Bears Have Rights Too

tentI mentioned in a previous blog post, The Encounter, that my son and I do annual hiking trips in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This past weekend we did a trip to Jasper National Park hiking up the Sunwapta Peak trail.  This was our 14th trip together. We stayed in a campground called, Wabasso, near the town of Jasper. When we were registering at the campground, we were warned that a black bear had been in the campsite the previous night. While eating our supper that evening, the people at the tent next to us started yelling, “there’s a bear!” They made a bunch of noise to scare the bear away. We never did get a glimpse of the wild animal but nonetheless, the possibility of a bear nearby always makes a person a bit anxious.

Now in the 14 years of doing this, we have only encountered a bear once (if you can call it that).  It was five years ago and the black bear was on the trail in Jasper National Park some 500 or more metres ahead of us.  When we yelled and my brother-in-law set off a “bear banger” (that is a device that makes a very loud bang) the bear took off. Bears are always on your mind when hiking in the mountainous wilderness so we’ve always taken precautions. All of us carry bear spray, a type of pepper spray or capsicum deterrent that is used to deter aggressive bears. Thankfully, we’ve never had to use it although we have talked to hikers who have. When we hike we travel in groups and make lots of noise so that if there is a bear nearby, it knows humans are nearby as Parks Canada advises. (see Safe Travel in Bear Country). We also make sure our food is stored in vehicles, lockers or on bear poles. Bear poles are tall metal poles with hooks so that hikers can hoist their bags (food especially) up to the hooks for safekeeping overnight.

black-bear-blogHaving freshly done a mountain hike in bear country, I began to have some questions about bears so I did some research. The first question I wondered: Just how common are bear attacks? According to the article, Behaviour, by the Get Bear Smart Society,

Bears are NOT mean or malicious. Bears are normally shy, retiring animals that have very little desire to interact with humans. Unless they are forced to be around humans to be near a food source, they usually choose to avoid us.

That leads to my second question: Just how common are bear attacks? According to the article, A few surprises in decades-long black bear study, in the  Globe and Mail,

“Fatal black bear attacks were rare from 1900 to 2009 but they disproportionately occurred in Canada, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Of the 63 people who died in 59 incidents, 44 victims were mauled in Canada. It’s not known why, but periodic food shortages due to shorter growing seasons could be a factor.”

That means there were only 44 Canadian victims in 109 year span. The article also reports,

Researchers found that the vast majority of the confrontations weren’t the result of chance meetings in the woods, but the outcome of predatory behaviour, nearly always by lone male black bears. Surprisingly, only 8 per cent of the deadly attacks were attributed to mother bears.

So that made me wonder: Why are there bear attacks?  According to the Globe and Mail article,

Bear-caused fatalities have increased largely in lockstep with the continent’s human population growth and subsequent rise of recreational activities. Most of the deadly encounters with bears – 86 per cent – were recorded since 1960. Nine out of 10 times, the victim was alone or with only one other person. Improperly stored food and garbage was a likely attractant in 38 per cent of the incidents… In all cases, researchers found that bear pepper spray was not deployed as a measure of defence.

Another question: How do conservationists respond to bear habituation? Habituation is when a bear has constant, repeated exposure to people. When this happens bears can become increasingly bold and less afraid of people. These bears run the risk of becoming “problem” bears that enter townsites and campgrounds, places they are more likely to be illegally fed or rewarded with improperly stored garbage or pet food. Parks Canada’s wildlife specialists do their best to reverse this behaviour, but if a bear can’t be rehabilitated they are destroyed because they became too much of a risk to public safety. In areas outside the national parks, bears are often destroyed once they’ve been habituated. In Revelstoke, British Columbia, nine bears were destroyed in one week. (see the CBC article,  9 Bears Killed in one Week).

Recently Josh Bowmar, an American and a former javelin athlete, posted a video of himself killing a black bear in Alberta with a spear. That video caused sharp criticism on social media and from the provincial government. In the video, a black bear can be seen circling and then approaching the area that had been baited where Bowmar stands nearby before he impels the spear into the bear’s stomach.  The bear ran off, likely suffering for many hours and was found dead the next day. Alberta’s government have since announced it will introduce a ban on spear hunting this fall as part of those updated regulations. (see Alberta Government orders Investigation). If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

I was surprised that spear hunting was even legal in Alberta. I was even more surprised to learn that baiting bears and other animals was also legal. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of hunting. When I was a teen I once shoot a sparrow with my pellet gun and killed the bird. I felt so incredibly guilty when the bird died that I’ve never intentional killed an animal since except for mosquitos, flies and spiders when my wife forces me to. Typically, I rescue the spiders and put them outside.

The bottom line is we humans have an obligation to learn how to live in harmony with wildlife. All living creatures have a right to exist. In fact, UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, issued a Declaration for All Life on Earth which declared, we shall create a world based on love and harmony in which all forms of life are respected. Organizations such as, World Wildlife Federation (WWF) states their mission to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. I believe this is possible and education is the key. Dr. Jane Goodall, an animal rights activist and best known for dwelling with Tanzanian chimps to observe their behaviour, said it best when she said, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”  If you are going to be in bear country, it is imperative that you get educated.  A good place to start is to read the Dispelling Myths article by the Get Bear Smart Society. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. 

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Music Can Change the World

A commentary on the benefits of music.

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Randy Bachman

This past weekend, my wife and I, along with four other friends, attended a Rock Festival in a nearby city. There is nothing I love to do more than to sit outside on a sunny, hot day and listen to the rock music I grew up on. This festival had rock icons like Randy Bachman, the cofounder of two great Canadian rock bands, The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO). I could have listened to Bachman for several more hours. There were others like Lou Gramm, lead singer for the 70’s and 80’s band Foreigner. It is always fun to sing along with the many hits he sang such as, “Cold as Ice” and “Hot Blooded”.  A surprise to me was the band 54-40, a Canadian alternative rock group from Vancouver, British Columbia, who took their name from the slogan Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!, a slogan coined during a contested U.S.-Canada border dispute. Even though I wasn’t familiar with their music, I enjoyed every one of their songs. I have since purchased some of their music. All in all, it was a great weekend of music. My wife and I have attended rock festivals in the past as well as attended the local music festival at a nearby ski hill. My son sometimes attends the annual Country Music Festival. We go to these events whenever we can. Why? Music feeds the soul. It touches people at a spiritual level. At least that is true for me. Martin Luther, a German professor of theology, composer, priest, monk and best known for his role in the Protestant Reformation once said,

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world”.

I believe Martin Luther was correct. Music is a treasure. It is something that needs to be promoted and valued. Music has the ability to unite people, put people in a happy state, has a calming effect on people and generally makes the world a better place to be in. Paul David Hewson, better known by his stage name Bono, the lead vocalist of the rock band U2, is quoted as saying,

“Music can change the world because it can change people”.

Bono is right! Music can change the world and change it for the better. The article, 11 Powerful Images That Prove How Music Really Can Change the World, reports eleven events that used music to bring change in our world. One particular event that caught my eye was the 600 guitarists who fought the rape culture in India by paying tribute to a 23-year-old who died after being gang raped on a bus. This action triggered other protests in the country.

One music project that is trying to change the world was initiated from the belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. The project is called, Playing For Change.  This movement is trying to inspire and connect the world through music. They’ve created many music videos by traveling the world and uniting musicians to create, Songs Around the World. Here is one of my favourites, “Stand by Me”.

Not only can music bring about positive change, it has health benefits. According to a Hufflington Post article, 5 Ways Music Improves our Health, Neuroscientists have discovered that listening to music heightens positive emotion through the reward centres of our brain, by stimulating dopamine, a neurotransmitter that typically makes us feel good or even elated. The article reports listening to music stimulates other areas of the brain suggesting more widespread effects and potential uses for music. This article resolves that music reduces stress and anxiety, that music decreases pain, that music may improve immune functioning, that music may aid memory, and that music helps people exercise.

According to the McGill University Newsroom article, Major health benefits of music uncovered, a large-scale review of 400 research papers in the neurochemistry of music was carried out by the McGill University’s Psychology Department.  It discovered that playing and listening to music has clear benefits for both mental and physical health. The article says music was found both to improve the body’s immune system function and to reduce levels of stress. It even suggests listening to music was found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety prior to surgery.

In another article by the New York Times, Is Music the Key to Success? the article claims, multiple studies link music study to academic achievement.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) News in Health’s article, Music Matters for Body and Mind, says:

Several well-controlled studies have found that listening to music can alleviate pain or reduce the need for pain medications. Other research suggests that music can benefit heart disease patients by reducing their blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. Music therapy has also been shown to lift the spirits of patients with depression. Making music yourself, either playing instruments or singing, can have therapeutic effects as well.

Over the past decade, new brain imaging techniques have shown that music activates many unexpected brain regions. It can turn on areas involved in emotion and memory. It can also activate the brain’s motor regions, which prepare for and coordinate physical movement.

The sentence,“It can turn on areas involved in emotion and memory” is very true. How often has a song come on the radio that immediately brings you back to a time in your past? It happens to me all the time and most often it is a happy time in my life.

Clearly scientific research is showing that music has health benefits. I’ve just quoted from four of the thousands of articles related to the benefits of music. The articles I drew upon were ones that caught my attention. There is no doubt in my mind that music is beneficial. I don’t need research to convince me. Just being at a music event such at the Rock Festival proves that for me. The people at these events are happy, having fun and very friendly. It can only be the music that does that. So, I encourage you to listen to music, no matter what style of music you like, as much as you can and if you are able to go to music festivals. Why? It’s good for you.

Am I Reading a Fiction Novel?

One Canadian’s perspective of the United States election.

As I mentioned in two previous blog posts, Political Bullying and Trump This, I have an interest in politics. This keen interest in politics is what motivates me to check out what is happening south of the border. I frequently tune into CNN to get updates on the United States election campaign despite my wife’s protests.  As I watched some of the Republican and Democratic Party’s national conventions last month, I began to wonder if I was reading a fiction novel. a_novel_by_-_550wFor me a good novel is gripping to read, keeps you interested to the point where you don’t want to put it down and is one that contains a string of bizarre and unpredictable events. Both national conventions had all these elements. What is happening in the US presidential campaign has the makings of a good fiction novel. Allow me to explain what I mean.

First to have their convention were the Republicans. On the Republican National Convention’s opening night, Melania Trump gave a speech which closely followed a portion of Michelle Obama’s address to the Democratic National Convention in 2008. (see CNN story on Melania Trump speech). Trump’s campaign people initially claimed the speech was not plagiarized and blamed the storm on media bias and on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Then Trump’s people largely blamed staffers and not Melania Trump. When Mr. Trump’s rival, Ted Cruz,spoke he was booed off the stage and his wife had to be protected by security as she was leaving the convention centre. Must be one of those twists in the plot since I doubt any one predicted that.

rtx1gzco (1)The Democrat National Convention was not immune to controversy either. The Atlantic’s article on DNC Hack  says Democratic Party computers were hacked and the culprits released the hacked emails deepening divisions within the party days before the convention began. This resulted in Amy Dacey, the highest-ranking official at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to resign because of the leaked emails. These emails are allegedly between a handful of DNC officials having conversations about Bernie Sanders’ campaign discussing ways of undermining him. As if that was not enough, then it was suggested that Russian intelligence agencies spied on the Democratic Party sharing the hacked documents with WikiLeaks in order to intervene in the U.S. election. Is this for real? Sounds like a fiction novel to me.

Now this seeming fictional story gets better. On July 27, Donald Trump encouraged Russia to commit a cyber crime against Hillary Clinton, saying he hoped they could recover some of Clinton’s deleted emails. (see Trump calls Russia to hack). Trump’s exact words at a press conference in Doral, Florida, were, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Mr. Trump the next day claimed he was using sarcasm. Unbelievable! You can’t make this stuff up.Honestly, I’m not talking about a book I’ve just read. This is reality.

photoHave you ever heard of long time Republicans speaking in support of the rival party’s candidate? Well it happened at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Doug Elmets, a Reagan Speechwriter and longtime Republican says he will vote for a Democrat for the first time and talked about his uneasiness with Republican nominee Donald Trump, saying, “I knew Ronald Reagan. I worked for Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan.” Another Republican, Michael Bloomberg endorsed Hillary Clinton in a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The three-term mayor of New York City called on his fellow independents to vote for Hillary Clinton saying, “I am asking you to join with me not out of party loyalty, but out of love of country,” (see DNC, the final day). Since the convention, other prominent Republicans have said they intend to support the Democratic nominee. See NPR News’ article, See who’s defecting. Another twist in the story?

Clearly there was a huge difference between the two conventions. The tone of the Republican convention seemed to be that America is falling apart and is in grave danger. It had a message of “doom and gloom”. The Democratic convention was starkly opposite in tone from the Republican party’s. The Democrat’s message portrayed an America that is more united than divided, and pushed the message that there is hope for a better future. It seems most Canadians agree with my assessment. (see How Canadians saw conventions). There is no question in my mind that the Democratic Party had (has) a better message and put on a better show during their convention. Could this mean that one party is the villain and the other party is the hero like you have in a fiction novel?

It seems Mr. Trump thought so since he begged people not to watch the last day of the Democratic Convention. According to Politics Today’s article, Trump Begs People Not to Watch Hillary Clinton, Trump’s campaign sent a fund-raising email urging supporters not to tune into Clinton’s acceptance speech on Thursday night. The email read, “Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don’t watch Hillary’s DNC speech tonight. Instead, help Donald Trump hold her accountable, call out her lies and fight back against her nasty attacks.” I didn’t see that one coming either. Talk about strange twists in the world of US politics.

A positive part of this fiction-like story is both parties had openly gay speakers at their national conventions. At the Republican convention an openly gay billionaire and cofounder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, gave a speech. At the Democratic Convention, a retired gay professional basketball player Jason Collins spoke. Sarah McBride made history as the first openly transgender person to address a major party convention. She was introduced by Rep. Sean Maloney, the first openly gay Congress member from the state of New York. I can’t say as I’ve ever seen that in politics. A new storyline?

What particularly makes this evolving story so interesting is that the daughters of the two presidential candidates are friends. Mail Online’s story, ‘She’s a great girl’, reports  Ivanka Trump said she and Chelsea Clinton are still ‘good friends’, despite their parents’ verbal assaults against each other in the media. It also reports that Chelsea Clinton said that she was ‘absolutely’ still friends with Ivanka Trump.

Newsweek’s article, a brief history of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton’s friendship, says Clinton and Trump were once longtime friends. They’ve since distanced themselves from one another now that both men are on opposite sides in the presidential election. How is that for a bizarre twist? This story just keeps getting better and better.

A few months ago, one of my brothers as well as a good friend of mine put forth the idea that Trump ran for president to help Hillary Clinton become the next president. My initial reaction was “No, that can’t be.” It seems there are others out there that think the same thing. CBC News’ article, The complicated relationship between Trump and the Clintons, says, There’s a conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is a double agent on a “false flag” mission to ensure Hillary Clinton becomes the next president of the United States. This story just keeps getting stranger by the day.

Since the National Conventions, Donald Trump has insulted Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim American soldier who died protecting his unit in Iraq. Trump’s attack was due to Mr. Khan’s address at the Democratic national convention reprimanding Trump as unpatriotic and selfish. (see Trump’s confrontation). Mr. Trump has refused to endorse Paul Ryan, Republican house leader and Senator. John McCain, two high-ranking Republican elected officials in their bids to be reelected. (see Trump refuses to endorse). He did endorse them later on likely due to pressure from his advisors. The latest controversy is regarding President Barack Obama being criticized for shipping cash to Iran. Some Republicans say the US government paid the money as a ransom to free Americans held by Iran. At a rally in Florida Mr. Trump claimed that he had seen a video of people in Iran unloading money from the plane that flew $400 million in cash to Iran. He has since been forced to backtrack. (see Trump admits he didn’t see video). One has to wonder about that conspiracy theory. So, am I reading fiction? At times it seems so. I can’t wait to “read” the next chapter.a_novel_by_-_550w

Littering! Really?

A commentary on the disrespectful act of littering.

For the past three summers, my wife and I have camped for several weeks at a campsite near where we live. This campsite is beside a river and has a golf course where I golf at least once a day. The campsite is located in a beautifully treed area where you can truly feel connected with nature. I don’t need to write about the health benefits of being in nature as I did that in my post Nature’s Wonders in May. Spending time golfing and having campfires is what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks so in case you’ve been wondering, that is why I haven’t published anything lately.

My wife loves to walk and so I go for walks as often as I can with her. It’s good quality time together and we often have some of our best talks doing this. We either walk around the campsite visiting the occasional camper that we know or we walk down a rural road near the campground. It’s about a six kilometre (3.7 mile) walk to the location we go to and back. The road is a gravel road so sometimes we get bombarded with dust when a vehicle goes by but for the most part the road is a beautiful walk in the river valley.

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From Litter Heros website

The last time I walked this route, I was alone which gave me more time to observe my surroundings. What struck me was the amount of litter I saw. I counted eight (8) soft drink or coffee cups. They were from such fast food restaurants as Dairy Queen (DQ), Tim Horton’s, and MacDonald’s.  I also saw fast food napkins, a hamburger Styrofoam box, a beer bottle and a beer can. There were also candy wrappers and a level which must have fallen off a work truck. That was what I could see just from the road. I’m sure there was much more litter as the grass was long in the ditches. What disturbs me about finding beer containers is the people who tossed them likely were drinking and driving. That to me is alarming!

Years ago our son was in 4H and every year the 4H clubs participated in the Alberta Highway cleanup where 4H members gather to clean up a section of a highway. I participated with him and what I remember most about that event was the number of cigarette packages there were. Smokers seem to be some of the worst litterers. The second most common piece of litter we picked up were fast food cups. Of course there were numerous bottles and cans and other miscellaneous items including dirty diapers. During a town cleanup last year we picked up mainly fast food cups, cigarette packages, along with other miscellaneous items and yes even dirty disposable diapers.

I’ve tried to understand why people litter and the only thing I can conclude is that people are just too lazy to find a garbage can and that people really don’t care about our environment. This inspired me to learn more about the topic.

Here are some facts from a website created by a Litter Reduction Task Force to address the litter issues within the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. This site is called, The only cure for litter is you.

  • The average distance someone will carry garbage before littering is 12 paces.
  • Most litter occurs within 5 meters of a garbage receptacle.
  • Single use food and beverage litter made up 45 per cent of litter cleaned up in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in Ontario, Canada.
  • There are 8,000 tonnes of cigarette butts dropped by Canadians each year, the majority within 10 feet of an ashtray. It takes 10 years for the filter to biodegrade.

What people need to understand is that much of this litter remains in the environment for a long time. According to this same website, it takes an aluminum can 80 to 200 years to break down naturally but if recycled, it can be reused within six weeks.  Here is some information about how long it takes other items to break down naturally.

  • Banana peel: 3 to 4 weeks
  • Paper bag: 1 month
  • Cardboard: 2 months
  • Wool sock: 1 year
  • Tin steel can: 50 years
  • Disposable diapers: 550 years
  • Plastic bags: 20 to 1000 years
  • Plastic jug: 1 million years
  • Glass: 1 to 2 million years
  • Styrofoam: 1+ million years
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From humanesociety.org

It seems obvious to me that people just don’t care what they are doing to Mother Earth. So that begs the question, Why should we care about the problem of littering? According to the same website,

  • Litter is damaging to plant life. Litter can stunt plant growth.
  • Every year, millions of birds, fish and animals die from ingesting litter.
  • Litter on the ground and in our water is dangerous to humans.
  • Litter destroys the beauty of the community. Litter begets litter. One piece of litter on the ground signals others to litter.
  • Litter is a safety hazard. It is a breeding ground for rodents and bacteria.

According to the website, Conserve Energy Future (CCF),

  • Littering is expensive. Every year millions upon millions of dollars are spent cleaning up litter. This money should be going to more productive things, but instead, people don’t realize that something as small as littering done on a mass scale does indeed affect them. Taxpayers’ dollars are being spent on littering…
  • A very large majority of Americans have admitted to littering in their lifetimes. I’ll admit it. I have littered. The average American only walks a few steps before dumping their trash on the ground without even searching for a garbage can.
  • Billions of tons of litter are dumped into the ocean each year…This leads to the repeated killing of fish on a daily basis and the gradual depletion of marine life. Believe it or not, the litter we produce is causing more underwater species to become endangered.
  • Cigarette butts make up over half of our littered objects, and they take a grand total of ten years to decompose because of a cellulose acetate, contrary to the popular perception that cigarette butts decompose very quickly in only a matter of days. In reality, cigarette butts are a serious threat to the environment.

According to the article, Littering a crime of inconvenience for Canadians by Marc and Craig Kielburger, WWF Canada says Canadians are frustrated with environmental groups telling them that making small changes will have a big impact on our planet.

But Canadians are doing their part to clean up the mess we humans have created. According to the Kielburger brothers, The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is one of the largest public action conservation programs in the country. Last year, more than 58,000 volunteers picked up litter along 3,000 km of shoreline and inventoried every piece. Having said that, we need to do more.

do-not-see-clipart-1It’s time we humans stop this disrespectful action of littering and start getting involved in public actions such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, Alberta Highway Clean Up (if you live in Alberta) or in your local community spring clean-ups (see Communities celebrate spring with clean ups). It’s time to be stewards and to protect, respect and take care of our precious planet. No longer should we take our environment for granted. So do the right thing!