Written by Sarah Bulford
I’ve been thinking about the colour of my BC Parks ranger uniform jacket lately. It’s nothing special, just a pale green colour. But every time I look down at my sleeve, catch a glimpse of the colour in a mirror or the truck window, I feel a sense of peace.
Being a BC Parks ranger has taught me many things over my years. But the thing I reflect on most is how I’ve learned to really slow down and observe what’s around me. To peer at the sunbeam glowing on the bark of a tree or hear the distant sound of birds chirping in the wind. Taking in my surroundings has instilled a greater sense of gratitude in my soul.
I think about the parks I work in a lot—even during my time off. I think about how parks evolve and change constantly, how they each smell and sound different to me. I reflect on the way a sunbeam hits a mountain peak or how still water mirrors the landscape like a piece of glass.
On today’s patrol, I stop and look at moss or some other vegetation on the trail—not for any particular reason, but because it makes me feel a sense of wonder and belonging. To see how connected the Earth is, plants that intertwine, growing carefully and respectfully around one another. There is a harmonious energy present in nature.
As I walk through different areas of the park I am conscious that this is wildlife territory; I am in their space. I imagine what they must think of me as they peer through old cedar trees and watch me scurry up and down the trail. I constantly remind myself that this is their home and I just have the great privilege of being their guest.
I spot the first backcountry camping area ahead and I hear the banter of outdoor enthusiasts in the wind. I can see smiling faces, tin mugs that I suspect are filled with hot cocoa, and brightly coloured tents arranged on wooden tent pads. I pass by and see one camper packing her food into a dry bag to store in the bear cache before she heads away from her tent. She’s careful to sort through anything that might have a scent. In the bag she puts all food products (even those already packaged), deodorant, tooth paste, fruit peels and cores, and the empty coffee cup she was using.
I continue walking and find another camper getting ready to leave. He does a walk around his tent pad to make sure no wrappers, bits of food, or waste is left behind. He knows that leaving no trace is vital to visiting these areas. Once he’s gone, a bear could wander through his site. With no attractants to pique his interest, the bear will move on without stopping.
Further along the trail I watch the grey Whiskey Jack birds flying overhead. They blend into the sky so perfectly. I’m careful not to leave bits of food or bother them in any way so they can head back to their nest without worry. Day hikers, coming around the bend, let me know they’ve seen a small black bear cross the trail. I remind myself of what to do if I come across a bear. Bears are powerful creatures; they’re dangerous when startled, are accustomed to human food rewards, or if they feel threatened (like when they’re being protective of cubs). But it’s important to remember bears are not inherently vicious.
By developing a greater sense of respect and understanding for bears, we can help alleviate fearful responses to them. I know a bear is a wild animal and it doesn’t want to see me either. If I encounter a bear, I must use the correct reaction to the situation at hand. Approaching the area, I make lots of noise to let any wildlife up ahead know of my presence. Clapping, singing, or just talking loudly can be a good bear deterrent and avoid an unwanted encounter.
The bear pops his head up from snacking on berries and looks right at me. Surprising a bear can cause stress for the animal so I slowly back away and in a calm voice let it know who I am: “Hey bear, woah bear, I’m a human.” My tone is friendly but firm and steady.
I step aside to give the bear a clear path to exit. I keep in mind that if the bear becomes aggressive (bluff charging, snorting or making gestures like it wants to defend) I will make myself look large, have bear spray ready to go, and be ready to protect myself if need be. The bear acknowledges me but turns and continues on his way without any further interaction.
Soon after I spot another hiker. She has a small grocery bag of garbage strapped to her pack. I stop and ask to see her camping permit, but she lets me know its garbage she collected from the outhouse on her day hike. Leaving garbage in or around an outhouse, hut or even tucked beside a tree, is a wildlife attractant. By remembering to pack out everything we brought in, we help keep the ‘wild’ in wildlife.
I reach the last campground on my walk and see a camper with a handful of dirty dishes. I remind them that when cleaning dishes they should dispose of grey water in a pit toilet or bury well away from camping areas. And to pack out the solid waste and never keep used dishes or utensils near their tent.
Finally, I turn the corner to the parking lot. The garbage bins are full, so I carry my personal waste back to my vehicle. I know to never leave garbage beside a bear proof bin if it’s full. Approaching my car, I see that flash of ranger green. Once more I am reminded that to feel a sense of connection to nature, we must respect the wildlife and the places they call home.
Always remember whose home we are visiting and do your best to protect, educate and leave no trace as a thank you. To learn more about how to stay safe in bear country, click here.