About the Author: (also visit amazon.com/author/jamesgaryshelton )
Gary Shelton moved to the Bella Coola Valley on the remote Central Coast of British Columbia in 1965. Right from the beginning he had a keen interest in hunting and studying bears. Between 1965 and 1988, Gary worked in the forest industry, in construction, and operated a guide/outfitter business between 1985 and 1988. In all of the areas where he worked and pursued his hobbies were large numbers of grizzlies, black bears, wolves, and cougars.
In 1968, Gary began a systematic research project regarding bear behaviour and the evolutionary history of bears. By the late '80s, he'd had many close-range encounters with bears and began developing concepts pertaining to the different types of bear aggressive behaviours he had witnessed. By this time, many people on the Central Coast became aware that Gary had significant knowledge about bear behaviour, bear avoidance, and firearms defence against bears.
In the spring of 1988, the B.C. Ministry of Forests (MOF) sponsored a workshop in Victoria to create a bear aware program for government employees. Gary was asked by the operations manager at the Mid Coast District Office MOF to provide written information on the subject that could be presented at the meeting. When the operations manager returned, he told Gary that the five government biologists at the meeting had dismissed his material and that they had come to a consensus that bears were only aggressive towards people when a person makes a mistake, and what was needed was to teach field workers how to act appropriately around bears. The biologists also stated that firearms were not necessary and should be discouraged.
The results from the meeting left the MOF district staff feeling vulnerable and without support for their safety. Shortly thereafter, Gary was asked to develop a bear safety course for the district office personnel, as a private contractor, that emphasised bear aggressive behaviour, bear avoidance, firearms defence, and firearms safety procedures.
His first course in the fall of 1988 was a great success, and very quickly other organisations asked Gary to provide training for them as well. In the spring of 1989, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) sent 20 of their most experienced employees, who between them had had hundreds of encounters with grizzly bears, to be trained and to find out how much Gary knew on the subject. By 1990, Gary was travelling all over the province training personnel for MOF, DFO, BC Parks, logging companies, engineering firms, and many other groups. In that year, he also developed a course for people who do not carry firearms, based on pepper spray defence against bears.
In 1993, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans made Gary's training mandatory for all employees who do fish inventory creek walks. By the mid-'90s, other organisations had also developed policies that their employees must take the training. In 1997, Gary stopped providing live-fire range exercises because of the increasing cost of liability insurance, but his course continued to include his firearms defence information. By 2002, Gary had trained over 6,000 people how to survive bear and cougar attacks.
At the very beginning of Gary's training program he started conducting continuous research on bear encounter incidents and bear attacks. He discovered that the only human/bear events recorded in government statistics were those where a person is killed or injured bad enough to spend at least 24 hours in the hospital. He quickly recognised that the government data was only a small sample of the hundreds of interactions between people and bears that could provide an understanding of the complexities of bear aggressive behaviours.
Because Gary was conducting training in the area of North America with the highest bear attack rate and interacting with over 500 field personnel per year, he had access to large amounts of encounter and attack data that was uniquely available to only him.
Between 1994 and 2001, as Gary's training business expanded and grew, he published three books on the subject of his training: Bear Encounter Survival Guide (1994), Bear Attacks - The Deadly Truth (1998), and Bear Attacks II - Myth & Reality (2001). All three of these books were on the B.C. bestseller's list and have sold very well in Canada and the U.S. They contain the first ever published definitive description of the various types of bear aggression.
During the 1980s, a powerful movement started to develop throughout North America to protect bears from hunting and to develop bear management policies that would allow bear populations to return to historical levels. Throughout the 1990s, environmental groups put significant pressure on federal, provincial, and state governments to manage bears by these new concepts. Governmental policies resulted that are based on the belief that if people are educated on how to handle garbage and other attractants properly, and if people are taught how to act around bears, conflicts can be eliminated.
Unfortunately, humans have been locked into a competitive struggle with grizzlies, black bears, wolves, and cougars for thousands of years. Anytime humans stop using significant resistance against these other species, they will intrude into human use areas and fill the vacuum. In many areas of North America bears have moved into towns and cities. In those places where human food and garbage have been successfully eliminated from bears' access, and where bear populations have continued to rise unabated, bears have started entering homes. They must find food resources in their newly established habitat.
Since 1985, bear populations in most areas of North America and Europe have increased dramatically, and human/bear conflict has also increased as well. Between the '80s and the '90s, bear and cougar attacks more than doubled in B.C., even though the highest risk groups of people for attacks actually decreased their activities in the bush. There have also been predatory black bear attacks during recent years in Eastern Canada and in the Lower 48 states where none have happened before.
These circumstances simply mean that people will be encountering more bears near their homes and while working in the field. In addition, there is another important point to consider - it takes a long time for hunting to reduce bear populations, and a longer period of time for human activities to make most bears in an area afraid of people. But it only takes about 15 years for protected bears to lose their fear of people. We not only have more bears, but more bears that don't fear people. For a very long time, the increase of human activities in bear habitat was the main factor for human/bear conflicts. But now, the primary reason for the dramatic increase in conflicts is a direct result of increasing bear populations.
Because of the politics of bear management, much of the 'bear aware' material presently available places equal value on bears and people, and as a consequence, the survival strategies are watered down with passive concepts. Human safety and bear management must be completely separated into two bodies of information. The reason that Gary Shelton's training program became so successful in British Columbia was because the people who have the highest risk of bear attacks demanded it, and because Gary's material places human safety ahead of all other considerations.