Polar Bear Blog – Oil Bears Oil The Time

Well, I’m back from my grizzly trip across the Yukon… starting at the Nakina River in northern BC and ending up in Inuvik, NWT… with a whole bunch of ‘game drives’ in between. When all was said an done, we saw 35 grizzlies, 6 black bears, a ton of elk and caribou, moose, eagles, hawks and a wolf and even a lynx. Pretty crazy trip… I will post my journal on here tonight or tomorrow – just an amazing adventure really…

So, while I have been out of internet territory, a few things have happened… First of all, bears are still hanging around Churchill. There was a polar bear just on the edge of town just yesterday, weighing in around 1000lbs… Polar Bear Alert set up some traps and got a couple bears, one west of town and one just east. I still wonder a bit whether we shouldn’t set up a corridor for bears to sneak by town along the bay but that’s a complicated issue so trapping and relocating is the best option for now. Hopefully they are moved north fairly soon.

There was also a black bear sighted just south of town, along Goose Creek Road. The thing is that black bears don’t really last too long around town, except mounted on Jarrett’s cabin, so I wouldn’t really expect to see him come bear season. Blacks bears are an uncommon visitor to Churchill but have shown up here as long as I can remember, so its not really a big new item.

What is a big news item is Omnitrax’s announcement that they will attempt a 330,000 gallon test oil shipment through the Port of Churchill. They are hoping to ship oil up from Sask/southwestern Manitoba via rail to Churchill and load it onto a tanker. Their long-term plan is to run maybe 10 tankers per year for around 3.3 million gallons…?

They say this is an alternative to the keystone pipeline and, well, it seems to be getting a fair bit less attention. To me, this all harkens back a bit to the old ‘ANWR’ campaign where I sat through a NatHab guide’s slideshow about the importance of protecting the Alaska North Slope. We looked at his awesome photographs and he made a bunch of oldies (tourists) feel bad about the state of everything.

That evening over beers, I asked him what the alternative plan to drilling in ANWR was and he shrugged and said ‘somewhere in Canada’… at which point, I thought ‘fuck you’ but naturally didn’t say anything since I was getting paid to be there and, well, we were drinking beer. It does make me wonder if Churchill will be the quiet alternative to Keystone though… interesting.

Anyway, shipping oil north through prime polar bear and beluga whale habitat seems like a fairly bad idea. Back in the day, when oil money was flowing for research, a few polar bears were dipped in oil and the results found that it was bad to dip polar bears in oil. I am thinking this hasn’t changed that much even if we can just pour a bunch of chemicals into the ocean and everything will be fine… we found that out thanks to BP (pfft, Deepwater Horizon is so ’2010′…)

On the bright side, over my brief career as a newspaper guy in Churchill, I can attest that every promise that Omnitrax has made results in little or absolutely no actual results. There might be a test run or pilot project and a recommendation for government ‘participation’ (read ‘give us money!!!’) in order to upgrade the port for ‘insert name here’ project. After that, most money will flow to various consultants and shell companies so that Omnitrax maximizes their profit and Churchill will drift along as usual. I actually have done very little research into this – I just got home and I’m tired… but I can almost guarantee that the only thing that will come from this whole oil thing is that Mike Ogborn will get a big fat consulting cheque. I’ve been tracking Omnitrax as long as polar bears… and, well, they both have certain ‘patterns’.

So, what else? Summer got crazy hot and much to the detriment of the bears… but across the north, there are definite signs of an early fall. Weather is pretty extreme these days so no guarantees but, um, its snowed in Inuvik this morning… and Grise Fjord. Just sayin’.

The latest trend in polar bear photography seems to be dead polar bears… Another dead one is racking up website ‘hits’ in Svalbard. Its all so bizarre. Sergei Gorzhkov (who has some crazy awesome shots from Wrangel Island) posts a rotting corpse shot of a polar bear on my facebook page and barely anyone notices, then I post a shot of a massive bear that was hunted (yes, bears are still hunted) and everyone goes nuts.

Weird, I just can’t wrap my head around the value of taking a picture of a rotting corpse that was a bear, its sad that this is what it has come to… actually, more ridiculous than sad. I think I’m going to take pictures of Churchill tourists this fall and post them as evidence that the global population of humans is aging.

It also seems to me that Churchill’s bear season is under a bit of siege these days. I noticed that many of today’s articles and pics seem to exclude Churchill unless its a negative ‘the bears are starving’ story. Last year, the new Executive Director of PBI told me that they don’t really ‘need’ Churchill anymore. This is probably true with Svalbard, Kaktovik and all those zoos now. Its funny how the community who really raised awareness of polar bears now seems to be a bit of an afterthought by the ‘in-crowd’.

I also confirmed my suspiciion that Gord Buchanan and BBC baited that bear on their documentary with the plexiglass vehicle. It seems that the bears weren’t that interested in the vehicle so they dug a hole underneath, put in some seal meat and then let nature take its course… not saying that hasn’t been done before… but if I know this, then others must too and it would be interesting to see if anything actually happens to him other than a slap on the wrist – if that.

I also saw some footage of a recent arctic documentary (3-D no less!) in which the makers literally terrorize polar bears for dramatic shots – footage that actually made me sick to watch… in two cases, the bears are so exhausted/scared, that they try to attack the film-makers. It is heart-breaking to watch. To be honest, shooting the bear seems a lot more honourable than any of this stuff. I need to think about what to do with this footage but meanwhile the culprits are winning film-making and climate change awards. This is a tricky one. We’ll see what happens.

Anyway, that’s about it for now… One of my vehicles is dead on the Dempster Highway so I need to go up and get that but before I go I will get that grizzly journal up here…

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