Well its been a good first day of coffee and catching up. Here’s where we are so far. Tourist numbers are definitely down this year, a lot of last minute cancellations, in fact, it sounds like there isn’t even one day scheduled for all eighteen tundra vehicles to be out in Buggyland at once – pretty crazy – not even 9/11 did that… Tourist spending seems to be down too – maybe this wasn’t the right year for me to launch the Hudson Bay post magazine… oh well.
As for the bear that broke into the health centre, it turns out that he was a big ol’ bear, probably 900+lbs and had been ‘working’ the area for most of the summer, keeping town staff busy trying to keep him out of ‘L5′ (our garbage dump storage place something something) and out of town. He was pretty crafty, making regular runs through most of the summer between the dump and town, probably heading up the back road, in and around the rocks, and circling around to enter town by Northern Nights or the RHA. He even had a stash of garbage lard pails in the trees at Lion’s park… well away from prying polar bear alert eyes.
When this bear was first spotted in August (you could still see ice of the coast of Churchill by August 18th…), I’m told you could barely distinguish his legs, he was so massive and so engulfed in fat. In fact, there are quite a few stories of enormous bears this year. One dog dragged home a skull (still with some meat on it…) that once it was boiled down, measured 16″ from scalp to nose, forehead probably a foot wide. First day and I’ve heard a few stories of big bears, might be time to put the ‘bears used to be bigger’ in the old days storyline to rest – it held up in the nineties but maybe less so now…
Back to the garbage bear though, turns out he actually did not end up in a trap although they tried more than a few times over the last couple months. He ended up breaking into L5 (which is next to impossible after a few years of Edgar, the town L5 defence expert’s upgrades). After finding him in L5 late at night, the bay door – more of a cage than anything – was closed and boarded up with extra nailboards and even then, by morning he was working his way to loosen the nailboards and escape. Conservation officers showed up in the morning and were able to dart him. He is now about a week or so into his thirty day sentence and will probably just be released onto the newly formed ice when he is set free.
As of October 18th, there are only twelve bears still in the polar bear jail, eleven have been relocated to North River area by air with a total of 163 bear occurrences (again, an occurrence is any time a bear is encountered or reported in town). Judging by the actions of that big ol’ garbage bear, he alone was probably responsible for a good number of these occurrences… Since his capture, there has only been one bear encounter in town as reported from Oct 12-18. This may not be a record year for bear activity in town after all.
The Manitoba Conservation aerial survey from the Manitoba/Ontario border up to Churchill this fall reported 252 bears – down from a record 282 last year (but then again, the ice did break up strangely this year and deposit a bunch of bears right on top and north of Churchill…). This is a very positive sign for the western Hudson Bay population given that in the lean years – when the last population study was released reporting a decline of 22% – there would only be 180 or so bears spotted in this survey. We will need a good drop of about ten degrees for big numbers of bears to start moving in, especially considering how good shape they are in this year.
Numbers are still fairly low out in buggyland, about half a dozen found throughout the area, and almost an equal number to that near Brian Ladoon’s dogs, another bear hot spot in Churchill (with a few big ones hanging out there including Dancer and possibly one of the scrappy brothers – now about seven or eight years old given I last saw them in 2005). Trying to think of how old Dancer must be (possibly closing in on twenty???) but scarred as he is, he still keeps showing up, although now that Dennis has left buggyland, he doesn’t stick around there.