Living with bears

Renowned bear expert Charlie Russell is coming to do a presentation at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre this Friday, April 19. - Photo submitted by Barb Murray
Renowned bear expert Charlie Russell is coming to do a presentation at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre this Friday, April 19.
— image credit: Photo submitted by Barb Murray

Charlie Russell wants us to change our attitudes towards bears.

The award winning author, photographer and bear expert has spent 50 years researching and living with grizzly, black and spirit bears and he’ll be coming to Qualicum Beach to speak to the public tomorrow night, Friday, April 19.

“I want our young people and us to start thinking about bears in a different way,” Russell said from his home in Southwest Alberta.  “And that's what my presentations are around, to show what’s possible if we change what we’re doing.”

Russell said his first experiences with bears came in the ‘60s when he put together a film with his father. He came to the conclusion then that bears weren’t the ferocious beasts people talk about. He decided to observe bears around his cattle, and not to take any measures to keep them away. He hasn’t lost any cattle in over 18 years, he said.

That got him interested in other myths about bears, he said, and he began looking into two very important questions:

Are bears unpredictable? Are they inherently dangerous if they loose fear of us?  After testing these two questions very carefully he believes they are both false.

Russell spent two years living with bears on Princess Royal Island, the largest island on the North Coast of B.C. There he helped create a film about the Spirit Bear and following that his first book Spirit Bear—Encounters with the White Bear of the Western Rainforest.

From 1996 to 2006 Russell lived in a remote area in Kamchatka, Russia, where hundreds of bears roamed. There he raised ten orphaned grizzly cubs rescued from a Russian zoo.  They lived peacefully together and Russell bonded with the bears.

“I wanted to understand if they could be trusted,” he said. “They can be trusted in my opinion. None of these bears ever threatened me in any way.”

From that experience Russell wrote a best selling book Grizzly Heart – Living Without Fear Among the Brown Bears Of Kamchatka and co-authored a photo album. A number of films have been made about his experience there including the 1997 documentary for PBS Nature: Walking with Giants: The Grizzlies of Siberia and the BBC film Bear Man of Kamchatka.

Russell said he’s not suggesting people do what he’s done with bears. He said many bears have been treated badly by humans and therefore the animals don’t like us. This is a problem particularly when people come across a mother grizzly and her cubs. He thinks management of bears is too harsh, and that’s because the prevailing thought is to keep people afraid of bears and bears afraid of people. It’s not that difficult to keep bears from damaging things, Russell said, and he found by living with them that they can come to respect property.

One of the things Russell hopes to change is the hunting culture, he said.

“You can’t just go out there and kill these beautiful animals that I know and feel good about yourself,” he said.

People continue with the rhetoric that bears are horrible dangerous animals so they can continue to kill them, but that’s a “wrong, discriminatory and silly idea,” he said.

Russell will speak at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre at 7:30, doors open at 6:30. Tickets are $25 at the door or $20 in advance at both Mulberry Bush Book Stores and Perks Coffee in Nanoose Bay.

Booths will be set up from Bear Smart BC, North Island Wildlife Recovery Association and David Suzuki Foundation. Some proceeds from the event will be going to Northern Lights Wildlife Society. For more information visit www.bearsmatter.com.


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