For the past 5 weeks I’ve been on medical leave. My sore and tired back that I’ve been struggling with all summer gave up one day at the end of August. I woke up and couldn’t walk, sit, or stand. What I could do was lay on my couch or the living room floor. For any of you who have ever had a lower back disc injury, you’ll understand when I say this has been the most pain I’ve experienced in my life. Now that I’m able to sit for almost three hours (!) and stand for nearly two hours (!), I’m starting to feel a bit more like myself… although there is still quite a journey ahead.
Spending all day, every day on my couch, watching netflicks or cuddling my cats or staring at the wall has given me a bit of time to reflect but also to take a step back from all of my work and see how it’s doing on its own.
Results can be shared anytime
A couple of weeks after my medical leave began, I was scheduled to present my research results in my hometown of Canmore. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I’d be physically able to stand by then, but a great physio can make all the difference in life. This community presentation was part of a grant from the Banff Community Foundation that I received in partnership with CPAWS Southern Alberta. Throughout this research, I’ve maintained that public education and awareness is a huge part of bear management. I see sharing my research results and its implications for daily life of residents in the Bow Valley as part of my responsibilities as a bear ecologist.
When I had originally planned the presentation, I thought I would have some newer results to present. But a busy field season and medical leave meant that I didn’t have anything that new. No matter. The show must go on! So I presented the same results that I had been presenting at conferences in the spring and that was fine. I realized that even though it wasn’t new information to me, it was new information to the 60 people who came to the talk. The discussion after the talk was great and I was reminded what I great and engaged community I live in.
The talk was co-hosted with Wildsmart and recently they posted a recording of it. You can listen to the talk online if you missed it or you can see a selection of the slides I used here: Public Presentation Canmore_Sept15_slides for web
A couple of weeks before my presentation, I met with some students from the University of Waterloo who were doing a survey of bear researchers managers in the area. I was accompanied to that meeting by Mike Gibeau, a bear researcher who has been working in this area for decades. In that conversation, we discussed all kinds of research pertaining to bear habitat use – some of it stretching back to late 1990’s. The interesting thing about that research from the late 90’s is that it’s still relevant and important and shapes how we see bear habitat use and management. It reinforced in me the need to make sure my research is robust and meaningful, because that’s how it survives the decades and is most useful. After my presentation in Canmore, I really felt like I was on the right track… even if my back is throwing a bit of a revolution…
Sometimes you can’t know what you’re doing will work. But it will… eventually
In my past life, I was the Conservation Director for CPAWS Southern Alberta. I worked on many different projects over my 4 years with CPAWS SAB – one of them was campaigning for protection of the Castle Special Place in the south west corner of Alberta. Campaigning for the Castle took many forms over those years – from multi-stakeholder meetings to protests to helicopter flights with the Minister to working with local residents to generating public outcry. The Castle campaign, which had already been running for more than 30 years when I showed up, taught me a lot about determination and never giving up.
A week after my back injury, I received an email from a colleague telling me it was finally happening. The Castle was going to be a Park. I cried and poured a well deserved glass of wine. Even though I was in pain, I managed to get a ride down to the press announcement and it was amazing!! I’ve never seen so many conservationists happy in one room at one time. I wrote an article about it all here.
What struck me about the Castle announcement was not only how it happened, but how many people it took over 4 decades to make it happen. While I wasn’t the working for CPAWS SAB when it finally happened, the work I did with the communities and stakeholders was part of the success behind that campaign. It took several years for the work I did to take hold, but it did, and now Alberta has a new Park.
It takes many chefs in the kitchen to cook a great meal
One of things that really struck me with both the Castle and Alberta’s grizzly bears is that it’s never just me working hard, and if it was things wouldn’t happen in the same way or as quickly. Conservation is hard and it takes teams of people to make anything meaningful happen. One of the reasons for that has become apparent to me with this injury – when I’m on the side lines it’s important that other people are there to carry the work forward. And I’ll do the same when they have to sit out for whatever reason.
One of the challenges my intern had this year was that there was too much working with people. He wanted to be working with bears more. The reality is that conservation is ALL about working with people. People are the ones who have the impact but are also the solution to all of our environmental woes.
This week I feel thankful and honoured to be part of a movement of millions of people around the world, thousands of people in Canada, and hundreds of people in Southern Alberta who are making Parks and working everyday to protect grizzly bears and their habitat.