Category Archives: a few observations…

Courting Controversy & Marrying Compromise

This week, police officers in the City of Toronto shot a sick coyote.  There was a hue and cry about it from many areas and these vociferous arguments appealed to the basest instincts in the animal versus humanity dichotomy: anthropomorphism, concepts of value relative to human versus animal life, and some abstract concept of kinship with wildlife.

A June photo of the coyote in question. Photo lifted from
A June photo of the coyote in question. Photo lifted from

Most of it was bunk.

You see, per the media narrative, this coyote was a ‘single father’ raising three pups after his companion female coyote met her demise under the wheels of a car. This coyote’s death put the orphaned pups in danger (presumably more danger than they already were in as simply being urban coyotes), and the Toronto Wildlife Centre came to the fore in their objections to this course of action, making arguments that stray domestic animals were more harmful than this solitary coyote, that a coyote had only once been documented to ‘nip’ a person in Toronto, and that they themselves could have undertaken the humane treatment and rehabilitation of this heroic animal (although there was no indication, at least in the media, that they had actually attempted said treatment program, even though they admitted that they had been to the den of this coyote).

The theme is all too common.  The abstract and presumed well-being of wildlife being secondary to some ‘what-if’ scenario involving injury, inconvenience, or danger to a human population.  The coyote just wants to ‘live’ while humanity is the intruder in the animal’s domain.  Who is the real animal in this equation?

Et cetera, et cetera.

To put a finer point on this, let’s just do a thought experiment.  Imagine if you will, a member of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, or any other member of the public for that matter, attending the pup-laden den of said coyote w3ith nothing but good, helpful intentions.  Then the father coyote shows up.  Would there be hand-wringing and debate on the part of the coyote about the appropriate course of action, or debates about the merits of the intentions of the human, or would there be a reaction to defend the den and his offspring?  I can say with at least some degree of certainty (having been in reasonably close quarters with coyotes) that they can be vicious and dangerous when faced with survival situations, and while they are supremely adapted and bafflingly clever, they are still wildlife with instincts prone to defense of territory, defense of offspring, and defense of food.  It is presumable that the intruder in the den might face a sobering situation, and concepts of humane treatment or the abstract details of the human’s life likely would not enter the coyote’s frame of reference.

Who’s being anthropomorphic now?

Of course, that we can have debates about humane practice at all truly crystallizes the fundamental difference between the animal and human experience.  Observations of coyotes has shown me that they can do some basic planning, they can do some basic problem solving, and their will to live and ability to adapt is second to very few other native animals in Ontario.  But they are not rational, they are not erudite, they do not do math, and they are single-minded in one thing: survival.

And on the topic of survival, it is very likely plausible that an animal in such wretched shape could only have survived that long in an urban environment with access to human-generated food sources; severe mange of the kind seen on the coyote in question is a near-certain death sentence to truly wild coyote.  Again, the coyote apologists would use the stock answer of that being at least a ‘natural death’ with seemingly little concern for the suffering endured by the animal.  Also, and I’ve always stated this with conviction, a slow, potentially agonizing death, is still a death.  That it is caused ‘naturally’ by the chill of a vicious January night on a mangy coyote’s body or ‘unnaturally’ by the bullet from an urban police officer really has little bearing on the final outcome.

So here I am, walking that dangerous and controversial line between the rationalist viewpoint that in terms of safety and what could nebulously be termed ‘the greater good’ having a mange-riddled coyote that is attempting to support pups wandering and hunting through urban and suburban Scarborough is probably a bad idea.  At the end of the day I can understand, if not outwardly support the actions of the officers in this scenario.  A more impulsively misanthropic sentiment in me does somewhat lament that the situation has come to this, and I can certainly sympathize with the predicament the coyote (and less outwardly relatable wildlife like skunks, raccoons, squirrels, and possums) found itself in.  As someone raised with a lifelong conservation ethic, I never want to see the waste of wildlife.

But this is also time to consider the behaviour of people, and what the hue and cry (not to mention the legal and social ramifications) that would appear if said coyote had injured a person, or done worse than injure a person.  Would an angry populace be so ‘humane’ had it been a more violent scenario, such as the one from Cape Breton in 2009?

Of course there are stock responses for that argument as well from apologists.  That was an isolated incident.  That was the fault of people for not giving wildlife respect/a wide berth. That was a rogue animal.  People (whatever that means) deserve aggression or should expect animals to ‘fight back’…as though animals know there is even a fight happening, as opposed to just acting on instinctual behaviours.

Et cetera, et cetera.

Of course the fundamental issue with these arguments is that, like it or not, at the most base and primal level, human life is more valuable than animal life.  It is a fairly recent, and probably impermanent paradigm, and most certainly not to be taken on a case by case basis (because there are several thousand people that I find less enjoyable than I find a wild turkey or a white-tailed deer) but on the overall balance.  We often hear that when it comes to drug use, car accidents, preventable diseases, and the like that ‘one person’s death is one too many’, and without a hint of apology I stand by this ethic when it comes to wildlife encounters at large.  Essentially I adhere to the following principal: If an animal can kill you back, and you are not being reckless or unnecessarily provoking to the animal, then I’m okay with people taking reasonable steps to end the animal before it has the opportunity to end you.  This is not radical thinking.  It is pragmatic and realistic. I personally am not some callous, gun-toting hillbilly that shoots every animal he sees on sight, but even if I were, that would not be germane to the greater argument surrounding this specific scenario in Scarborough, because the argument is about whether the coyote should live at the potential future risk to the people in that area at large.

I have seen many coyotes from afar that were simply doing ‘coyote things’ like hunting, travelling between territories, and generally doing a good job surviving.  I had no desire to shoot those specimens.  If I saw one in my backyard, acting erratically, sniffing around my door, or looking either sick and/or aggressive, then that’s a different set of circumstances and I would want to be granted (as I would grant any individual or agent of the state, like say, police officers) the liberty to handle the situation in a proactive manner.

Because it is not just hunters, conservationists, and animal rights activists that get a say here.  It is people at large and how they view interaction with all levels of wildlife that are required to make their own ethical decisions; decisions which often compromise some level of their personal ethical integrity.

Because even though the situation in Scarborough ended with the black and white choices of life or death for that coyote, the grey areas in urban wildlife management policy, the inevitable reliance on the almighty dollar, humanity’s occasionally misrepresented beliefs about animal behaviour, and our modern view of human-wildlife interactions informed the preamble to that final, some might say inevitable, outcome.

A Few Observations About Squamish

As the alarm buzzed in my room at 4am last Tuesday morning, I had a brief flashback to turkey season.  That was, after all, the last time I’d been up at such an hour.  But this was not turkey season, and this was not hunting related.  I was preparing to catch a flight to Vancouver, and a few hours later I was chasing the dawn westward at 800 kilometers per hour and 11,000 meters in the sky.  Later I’d hop in a rental car and climb Highway 99 into the mountains as I made my way to the town of Squamish BC.

After the soul-crippling experience of driving through metropolitan Vancouver, I broke out of the concrete and glass jungle and began ascending the winding road to Squamish.  Here’s what I learned while I was there.

Squamish is Beautiful
Yep, no bones about it.  It’s a lovely little town.  Situated in just a very nice little spot on an inlet and surrounded by peaks on three sides (including the looming Mount Garibaldi) and the ocean on the other Squamish is as picturesque as can be.  On my first day there it was beautiful, the second it rained, the third it was beautiful, and on the last it rained.  Apparently that’s how Squamish works.
Squamish is Full of Nice People
I did not meet a single negative or unpleasant person in my whole tenure there.  The server at the Timberwolf Restaurant where I ate most meals, Vicki I believe, was as ebullient a person as I’ve ever met, but without a hint of insincerity.  The staff of the office that I was working out of had nothing but positive energy and advice for me: where I ought to eat, where I ought to go running, and where I should buy a home when I inevitably decided that I was going to move to Squamish.
People in Squamish Didn’t Seem to Care for Hunting
Squamish is billed as the “outdoor recreation capital of Canada” however in that definition I believe they are speaking of skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and fly-fishing.  I got some clucked tongues and that “you’re so misguided” look of disapproval from the locals when I had the temerity to group myself (as a hunter) in with the rest of the outdoor recreationalists.  No arguments or debates, just a benignly assured stance (at least from those I spoke with, which I understand is far from the majority) that hiking was fine, hiking with a gun, not so fine.  Fair enough, because it is still a very pretty town and I don’t mind that people don’t always like hunting.
I Really Shouldn’t be Driving in Squamish (or anywhere else in BC for that matter)
As I said, it was raining on my last day there. A day coincidentally that I was required (if I was to catch my flight) to drive down the sea-side lane of the winding Sea to Sky highway (or in this case Sky to Sea?) in a west-coast downpour accompanied by gale force winds.  The speed limit down the mountainside was in the areas of 80 km/h but really only locals should be doing that; I’m far too incompetent and fearful of careening off the side of a mountain.   My apologies to the line of traffic that this reluctant (but legitimately impressed) tourist was responsible for.
While writing this on the return flight to Toronto (chasing nightfall this time) I realized that there were other observations I had made about Squamish…for example, while on a leisurely jog I noted that even though I was at elevation and the air was thinner, I was unfortunately not.  Or that the bear track I saw on the trail was connected to a bear paw somewhere that was much different than the deliciously addictive treat that I give on occasion to my two-year old son.  And so on with labored and not very funny observations.  I also noticed that the man next to me was my exact double, just fifteen years older.  Weird things sometimes happen on flights and I’m pretty sure he noticed it too.
As for Squamish, well…the client may even have me back, so if they do I promise that I’ll be right back on this laptop during the flight home noting all the other ways this charming little town surrounded by wilderness has beguiled me.  And if I win a lottery between now and then, I may even make it my permanent home (if Squamish would have me, that is.)

A Few Observations About Winnipeg

So I’m in the ‘Peg for a couple of days, and I thought I’d run down a few things that I’ve noticed and or seen while here.
The Red River
This is literally outside my door.  The hotel that I’m at is less than fifty steps from the Red River, which is all fine and dandy right now, but during flood season…well who knows?  Then again, I’m not here during flood season, as evidenced by the fact that I walked down to the banks (which in reality is just a shallow slope into the waters) and stood for a minute or two next to the quiet, stoic peacefulness of one of the nation’s iconic rivers.  As if through fate (but more likely through their sheer population density around here it seems) a group of ten or twelve Canada Geese paddled by.  It was nice and rather tranquil, so I lingered until they got up and flew a scant twenty feet over my head.
Related to the above point, there is an embarrassment of riches in the area as it pertains to waterfowl.  I’ve seen as many ducks and geese in two days here than I had in the past month in Cambridge.  Not surprising since I’m only about an hour or so away from Oak Hammock Marsh and some other prime wetlands that are (in a good way) basically duck factories.  Really makes me want to get out and get after them in a couple of week’s time.  SO that’s what I’ll do when the season opens.
Pizza Hotline
Apparently, so I’ve been told, if you dial 222-2222 here in town you get yourself connected to some kind of pizza-ordering hub.  I haven’t tried it but it is certainly tempting…and it sounds ingenious.
Wow…being here makes me feel like some kind of boorish urbanite.  You know what the speed limit is here?  70km/h in most places.  You know what everyone drives?  The speed limit.  It is disconcertingly refreshing.  I have not been cut-off, flipped-off, or tailgated once in two days.  I can’t go twelve-and-a-half minutes in Toronto (or Kitchener, for that matter) without two of those three things happening.  You could learn a lesson Ontario!  The hotel staff were actually apologetic that the spot I parked in wasn’t closer to the entryway.  I got in here at 9pm!  If this were Mississauga, I’d have had a better chance of finding a parking spot on the moon at a hotel that late.  I have an instant love for Winnipeg’ers.
Everyone I’ve talked to here has a “close call with a whitetail” story.  I guess they just kind of hang out around the outskirts of town here and hurl themselves at cars.  They are like the Steve-O’s of Manitoba (wow, what an obscure and dated reference…)
Cheap Gas
This alone is almost enough to make me move out here permanently.  Now ‘cheap’ is a relative term, I know, and yes it is a sad, sad, unbelievably sad state of affairs when I comment that $1.12/litre is a bargain, but that is a full seventeen cents cheaper than it is every day in Cambridge.  And that is the price of gas out here.  I nearly defecated myself with joy when I saw that price.  I can’t even do the conversion for any of my American readers but trust me, when you live where I do…this is cheap gas.  And they even pump it for you with no premium!  Full serve and self-serve cost exactly the same (at least at the station I popped into)…Unheard of!
Of course there is so much more that Winnipeg could offer, but I’m only here for a couple of days.  When I’m back, I’ll post on some further thoughts.

A Few Observations About North Carolina

So I’m in Raleigh-Durham for a week as part of training for my “real job”, and since I’ve been here a couple of days I’ve made a few observations about North Carolina.  Not all of them are hunting related, but they are all positive as far as I’m concerned.
  1. Everything here (aside from breakfast) comes with a side of regular potato chips.  This is good.
  2. They like BBQ here.  How much, you ask?  So much that in the Raleigh-Durham Airport they have a real BBQ pit.  None of this cafeteria food nonsense you find in other airports, I’m talking authentic, grilled meat.  When I got off the plane and into the airport, the first thing I could smell was ribs.  Need I say more?
  3. They have a lot of deer here.  I’ve seen them and the locals have been telling me about them.
  4. The above-mentioned deer will live anywhere.  There are four of them living (apparently) in a fifty yard wide, three hundred yard long strip of forest bordered on one side by a highway and on the other side by two hotels.  Safe from hunters, yes.  Safe from Windstars, who knows?
  5. When the people here ask what you do for a hobby and you tell them hunting or fishing, it seems that you automatically become their good friends.  This is also very nice.  I have had three invites to come back in the fall for deer hunting, but I’m pretty sure I won’t make it back (although I’d really, really like to) and one guy give me the actual GPS coordinates for his camp if I ever want to do some turkey or deer hunting.  One word: awesome.
  6. They really like college basketball here, and apparently there are some serious, serious rivalries.  Leafs vs. Canadiens is apparently a child’s tea-party compared to UNC vs. Duke.  Just saying.
  7. It is bloody hot here.  And humid.  The A/C in my room was broken on Sunday night, and it was (no joke) 32 degrees Celsius in my room all night.  If there was ever a time I wished I could sleep while levitating over the sheets, this was it.  A/C is fixed now, so I’m comfy again…
  8. In the same vein as #5, everyone here has been friendly, (almost too) accommodating, and really genuinely welcoming of this bewildered and lost Canadian.  For that, I thank you North Carolina.
So there you have it readers, my take on North Carolina.  Yes, I’ve only seen a very small fraction of the state, and yes, I’m sure it isn’t all sunshine and lollipops all the time, but I really like it here.  I’d stay forever and hunt here (if I could) but eventually I’ll have to ship out from the Tar Heel State.  But someday I’ll be back and I hope to have my turkey calls in tow.