There is arguably more wildlife in this region now than there was 50 years ago. From the late 1950s to the early 70s, I spent my summers on Kennisis Lake. It was a rare treat to see a deer on the road (rarer still to find him in your garden, chowing down on your lilies and hostas), and back then the wolf population had been pretty much decimated. Current hunting regulations have radically changed the animal demographic. Nowadays, deer are a real hazard on the roads. One must develop sharp peripheral night vision to spot the mob of eyes staring from the ditches. Wolves move with greater stealth and secrecy, but you may catch a glimpse of one trotting along the ice-bound lake in winter or dashing into the bush as you drive down a back road. Last summer, two rangy fellows appeared frequently at the landfill site to steal an illicit morsel or two before the bears would get grumpy about their grub, and chase them off.
I saw only two wild moose between 1960 and 1975, and in those days, the bears stayed at the dump. It’s not uncommon now to observe a moose crossing the road at snail’s pace. Ten years ago, my family and I moved to the lake permanently. Within a week, I encountered a moose blocking my path to the mail box. It hardly seemed worth arguing with him for the gratification of picking up a hydro bill. A bull moose can weigh up to 1,800 pounds. Just saying.
People in cottage country like to feed the wildlife. A chipmunk or squirrel is easily tamed with a peanunt. A chickadee will perch on your shoulder. Some residents in the Haliburton area feed the deer in the winter. Come hunting season when the intrepid hunters are off tracking their elusive prey, these docile creatures are grazing happily in backyards with only the wild turkeys to fend off.
I’ve heard that some city folk feed racoons — often with dire consequences as the critters take up residence in roof and garage. A racoon can break a dog’s leg, and I know of one instance where a masked marauder clamped down on a man throwing a fist on his bedroom balcony, a fiasco that culminated in a 3 am trip to ER for a rabies shot and 60 stitches.
But the real danger in feeding wildlife is that it attracts bears . Pitch a tent and forget that bag of potato chips under the sleeping bag? Big no no. To leave a bag of garbage on the porch or in a shed or boathouse until you can make it to the garbage dump is to invite disaster. Not only can a bear easily barrel through a shed wall, he/she will keep coming back for more. A nuisance bear is either live trapped by the MNR and failing that, shot.
Bears will try to avoid humans, but don’t like to be startled. Even a noisy little dog will often send them scuttling into the bush. So when walking in the woods, make your presence known — sing, whistle (bears don’t care for music apparently) and talk (I know one woman who carries a tambourine whenever she walks to the marina). You can also purchase an air horn or bear pepper spray.
To be honest, I have yet to meet a bear face to face on the road. And I like to walk. However, if you should encounter a bear: raise your arms to make yourself big and maintain eye contact with him while backing away. Bears have poor eyesight and would rather avoid confrontation if they are unsure of you. But should the bear begin to huff and puff and paw the ground, it means he wants you to retreat further. If he continues to advance, it’s time to get aggressive: yell, jump up and down, and wave your arms; in short, stand your ground. By no means run or attempt to climb a tree. The bear is better at both.
In terms of woodland security, there’s really no need to batten down the hatches. Bear attacks are relatively rare. Bears are only attracted to human habitation by the smell of food or garbage (that includes your bird feeder and your barbecue grill). The bear is not the enemy. He too has a right to be here. With the inevitable encroachment of civilization, their habitat has been greatly diminished. As well, the foraging abilities of our black bears have become impaired by easy access to garbage dumps. They’ve grown accustomed to our food and their berry picking days are all but over.
We welcome you to submit your own titillating animal tales, tips and advice.