Student - October 6, 2010

Into the wild – armed with pepper spray

Who: Anneloes Dijkstra, student of Regional Development and Innovation.
What: Research on the effectiveness of nature information through information notice boards, and of bear education.
Where: Montana, the United States.
Why: To make people more aware of nature and to show that it is possible to enjoy recreation in bear territory in safety.

28-Anneloes-rugzak.jpg
'I worked for a total of six months as a wilderness ranger for the US Forest Service. This organization uses flyers and information boards to try to make it clear to day trippers that, for example, it is better to carry pepper spray in bear territory than a pistol. Because an angry grizzly can be made even more aggressive by gunshots. On top of that, the grizzly is a protected species so in theory you are not allowed to shoot at it. So the solution is special pepper spray for use against bears.
The Forest Service also places information boards that tell people a bit about the interaction between various animals and plants in the area. Not many people know, for example, that pine cones are the grizzly bear's main food source. A species of beetle that is spreading feeds on the bark of the pine trees that produce these cones. This kills the trees and therefore poses a serious threat to the grizzly.
I studied data, but I interviewed people myself as well. You hang around information boards until someone finally comes along. One day I was just leaning against a tree, feeling bored, when I suddenly noticed it was full of fresh claw marks and hairs from a bear that had used the tree as a scratching pole. A few days earlier, a couple of kilometers from the spot where I was sitting, a man had been killed by a grizzly. That was really scary.
But that was not the scariest thing I experienced. One day I was out in the wilderness with two teammates when we suddenly heard a muffled thud. Then we heard lions growling and suddenly there were two mountain lions standing in front of us. Mountain lions are very timid and if you see one it is usually coming after you. I have never been so scared in my life and I grabbed my pepper spray straightaway. Luckily they skirted around us, giving us a wide berth.
'That was my second internship in Montana. I miss it now very badly: the friendly people, the nature, the animals. Everything is much bigger, more spectacular and spacious. Here it's so built-up everywhere, busy and stifling. In the winter over there you see more deer on the streets than people. It's a fantastic place!'

Re:act