The Millar Western Experience – Chapter 1

The North Goose Bear Problem

One of the fundamental rules of fieldwork is that nothing is going to play out exactly the way you planned. Let me explain. Earlier this week, I made a plan for what I wanted to accomplish at work that day. I would be driving north for what should have been a fairly relaxed day of inspecting roads. My destination, an area called North Goose, a couple hours’ drive from the office. Usually, this distance wouldn’t be much of a concern; however, I knew the area and that getting any cell phone reception was unlikely. So, I let my supervisor know what my plan was, signed out an InReach device from the office, and did a quick job safety analysis. Then I got my coffee, fueled up my truck with the quad in back, put on a podcast, and hit the highway.

When I finally arrived at the road I had to inspect, I saw that it would be less than ideal to take a pickup truck down. I began to unload my quad, thinking about what I needed to bring with me into the field that day. Since this was going to be a long trek, an approximately 40-km round trip, I would have to be prepared for all situations. I laid out my cruise vest and backpack and took time to determine what I needed most. (See my next post for cruise vest “must haves”!)

At last, helmet on, maps ready, and quad running, I pulled around the front of my truck, and I noticed something about 100 meters down the road. Something enormous and brown that hadn’t been there before – a bear. Now, the forest likes to play tricks on the eyes from time to time, and I wasn’t sure if this was a ‘stump bear’ or a real one. I paused to adjust my eyes – I knew not to rush into a situation that I was unsure of. Once the mass started moving though, there was no denying it was a real bear — and a big one at that. It wasn’t there for long – after checking me out, it quickly moved back into the forest cover — but it was likely going to be hanging around in the area for some time.

Definition: ‘stump bear’ – an overturned tree whose dark root mass is often mistaken for a bear from afar. These bears are quite common in Alberta.

Now came my internal debate: should I continue down this road as intended, or should I change my plans, turn back, and move to a different location? I was all set up and had been excited to get to work, but I recognized that quadding down a road by myself right after a bear had been scoping me out wouldn’t be the safe decision. Good sense, backed up by all my training, told me that ignoring the safe decision, and venturing solo into backroads full of curious bears, would not be the right choice. So, I undid all my preparations, packed up my things, talked to my supervisor, and headed out in search of a new adventure.

The takeaway from this chapter is to realize that things don’t always go right during fieldwork. Sometimes your truck gets stuck; sometimes a bear tries to hang out with you. The important thing is to make sure someone knows where you are, and to have a backup plan. Had things played out differently that day, and had I had decided to stick with my initial plan, I might have had an unpleasant encounter with a grizzly. Small setbacks like what I’d encountered may be disappointing, but as long as you try to move on with your day and make the most of the work time you have left, things will (usually) play out for the better!

Have a safe week, friends!

 

The aftermath of getting a quad stuck.

A precariously leaning tree near a road I was driving down.

Forestry field find #2: a moose skull!

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