Editorial: Thar be Dragons!

Trent Ernst

It’s not a new conversation, but I’ve had it with so many people lately.

Here’s how it goes (or a variation there-of).

“Man, it’s beautiful out there. I think I might go hiking this weekend.” This is me, obviously. While I am no Kevin or Charles, I do like exploring this area, and try and go hiking as much as possible.

“I would love to go out hiking, but I’m scared of bears.” This is any one of a number of other people I’ve spoken to over the last month. While the words aren’t always the same, the idea behind the words is: I’m scared of bears.

The wilderness can be a dangerous place. I’m not going to mince words. The wilderness is full of things that can and, if you’re not paying attention, will kill you. If you want to be regaled with stories about creative ways people can die outdoors, I invite you to come in and have a conversation with our publisher.

However, the truth is that everywhere is dangerous: outdoors. Indoors. The wilderness. The city.

Let’s look at bears specifically, though. Since the year 2000, 36 people have been killed by bears in North America. 36 people in 13 years. That’s an average of less than three people a year.

Now don’t get me wrong, anyone getting killed by bears is a bad scene, but to put that in perspective, last year alone, 450 people in the US died falling out of bed.

You catch that? 450 people vs three. That’s a factor of nearly 1500 times more people dying falling out of bed than getting killed by a bear. And that’s just the figures for the US.

You want to fear an animal? Fear ants. Yes, ants. Those tiny little buggers kill an average of thirty people a year. Or fear cows. 22 people a year are killed by cows. Or better yet, fear deer. Every year, 130 people are killed by deer.

This latter stat is interesting. No, these aren’t deer stalking you through the forest, waiting for the perfect moment to pummel you with their tiny hooves. Not that this hasn’t happened, but nearly all the people killed by deer were killed when the deer came through the windshield of the car.

Cars should be positively terrifying. Forget deaths per year. There are more people killed in North America A DAY then are killed by bear in a decade. According to Wikipedia (the arbiter of all knowledge true and accurate), on average about 89 people a day were killed in car crashes in the US alone in 2011, and that’s down from 1979.

Okay, you say, but you’re not factoring in scale. How many people drive cars vs go for hikes? Good question. So, let’s look at one metric. Every year, about 100,000 people hike the Grouse Grind, making it possibly the most popular trail in BC. The number of people who have been killed by bear hiking the Grouse Grind? Zero.

According to ICBC, per 100,000 population (not driving population, mind you, this is everybody), each year there are about 10 people killed.

Not a fair metric you say? No Grizzly bear in North Vancouver, you say? Okay then, let’s look a little farther north.

The Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park is easily one of the most popular trails in the Rocky Mountains. Each year, more people hike it than hike any trail in Jasper National Park next door. Some people just go for the day; others spend a few days or a week exploring. This is Grizzly Country. As the crow flies, Mount Robson is only about 280 kilometres south and east of Tumbler Ridge.

Over the course of a year, about 15,000 people hike the trail. Which means that we have to wait seven years before our base line 100,000 people have hiked the trail. Let’s make it ten, just for the sake of round figures.

And in the last ten years, in the heart of Grizzly Country, how many people have been killed by Grizzly in Mount Robson Provincial Park? “Zero,” says BC Parks area supervisor Wayne Van Velzen.

How many people have been attacked? Again, says Van Velzen, zero. “By far the most dangerous part of a backcountry trip is driving here.”

Speaking of which, let’s look at our driving metric. Because over the past ten years, about a hundred people of our original 100,000 people have been killed by cars.

I’m not trying to scare you out of driving. I love driving. I wrote a series of books called the backroad mapbooks, for goodness sake. I’m just trying to show you that your fear is misplaced. I’m not saying not to be careful. You take precautions when you drive, by wearing a seatbelt, by making sure the tires aren’t worn.

So to, you should take precautions in bear country. Wear a bell. Bring pepper spray. Hike in a group. But you’d never choose not to drive because it’s too dangerous. So why are you scared of the backcounty? You’re missing so much of the beauty that surrounds us here.