Monday, June 04, 2007


This is a story about Butterscotch. Not the stuff you put on an ice cream sundae, but rather a bear. Not just any kinda bear, a Grizzley. It all began for me and the crew of Chopper 9 a couple of weeks ago in a town located at about the halfway point between Vancouver and the ski resort town of Whistler.
We had been called early to warn us of a possible mission to Squamish. It seems a bear had decided that after a long winters nap, some fixin's in the town was what a bear needed to get his "playin' weight up, so as the season progresses, he could play with the "lady" bears. The bear had wondered into town, and as it was garbage pickup day, scared the bejesus out of some poor schlep takin' out his trash. What made this unique was, this bear was a Grizzley Bear. There had not been a Grizzley sighting in the town for more that 10 years.

Our "mission" was to fly up to Squamish, and get some shots of this creature. The sighting was several hours old when we got the call, so seeing the beast would be slim at best. Kink and I did a couple of orbits around the directions we had been given, and decided to land at the airport and make some calls to the local Conservation Officer. We learned that we had been orbiting the wrong area,,, what else is new,,,,but were told that the officers were about to bait a live trap.
"Hold on" Kink said , "we'll be right there!"
We hopped a cab and went directly to the sight where the officers were getting the trap ready. I was able to get some good trap shots, the bait and of course the neighbourhood of which there was supposed to be much "fear and loathing". A quick clip with a Conservation Officer and we were on our way. It would make a quick buck thirty. (one minute, thirty seconds, for you who don't understand news-speak)

Chopper 9 at the Squamish Airport during our first Bear mission

As we flew off, I figured that this would be the last of my involvement in this story as the following day would demonstrate. A ground based crew was dispatched to do the follow up story.
The bear was sighted again on day two and just as our crew went to air, word that it had been hit by a tranquilizer dart from the business end of a Conservation Officer's rifle. Yes the town could breath easy now. Goldie Lockes would be safe. End of the story,,,,, No.

Again the call came early, another mission to the Squamish area. Seems the folks at the Conservation Office have invited us to see the release of the wayward bear into the wilderness. Damn, that would be cool. I have never in all the years of shooting had I seen the release of a bear. Hell, in all the years of shooting, I have never seen a bear let alone a Grizzley, in the wild. All I had to do now was to get to the airport as fast as I could as they were due to release the beast at around 10:30 am. It was now 8:40 and I was still 30 minutes away from the airport. To make the race even more interesting was four factors. One: The flight up to the release point would take more than an hour. Two: The only communication in the area we were going was by SAT phone. Three: Kink was taking a day off, so I would be working with our newly acquired flight reporter, Kate. And finally our pilot for the day was unfamiliar with the area. It could be a great story and a fun one to shoot to boot, or it could end in disappointment and well for lack of a better term, shame.

When we all had arrived at the hangar pretty much at the same moment, the situation looked good. We spooled up and we're on our way. The flight to our rendezvous was filled with a nervous excitement. We knew that we really, really wanted this. We also knew that our competitors didn't have it. Kate wanted to hit the long ball on one of her first missions. Guiv our pilot just wanted to get there without getting us lost. Yes there was tension that day my friends. I glanced at my watch, it would be close. We entered a valley with steep mountians on each side, following the river as directed. Guiv watching the GPS. We followed the road as far as it went, where were they? Had we passed them?
Another check of the watch, we are going to miss it, damn! I could sense Kate was on the edge of her seat. We turned around fuel was now a concern. We would have enough to get ourselves to the Squamish airport. I decided to call the desk and break the bad news when we landed.
Fergus our man on the desk and the person coordinating this mission told me that he had just got off the phone with the Conservation team. It seems they were delayed. He gives me their SAT phone number and we coordinate. After getting directions and comparing them to a topo map, it appears we had headed up the wrong valley where the river had split. On our second attempt we would not make that same mistake.

Chopper 9 and crew off for a second attempt to rendezvous with the release team

Finally we make visual contact with the release team on the ground. Guiv skillfully positions the aircraft for my best shots. The team on the ground flashes their emergency lights, indicating the release is imminent. I just hope my tape is rolling. I double check, they are both rolling.

With the trap in position, Conservation Officer, Dave with bean bag rifle in hand prepares to open the trap.

Then all at once, the bear is released. At first the beast pokes it's head out from the trap and looks around.
The bear taking its first tentative steps and casing his surroundings

Then seeing the coast is clear begins to walk, then stops, lingering to look at his former captors.

The moment just before he gets hit in the butt with a bean bag shot

Suddenly a well placed bean bag shot to the ass, gets old Butterscotch in a full run away from the trap and the release team. He sprints up the mountain looking back to see what just hit him.

Haulin' ass up the mountian

The officers fire a "whiz bang" over his head and he continues to get the hell out of Dodge. In a post release interview, the officers told us that they wanted to make the release and the bears encounter with man as "unpleasant" as possible so as to deter the bear from future encounters with people.

The bear gives the Helicopter the evil eye as I continue to roll tape

Having become bored with flying machines and the tasty creatures within, Mr. Bear begins his search for a stiff drink

One of the last looks before he went into the woods for good, we can only hope he'll keep out of trouble

The biologist on the release team told us that this bear had been tagged before. This was it's second release. The first time had been a year or so ago. His colleague's daughter had named the bear at the time "Butterscotch". So instead of a number on an ear tag, this bear had a name. The biologist had also hoped that Butterscotch would not return to the town, as it would likely mean the bear would be destroyed. His hope was he would become more interested in the Lady bears than easy food in the town.

The Grizzley Biologist, Dave the Conservation Officer and Kate during the post release interview. We had landed on a sand bar on the Elaho River some miles away from the release site.

Guiv our pilot, happy to have delivered us to the story.

Newest crew member Kate Gajdosik poses on the sand bar with the machine

It has been almost three weeks since the release. I have not heard of a Grizzley back in Squamish. Lets hope that Butterscotch is livin' large with the girls in the mountians.

It was a cool shoot.