Wild dreams come true

Taking a photo of bears (Illustration by Pete Ryan)

Taking a photo of bears (Illustration by Pete Ryan)

By Matthew Braun, NCC program director in Saskatchewan

Wildlife encounters during my rural Saskatchewan childhood were rare. That’s why I remember, pretty vividly, a school trip to the boreal transition forests of Prince Albert National Park, about two hours north of my home. The bus driver spotted a black bear on the edge of the road, which would have been my closest contact with something really wild. Even then, just the idea of a bear was exciting enough to sear the memory into my brain.

Fast forward to 2016, when my work managing some of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) forested  properties in Saskatchewan had me crashing through a property on the edge of the Touchwood Hills. While meandering the property, we stumbled on (almost literally!) a pit dug by the crew that cleared the original property right-of-way. We noticed a large hole in the side of the pit  in this otherwise relatively flat portion of the property. Despite having seen plenty of bears by this time in my career, I’d still never seen an actual bear den before, and I always assumed (hoped?) they were a little more exotic than a hole in the side of a hole.

Once we finally agreed this could only be a bear den, we had to decide who had to stick their head in to see if anyone was  home. I honestly don’t remember who put their head through the cobwebbed entrance, but it was pretty exciting even when it was obvious it was abandoned. It was a chilly fall day, and we didn’t see any wildlife the rest of the day.

A couple of years later, I was alone on the property. It was close to the middle of one of the hottest field days I’ve had. I was crashing around with my eyes on the ground looking for the shrubs, flowers and any signs of soil disturbance to help me describe the ecosystem. I don’t remember exactly what tipped me off and caused me to put my head up. But when I did, I noticed two black bear cubs being chased up a tree by a mama bear looking as irritable as I felt, but with a bit more muscle to back it up.

I don’t want to give people the impression that I wasn’t taking appropriate precautions. As she clacked her teeth at me, warning me to stay back, I fumbled in my pocket for my camera to take what would have been the closest/coolest bear photo yet. I managed one blurry photo of a shrub. She and I went our separate ways, and I didn’t even get a decent picture. I decided to conduct the rest of my assessments on a different part of the property. Later, I startled a moose and ended up dodging an imaginary animal crashing through the woods (it was still hot, and my brain had given up) by wading through a thigh-deep slough as a shortcut to my vehicle to finish my day.

It doesn’t seem like enough to say that we manage some pretty cool lands with unexpected benefits, or that you should be careful what you wish for as a kid, because you just might get it.

This story originally appeared in the winter 2023 issue of the Nature Conservancy of Canada Magazine. To learn more about how you can receive the magazine, click here.

Explore additional content from our winter issue here >

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