Letters from Charlie...

Letters from Charlie...

February 26, 2004

I have been silent too long. My silence has been a result of confusion about where to focus my attention and elbow grease. As most people can appreciate 2003 was not a great year for us, but we got through it finally and things are starting to sort out.

Maureen has declared that she is not going back to Russia and I believe her this time. Before, when she would announce this, it was because of the hardships she knew she was certain to endure upon returning. But come March each year we both forgot those aspects of our Russian home and began looking forward to being with our bears. We knew that part was bound to be incredibly interesting. Now all that is gone and there is nothing in that realm for us to look forward to there. Maureen wants to leave all that behind and have a new focus. She says it won’t be about bears because she has come to feel to comfortable painting them and needs a new challenge.

For me there is one strong need left that I have been preoccupied with ever since I left Kamchatka in late July 2003. I wanted to figure out whether our bears were killed as a result of poachers just poaching or was there a message that said leave and don’t come back. This is an important distinction if I am to go back to continue the ranger program, which I want to do.

Being away from Kamchatka, I decided that I was not in a position to solve this dilemma so I put the question to a good friend there who has always been skillful at coming up with answers to what I need to know. It has taken until now for him to respond so he obviously put a lot of effort and care to his attempt to understand what really happened.

He now thinks that the gall bladder was left on the wall by mistake; not as a message to us. I had given it to him to have it analyzed and it turns out that it had no value because was taken from a young bear and contained no gall. It was accidentally left behind. His logic is simple -- whoever killed the bears went to too much trouble in other ways to hide all the evidence of what they were doing for them to have deliberately announced it in this way. Also this past December, poachers were caught 30 kilometers from Kambalnay Lake and it has been revealed in ways, which I do not completely understand, that these people were also connected with what happened to our bears, a year previously. When asked, he now insist that it is OK for me to go back to Kamchatka. I won’t be endangering myself.

So I am going back, of course this is not to continue the bear study, but to continue in some way to improve on the protection of South Kamchatka Sanctuary (SKS) which, as I have mentioned, was designated a World Heritage Site a couple years ago. The only protection this district has ever had, and continues to have, is what our program provided. Obviously, it was not perfect protection or our bears would have survived longer than seven years, but I am now determined to improve on this.

Since August, I have been working with Gleb Raygorodetsky who lives in Canada and works with the Wildlife Conservation Society based in New York, but he was born and raised in Kamchatka. He is in charge of their bear research in Kamchatka, for WCS and is caught up in the idea of his wonderful homeland. We are both frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the International agencies who have offices in Kamchatka and huge funds, supposedly for conservation. After years of hoping that these funds would do what they were supposed to do; protection of the so called protected areas, we are giving up on them and are working together to form our own organization in Petropavlovsk. It will be called The Kamchatka Bear Fund and will be devoted to the long-term conservation of the Kamchatka population of brown bears.

I will continue by working with Volodia and Tatiana Gordienko who I have worked with there for the past eight year. For six of these years we have been struggled to come up with a way to protect SKS. The other interest is to help find an alternative to the old and expensive helicopters. Eco-tourist need a safe and inexpensively way to get around the peninsula. Everyone agrees that the success of tourism in Kamchatka depends on this happening. Only when one or both of these goals are reached will my efforts be directed elsewhere in Kamchatka. (Famous last words).

This is not to say that all my energies will be devoted to Kamchatka alone. Next summer I am beginning my quest to understand as many of the existing efforts in North America as feasible that are devoted to living in less confrontational ways with bears. I have booked time at McNeil Falls in Alaska as well as Brooks Camp and Wolverine Creek and will visit bear oriented communities there as well.

From this you can see that my efforts have gone from understanding bears, to understanding humans and whether we collectively are sophisticated enough to behave differently with bears than we have in the past.

As well, this spring I am doing several slide show events in Toronto and Ottawa; check out the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s site www.rcgs.org and click on Lectures.

I am a Members of "The Spirit Bear" Film Advisory Board who will act as an advisory panel to Melwood Pictures of California in the making of the animated film “The Spirit Bear”. My friend Simon Jackson of Vancouver spearheaded this idea and initiative. He is setting it up to be an incredible benefit towards the protection of the Spirit Bear habitat along BC’s West Coast. Simon has set up a Foundation to receive all the profits from the film when it gets into production. The idea is to purchase the Tree Farm Licenses and take them out of the hands, once-and-for-all, of those who would cut the forest of that area.

There is also interest in making a feature film of our book Grizzly Heart. It is too early in the process to talk about this with any certainty, but if and when things formulate further I will write more about this. If it does happen Maureen and I can learn a lot from Simon’s example for how to put the proceeds to work towards conservation.

I promise to write more often, but it feels like our diary web entries a couple times a week from our cabin were hard to beat, both for interest in writing them and for you as readers. If a feature film happens the way I would like to see it done, perhaps it will get very exciting again.


© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bear Co-Existence Study, 2004