Menace or good guy? Perhaps a bit of both.
Ursus Americanus, or better known as Black Bear, always seems to be an afterthought when going shooting, yet they seem to pop up just when you least expect them.
Early in my career I spent some time working in forestry. My duties included taking forest inventory and locate roads in the vast virgin forests of British Columbia. The big concern in that type of work was always contact with bears. Several of my colleagues had some harrowing tails of climbing trees and having their boots chewed on by bears to finding their camp raided after a long day at work. And yes, I had my experiences with bears too. It was a nice summer day around noon. We were laying out the right-of-way for a new forest road when one of of my colleagues stumbled upon a bear, which apparently took off. “There he is” exclaimed my other colleague, pointing at the top of a huge cottonwood tree. I looked up and counted three cubs clinging to the top of the tree and it had been mother who took off. I asked my crew to fall back to give the bears some space so they could make their exit without confrontation. There was however a catch: colleague #1 had just purchased a new camera and, suffice to say, had just waited for just such an occasion. The lens on the camera was a prime 50mm lens with manual focus and the fiilm was black and white.While he went through a whole roll of film, which seemed to take an eternity, mother was in the bushes and made her displeasure known. When my colleague was finished taking photos he joined us for lunch and we watched as mom gave the all clear. The cubs descended the tree one by one and disappeared into the bushes never to be seen again. By the way the photos my colleague took did not turn out. The cubs appeared as very small black specs in a large cottonwood tree.
On another occasion I was working by myself on some cut-block layout when I encountered a black bear. Apparently I had failed to make enough noise to keep the bears away. There were no climbable trees around. We both stopped briefly and assessed the situation. The bear was not very big so I thought that talking to him in a calm tone of voice might persuade him that there was nothing to fear and that he should be on his way. It was gibberish of course but, to my amazement, it worked.
The next encounter with black bears took place some years later. On one of my travels in early spring I happened upon a group of foreign tourists. They had cornered a bear on a tree and attempted to take photos of it with their snapshot cameras of the day. The poor animal, clinging to the top branches of the tree for dear life, appeared to be quite stressed. I felt sorry for the bear. Its instinct to climb a tree had actually backfired and he was cornered. And yes, I am guilty of taking a photo too, but I used a long lens and shot it from a long distance. I kept the encounter to a minimum and moved on, which cannot be said about the tourists.
In general I find black bears to be gentle creatures who will usually mind their own business most of the time. Most conflicts between humans and bears are usually caused by humans, who, by not following simple procedures like keep their garbage under lock, for which bears often pay for with their lives.
I find that bears are fun to watch anytime. From the early spring when they exit their den after winter hibernation and are feeding on anything green they can find to late fall when they are getting ready again for a long winter. I once encountered a bear in the late fall along the Alaska Highway just past Fort Nelson. He was devouring a large swath of clover and did not pay any attention to his surroundings. I watched him for quite some time from quite close. Not once did he lift his head to acknowledge my presence.
I believe that black bears do have a “cute factor” built into their personality. That doesn’t mean that they can be cuddled and approached at will. It simply means that we like to watch them time and time again. When you look at the photos below notice the bear’s faces. They certainly show the character of the individual bears. It also shows that it is a rough life out there in the wilderness as the one-eyed bear can attest.
My favorite photos on this page are those of the coastal black bear feeding on some mussels. I had been on a tour for something else but this bear was my favorite for that particular day. His demeanor was calm and collected as we drifted past the animal several times. He just kept feeding on his mussels and had a great time.
Please be advised that all photos on this page have been shot with a long telephoto lens with high resolution and then were cropped to come up with the final results. Getting up close and personal with bears is never a good idea under any circumstances, no matter how cute and cuddly they may look.
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