Rednecks, hippies and batty biologists – 4/11/07

In the annals of our small and humble valley, it was a notable gathering of scientific minds.
An accomplished skink man, a bat expert, a Chinese medicine practitioner and a clutch of bear biologists all gathered around our dinner table last weekend to swap ursine opinions.
We had sent out an invitation to the eminences of the local bear world (and their partners) with a view to soliciting their advice on how best to nurture and protect our beautiful grizzly bears.
We also wanted to thrash out best practice on thorny issues such as habituation, discuss the effect of hunting on the bears and assess the provincial government’s policies.
Perhaps surprisingly British Columbia, which has an image of being one of the most wildlife-friendly places on earth, still allows grizzly bears to be hunted as trophies.
Although the wholesale slaughter of yesteryear it now outlawed, 28 permits are to be given out by the government to hunt grizzlies next spring, just in the area around our ranch.
In the event we talked a little bear, drank a deal of wine and, gorged on Kristin’s cooking.
To celebrate the mini-summit on the second day we launched an impressive armarda down our river comprising our large blue raft and three inflatable kayaks.
It rained a bit and Heather flipped her kayak in the rapids but otherwise it was a wonderful day.
With the second season here at Grizzly Bear Ranch now over and the first snow beginning to fall we have decided that now is the time to get serious about our grizzly bears.
Barely eighteen months ago we still thought that the way forward for us was a mish-mash of mechanised machinery, campers in our yard and possibly – Kootenay-style – a small grow-op for when times were hard.
But the beauty, rarity and fragility of the area we now live in mean instead we are striving to become all those politically-correct cliches that we once eschewed – stewards, custodians, guardians.
In my times as a newspaper correspondent I travelled to some remarkable and picturesque places. Some where so vibrant the sense of beauty was almost tangible.
But even compared to the majesty of the Hindu Kush, the stunning beauty of the north Caucasus, the volcanic glory of Kamchatka and the craggy vistas of the Dalmatian coast, our valley, with its blue-green river set against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks, is something special.
Unfortunately not all seem to have the same appreciation for this little valley that we do.
One of the scourges of the valley is a growing number of quads. Each year more and more of these noisy machines head for our little paradise to race through the fragile alpine and along its tiny forest trails.
(Here I have a confession to make – I too am the owner of a quad and have used it on the mountain trails. Last year we even took some of our guests up into the alpine on ATVs to enjoy the view.)
Now, however, it seems half of western Canada heads to our little valley for their motorized recreation. This summer on one weekend we found around 30 riders high in the alpine on just one trail.
They all seemed to be in their sixties or older – a sort of a mobile geriatric convention. One had the temerity to ask me why I had walked up the mountain when I could have just ridden a machine.
Another meance to our valley is the beer-can-out-the-window brigade. It seems that not a day goes by that I don’t pick up a can of Budweiser from the verges of the road that runs past the ranch.
Of course the easiest way to deter such environmental thuggery would probably be the Chechen method. A well-placed piece of piano wire across the road followed by a couple of minutes work with a Kalashnikov would no doubt be effective.
But this is Canada, not the Caucasus, and violent retribution is frowned upon, illegal even. Negotiation, often long and tortured and leading to painful compromise, is the way of this peace-loving nation.
British Columbia is, for the most part, socially split between rednecks (hunters, quadders, loggers, beer-drinkers) and hippies (weed-smokers, veggie-eaters, welfare-collectors).
Each have their own distinctive aspirations: Ford F350 vs Subaru, Carhatt’s vs hemp biodegradable, Cabela’s vs Mountain Equipment Coop.
Kristin and I were never quite sure where we fit in. We cut our own wood, but recycle our trash. We drive a big truck, but use biodiesel where possible. We love animals, but wash ourselves often.
We must be one of the few households that, in the last year have, at different times, subscribed to ATV monthly (or whatever it is called), BC Sport Fishing, The New Yorker and the Economist.
Like us, the biologists around our table last weekend were also culturally cross-starred. At least two of them hunt and one is a self-avowed former hippy and US draft-dodger.
Whatever Canada’s failings, it justifiably prides itself on its high level of tolerance.
Once we were all around the table last weekend and the wine was flowing political differences were set aside and everybody was as comfortable as if they had known each other for years.
There was none of the awkward class-consciousness a room full of freshly-acquainted Brits would have felt.
Our efforts to preserve our little valley and its amazing nature will, doubtless, also have to follow a Canadian model too.
We will coil up the piano wire and try our skills with that all-too-rarely-used tool – gentle persuasion.
That is, after all, the way of the Canucks. And, happy immigrants that we are, it is time for us to verse ourselves in those arts too.