I hope I don't repeat myself too much but I've had numerous requests even from other countries to udate this blog which kind of blows my mind. So here's some things I've been up to in the past year:
Since I've last written I was crew leader on a marten collaring and small mammal trapping project on Kuiu Island again this year. It's was very wet most of the time continuing the insane amount of rainfall we had over the summer. Imagine donning fleece underneath thick PVC raingear with the preferred southeast alaskan footwear(Xtra Tuff rubber boots), bushwhacking in temperatures in the 30-40s with nearly continuous rainfall and then trying to process animals without allowing them to become hypothermic you'll get the idea. If you can also imagine you're working in a rainforest with one of the highest densities of black bears in Alaska and you're using jam, sardines, peanut butter and game meat as bait only to find many of the traps crushed flat by bears you'll get a feel for what it was like. Everyone has different comfort levels around bears and I've been getting very comfortable having worked two seasons at a brown bear viewing area with bears coming within 10 feet. However, seeing steel cage traps crushed flat as a pancake definitely makes ones heart race for a moment and reminds me to look over my shoulder more often.
Having said that it's an incredible place to work with very high densities of sea otters, wolf packs, moose and sitka black tailed deer with several class one salmon streams that still had a few Coho salmon in them. There's something surreal about seeing a wolf pack hunting or hearing them howl.
Then there's the local wolf in town that has been fed by humans and is so habituated that he came within 25 feet of me and the dogs whining like a puppy trying to get them to play and then watching them running around smelling each other. It's exciting to have a wolf that close and to be able to view him very often but it's sad to know he's being fed by people and that he can catch a disease from local dogs (some of which were on his menu). It's hard to believe I saw my first wolf in Denali NP in 2003 and now I can drive 20 minutes to go skiing and have to be careful to avoid the local wolf and frequently see him sneaking up behind me to try and "play" with the dogs. On one hand exciting on the other a dangerous situation that might end badly some day.
I did some moose work in November and again in February for 10 days at a time collecting foraging data. Basically I track in to the moose and then attempt to stay close enough to watch and record what they eat all day long. November makes things interesting because even though I'm only interested in what the cow moose are eating it's rutting season and the bulls are there pushing each other around which is an incredible sight(and sound). Watching 1,000 lb animals with antlers 50-60 inches across push each other around is quite a sight. Then add to that howling wolf packs and hiking in to recover radio collars from moose that were killed by wolves and seeing the sight of the kill with bones scattered and shattered by incredibly strong jaws and I have to remind myself that wolf attacks on humans are almost nonexistent. We ended the November trip with helicopter darting which is always exciting. The pilots here in AK have the be some of the best around. It's quite an amazing thing to watch the pilot open the door so he can lean out and check to make sure we're not going to get the skids caught on the brush we were landing next to and seeing the rotors mere feet fom trees as we lifted off. There's no landing zone set up in advance for safetly like the medical calls I've been on. These guys doing everything possible to get you as close to the moose as they can even if that means a river bank in six feet of snow with spruce trees 20 feet away!
In many places the brown bears had a tough year with heavy rainfall causing the streams they fish to be deeper and full of mud and silt. It was fun to see them court each other and a bit nerve wracking the hear them huffing in the woods and listen to branches breaking with the occasional sight of a juvenile rushing past us followed by a larger male or female that wanted to rid the area of any competitors or distractions. One female who wasn't "in the mood" walked within 6-8 feet of us to avoid one of the biggest males I've seen yet. So he stood huffing and puffing about 100 feet away very unhappy that she was using us for "protection". I was glad to carry the .338 rifle and large can of pepper spray but some times it's just a bit close for comfort. Then there was a big sow with a yearling cub that was just like my nephews when they were younger. He kept testing us to see how much he could get away with. Unfortunately, he seemed to know that he had about 500lbs of back up if anything went wrong as his mother was never far away. So I'm standing there with visitors that I'm supposed to protect and he walks up within 20 feet with me telling him to go away and the large sow(his mother) about 35 feet away huffing and puffing trying to get him to come back to her but not having much luck. I love the job and moments like that are unforgettable but I'm constantly aware of the fact that nobody has ever had to shoot a bear there in over 40 years but there's a first time for everything and I don't want to be that guy does it because there would be a ton of media attention and possibly a career ending decision. However, I'm not planning on ever being killed or disfigured either. The good news is I've gotten very good at judging bear behavior and 20 years in EMS has taught me that constantly running crisis rehearsal situations in my head allow me to remain calm when bears are close and agitated. I invested in a new camera this year and I was able to get some amazing shots which I hope to add soon.