It’s March 11 and the -19 degree weather is making Cochrane, Alta a frigid town. But inside the cozy Cochrane RancheHouse, the Cochrane Ecological Institute’s 2nd annual symposium Finding Common Ground is underway.

Ken Weagle, director of the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI) stands tall and sturdy with a snow white beard and kind eyes. The institute plays an important role in conservation through animal rehabilitation and reintegration with research into what Weagle calls non-intrusive monitoring techniques. UAV monitoring is commonly used to better understand the population and habitat use by various species through the use of drones. According to Weagle, the drone can be hand-launched and is equipped with autopilot as well as thermal infrared photography and video.

Together Weagle and his wife, Clio Smeeton run CEI. In addition to animal rehabilitation initiatives, they also run educational components for primary and secondary school children and field station programs for students from 51 institutions worldwide.

As Weagle introduces speakers of the symposium, he explains this event is yet another way CEI is providing educational opportunities. “We put on this symposium as a way of examining different approaches to environmental issue decision making, because a lot of people stand around and talk and spin their wheels and nothing much gets done,” Weagle says.

The speakers range from authors such as Dr Mark Winston and Sharon Butala to conservationists like Mike McIntosh. It covers a variety of topics like clean technology, the illegal wildlife trade in Morocco, the importance of bees and rescuing injured and orphaned black bears.

Sharon Butala, author of 18 books, captivates audiences all over the country with her stories about the ranchlands of southwest Saskatchewan. Photo by Logan Peters

According to Weagle, they have rehabilitated over 18 black bears and released them back into the wild in the past. Unfortunately, due to a relatively new feature on their permit, they can no longer have black bears at the institute. “Alberta Fish and Wildlife continue to insist that they don’t want it to happen and then they don’t pay for this rehabilitation,” Weagle says.

Linda Munroe is a volunteer for the Cochrane Ecological Centre’s, Finding Common Ground symposium, and does her part by handing out these numbered balloons for a raffle. Photo by Logan Peters

The large crowd sits in quiet anticipation as McIntosh from the Bear With Us Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Centre in Ontario relays his bear release videos to the auditorium. The videos showed healthy and plump black bears released back to the wild with McIntosh and volunteers making loud noises to scare them away in order to prevent them from being comfortable around humans.

Unfortunately, bears are not safe from hunters in their natural environments. According to McIntosh bears are all different- yet they are all portrayed as loud, scary and dangerous in the media. He reiterated the point that bears do not growl, “happy bears are quiet bears,” McIntosh says.

Near the end of McIntosh’s presentation, he pulls out a large black garbage bag. He demonstrates to the crowd how to ward off a bear by opening the bag, allowing the air in, and then waving it up and down quickly. He says that bears are afraid of what they don’t understand and garbage bags not only come in handy for picking up hiker’s garbage, they are also useful for protection.

McIntosh adds rehabilitators can help share the message about the animals they help and potentially reduce the number of animals that need to be rehabilitated.

“People grab a camera and take a picture of a deer, but when they see a bear, it’s quite often they grab something else that shoots.”

lpeters@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this story is Brandon Tucker | btucker@cjournal.ca