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FOREST INK: Documentray describes tree-planters lives through loyal dogs

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Williams Lake Tribune and Quesnel Observer. (File photo)

Jim Hilton

Special to the Tribune

I recently heard an interview with filmmaker Everett Bumstead about his new film Block Dog which was made near Quesnel. As described in the trailer, the documentary explores the lives of tree planters in B.C. through the eyes of their loyal dogs, and can be streamed now on CBC Gem.

One of the tree planters credits his dog with saving him from serious injury when he was attacked by a bear while others cherish the keen senses of their canine companions with preventing encounters with many wild animals. I found the interview interesting since I have been reviewing three used books about interactions with bears.

I recommend two of the books to anyone wishing to feel more comfortable in the woods by learning how to avoid and deal with black, grizzly and polar bear encounters.

Authors Erin McCloskey and Stephen Herrero present both negative and heroic tales of interactions with bears by both weekend hikers as well as prospectors, hunting and fishing guides, mushroom pickers or anyone that has spent considerable time in the back country.

For anyone like tree planters looking for the right canine companion, I recommend Bear Attacks II Myth and Reality by James Gary Shelton.

The author has done a lot of research on bear habits as well as teaching a wide variety of people wanting to learn more about minimizing harm from bear encounters. While having dogs as companions in the woods is controversial (especially small dogs not on leash) the authors conclusion is the following.

“The number of people injured or killed by a bear while accompanied by a dog is extremely small compared to the number of people saved by a dog from injury or death.” He then goes on to give more details about proper selection and training of a working dog which is essential for the safety of the dog and its owner. He describes five different ways dogs are used against bears, 1. keeping bears away from a home, 2. defending livestock against bears. 3. hunting bears. 4. for bear avoidance and defence and 5. hazing bears out of parks or other high people use areas.

As you would expect, selecting the right breed depends on the desired task with setters, pointers, retrievers, shepherds and collies being easier to train for some tasks while other breeds are better for defence. Some of the northern breeds like huskies, Siberians, malamutes and karelians are better for defence but are much harder to train because they are more independent and easily distracted by other small animals.

The author also goes into detail about the pros and cons of bear spray, noise makers, and fire arms which is beyond the scope of this article and points out some good resources for the serious outdoor person.

My take away from this information is that predators can be a threat anytime we encounter them, but I still want to enjoy the many wild areas in this province and will continue to stay alert and avoid those situations that will increase the risks of negative encounters.

READ MORE: Quesnel’s treeplanting life filmed in new dogumentary

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