had a steam engine, made from a converted locomotive that would drive a single propeller and enable them to make some 7.4 km/hour without wind. Provisions included some three years supply of tinned goods, some of which were later found to be sealed with poor quality lead solder. This had disastrous implications for the crew.

Numerous graves have been discovered over the years and they yielded two terrible discoveries. Most of the crew died of lead poisoning. Other skeletons showed signs of cannibalism. As future historians retraced the steps of the expedition they slowly began to piece together more and more of the story of the demise of the crew. Unfortunately, until recently, the location of the two ships had evaded discovery.

The recent discovery of Franklin’s second ship is one of the greatest Arctic discoveries in the past 50 years.

Story 3 – The Banff Experience

A parliamentary panel recently visited Banff to hear from stakeholders regarding the increase in numbers in the park and the changes in the character of tourism in the mountain parks.

Every week it seems that the newspaper is full of new proposals for ski hill expansions, long backcountry paved bike paths, via ferratas, and new gondolas. None of these things contribute to what is and has always been job one for Parks Canada – preserving intect ecosystems unimpaired for future generations. By all measures, ecological integrity is being sacrificed for the purpose of tourism dollars.

Every week it seems that the newspaper is full of new proposals for ski hill expansions, long backcountry paved bike paths, via ferratas, and new gondolas. None of these things contribute to what is and has always been job one for Parks Canada – preserving intect ecosystems unimpaired for future generations. By all measures, ecological integrity is being sacrificed for the purpose of tourism dollars.

Parks should immediately reverse their decision to waive park fees for the 2017 one hundred and fiftieth birthday of Canada. The park simply can’t absorb another half million or more visitors.

Without making some changes we are in imminent risk of loving this place to death. We also run the risk of management’s push for more and more visitors to begin backfiring horribly as more and more travelers flood forums like Trip Advisor with negative opinions of their Rocky Mountain Park experience.

On a similar bent, the increased amount of tourism traffic causes a huge wear and tear on infrastructure like roads, sewage treatment, and other park facilities -all of the costs borne by the municipalities. As numbers continue to increase so do the ballooning costs that towns like Banff and Jasper need to shoulder.

When Alberta calculates the infrastructure dollars that it provides municipalities, it only factors in resident population and completely ignores Jasper’s 2 million and Banff’s 4 million plus annual visitors. While the bulk of tourists are here for just a few months, the wear and tear on the infrastructure do not go away when they depart. The only tool that these towns have to increase revenues to cover these costs is the increase in property taxes.

Other jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. offer supplemental funds for municipalities that have to provide tourism infrastructure

In British Columbia, the Resort Municipality Initiative provides supplementary funding to 14 tourism based municipalities. It helps fund projects that increase tourism potential, add new amenities or improve the tourism experience. For many of these communities, these supplemental dollars can amount to somewhere between 1 and 2 million dollars.

British Columbia realizes that tourism is a key economic driver and employs some 125,000 people and brings in 13.5 billion dollars a year. This program also recognizes the unique challenges that small tourism focussed communities face in trying to provide infrastructure for a transient population of tourists that may represent many times the resident population.

The goal of this program is to undertake projects that will encourage longer and more frequent visits. It might include the construction of new trails, boat launches, new festivals, and events.

Virtually all of the major tourism towns in British Columbia participate including Fernie, Whistler, Sun Peaks and nearby Golden.

It’s about time that the province of Alberta recognizes the important contribution towns like Banff, Canmore, and Jasper makes to the federal and provincial coffers.

Story 4 – Swimming to new territory

Until I read a recent article posted by CBC News, I was unaware that Vancouver Island was free of grizzly bears. They are occasionally sighted but the sightings are few and far between.

However, a conservation officer from Port McNeill spotted two grizzlies swimming from island to island just five km off the shores of Vancouver Island. Grizzlies are well known for their swimming ability and can swim for very long distances. Remember, the most aquatic bear of them all, the polar bear, evolved from grizzly bears and simply took their swimming ability to an entirely new level.
These bears are presumed to have swum all the way from the mainland to the island. There may be many reasons that the bears may have made the journey. It may be related to declining salmon numbers on the mainland. Salmon are very susceptible to changes in ocean temperatures and over the long term, we may see more drops in numbers if ocean temperatures continue to increase.
They may be responding to increased logging on the mainland or to the increased access that logging roads provide to once pristine wilderness areas.
Whenever we see a marked change in behaviour of animals like grizzly bears – especially when they begin to migrate to new territories. This may just be an isolated exploration by these bears or it may be the start of a trend. Only time will tell but we do need to pay attention to events like this one.

Story 5 – Expired Bear Spray

A story out of the Kootenays brings up a very important safety message when it comes to bears and bear spray. A woman in Cooper Creek, B.C. was walking her dog with her two children when a grizzly sow protecting her cubs bluff charged them when both groups suddenly encountered each other. The woman pulled her expired bear spray, released the safety and let the bear have it – or at least that was the plan. When she pressed the trigger, all she got was a tiny sputter that travelled barely a metre. Luckily the bear did exactly what it should and left the area – and now it’s being relocated for no legitimate reason.

Bear spray is clearly labeled with its expiry date. It relies on propellants to send the spray some 3-4 metres forward in a thick cloud towards the bear. Properly used, bear spray is more effective than firearms simply because the wide cloud doesn’t require any real aim, it just engulfs the entire bear. It is highly effective when used correctly.
In this situation, the woman was well aware that her spray was expired yet she travelled into bear country with small children and bet their lives on a cannister that was expired. You must dispose of your cannisters when the date on the bottom of the can expires. They don’t cost a lot of money and it’s the cheapest insurance you’ll ever find for so little investment.

Why not take your expired cannisters out to a remote location and practice deploying them. Obviously you’ll want to make sure it’s an area where the lingering pepper spary is not going to impact someone else that may wander into your cloud after you’ve departed. This stuff is powerful.

Bear spray is a must have in bear country. It must be on your person and not in your pack or on your bike. It needs to be within its useable dates and you need to practice so that when you need it you don’t need to give it a second thought. You’ll just automatically draw the cannister, pop the safety off and be ready to deploy it. It really should be muscle memory and not require you to futz around to figure out how to work the darn thing.

Just like the fire extinguishers in your home need to be regularly serviced, bear spray needs periodic replacement. Don’t put your trust in an expired canister. Things may not turn out as well for you as they did in this case.