Commentary – Coyotes in the house and bears in the berries

Joe McWilliams

Oldtimers like to talk about the ‘good old days’ as if everything is getting worse. In some ways it probably is, but one thing is for sure, some types of wildlife are more abundant in the 2000s than they were in the 1960s. There are more beavers, for example and many, many more deer. With the deer come healthy wolf populations, and as everybody knows, the cougar prowls where nobody remembers seeing it before.

I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere – deep in the bush of northeastern British Columbia in the 1960s. There was no barrier whatsoever to wildlife invading the place and stealing our chickens, for example, but we never saw a bear or a wolf on the place. Or a deer or a moose, for that matter. Coyotes were around, but not nearly as bold or as numerous as they seem today; they’ve been seen running around downtown Slave Lake at night lately.

So where were all the beasts of the forest in 1965? There were simply fewer of them, for one thing; for another, they were more frightened of humans than they are now. The beaver, as we know, was much reduced by the 1930s. The late Alan Moore, who grew up in the Edson area in that decade, told me he never actually saw one when he was growing up. They seemed a thing of the past.

We did have beavers in the slough behind our farmhouse on the Cameron River in B.C. in the 1960s. With no television and no neighbour kids to play with, the outdoors was our entertainment and beaver-watching was part of it. The only bear I ever encountered back then wasn’t on the farm, but a few miles away on the road leading into it, in the mid-1970s. I’d caught a ride to within nine miles of the ranch, as we called it, and had to walk the rest of the way. It was a nice summer day and as a bonus wild raspberries grew in profusion along the margins of the road – built and soon abandoned by Sun Oil in the late 1950s. I had stopped and was stuffing my face from a particularly good patch when a loud ‘woof!’ came from just the other side of the patch, not more than five feet away from where I was standing. I don’t believe I have ever been so startled in my life and when I hit the ground, I was running as fast as my legs could go. Luckily for me, the bear was doing the same thing in another direction.

Bears started showing up about that time in our grain fields, but nowhere near the farmyard. And as noted, they seemed absent altogether in the 1960s.

I had never even seen a coyote near the farm, but one day in the early 70s, my brother and uncle showed up with two cute little pups. They’d flushed the mama coyote (and probably shot her) down near the end of the home field and decided to keep the pups – for the time being. They were delightful little balls of fur – the kind of thing you’d want to play with. But as we found out soon enough, they weren’t playful at all.

We fed them cow’s milk from baby bottles, which they seemed to take to easily enough. It was a matter of a day or two of training to teach them to come when you whistled. But if the expected bottle wasn’t there, they’d not be happy at all. Play? Forget it! Give us our food or we’ll bite you.

‘We have to do something with these guys,” Mike said one day.

I didn’t want to think about it. One day they were gone. I didn’t ask.

There are more coyotes around today, as noted; more foxes too. So some wildlife is adapting well and making a comeback. Others – notably the caribou – are struggling.


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