The Bear Blog with Chris Morgan follows the journey of Chris and his crew during the production of NATURE’s Bears of the Last Frontier, coming in 2011. To learn more about this project, check out the Bear Blog introduction video.
By Dean Cannon, Assistant Producer
Clear blue skies greet us today! Anchorage is a cool place, but the Alaska we’ve come to see is around the first bend of Turnagain Arm. Today is a stunner of a day. A lady tells us May has already seen better weather than the entire summer of 2008. As we round the first turn on Highway 1 to Homer, the clear Arctic sky has not a single cloud to put these gigantic mountains into perspective. That job was left to the tiny little RVs trundling at the water’s edge. Four hours into the drive and the still active Mt. Redoubt gives us a glimpse of Earth’s fury below. Looking like a conical hat, it steams silently some 60 miles across hazy Cook Inlet. At the third and last pull-out for miles, we all decided to stop and take pictures. Joe’s left hand is balancing all our cameras while he attempts to shoot with his right hand. It’s a consequence of being the only award-winning cinematographer in our van…
Tomorrow, I drive back to Anchorage. My shoot there deals with problem bears in the city limits. I will be looking for bears milling around houses, rutting through dumpsters and generally being themselves: the bears gone wild of Anchorage. I am really excited to do this, but it dawned on me today I have never seen a bear up close and personal. I’ve also never been around an animal that could eat me. It seems like a good time to ask Chris a few questions. Joe is looking for his coffee grinder. Man, I hope he finds it…
Best Jobs In Town?
On the first day of my shoot, I get the feeling Anchorage doesn’t have a problem with wildlife at all. Many tell me that wildlife make Anchorage the great place to live that it is. Thousands are attracted to the outdoor lifestyle and make the move to the last frontier state on that point alone. I find this easy going way with nature my first day filming a ride-along with Rick and Jessy of the Anchorage Fish and Game. Rick and Jessy are the wildlife “first responders” for Anchorage. Prior to the creation of Rick’s post in 2006, the only option was the Anchorage Police Department. Untrained and unprepared, APD officers were left with little choice but to put down any problem wildlife that posed even the slightest threat. Today a patrol car recognizes Rick’s truck and tells us a moose and calf trotted away from the school ballpark where a large group of people was having a barbeque in the late evening light. It smelled great to me — I wonder what it smells like to a grizzly bear… I have the feeling Rick and Jessy have the best jobs in town. They aren’t holed up in an office all day and get to meet new folks at every turn. The job does not come without controversy, however, as we will see in the film. And today they are getting absolutely ravaged by mosquitoes. Somehow they don’t even flinch. I’m slapping so much I can hardly hold the camera straight! Curse my English blood… They are biting through my Gortex.
The first call of the day was of a young bear “hanging out” on a neighbor’s porch somewhere in Anchorage. The bear had been there two days now and Rick told me this usually means there is a reason for it hanging around. When we arrive at the house, Rick soon discovers what has attracted the bear. A double barrel mistake is committed. The homeowner had left sugary bird feeders up after the April deadline. A forgotten bag of fatty nutrient rich bird seed lay spilled all over the back porch. Bird seed is to bears what candy is to trick-or-treaters. Rick tries chasing the bear away from the porch by shouting, “Shoo bear! Go bear!” But the young black bear is more confused than anything else. He tries waiting us out by climbing a tree. Funny, he almost looks like a giant koala. From the tripod, I film the bear through the zoom lens as he pants in the midday heat. Tired of hanging on, the bear jumps down and takes off into a neighbor’s yard. “I think he’s getting annoyed with us,” says Rick. “Just watch where you are.” The bear leads us on a wild goose chase zipping in and out of backyards. For having such a cumbersome frame the bear is surprisingly agile. Rick introduces himself to half a dozen neighbors as we chase it back into the forest.
At the sixth house, we have it cornered. It goes behind a garden shed. Slowly, we approach, but it’s gone! Surely we would have seen it? It isn’t long before the bear is back gorging on the birdseed; no doubt replacing the energy it had used to elude us. Rick changes tactics now. Soon kids will be filling the streets from a nearby school. Picking up an old broom, Rick bangs on the wooden porch to get the bear to bolt. I find a good camera angle at the bottom of the stairs, and just then the bear makes a bluff charge. The camera is steady but my knees are knocking! “You may want to get out of there, Dean,” Rick says. A second later, I’m behind Rick getting another angle. Two minutes ago this bear was a cute little yearling black bear with sleepy eyes and a drooling, cuddly expression. Now it is a cornered wild animal. The bear bolts back up into the tree and hisses as Rick picks up the bag of birdseed.
Rick tickets the homeowners for attracting the bear. “Being so near a school, you’d think they would know better,” he says as he fills out the fine. So this is what helps to create problem bears, not the forest after all…
Find out what happens on the next leg of the crew’s journey next week on the Bear Blog with Chris Morgan.
Dean Cannon has been traveling and working around the world since leaving his home in Arizona at age 19. Originally from England, Dean has worked from Akureyri, Iceland to Perth, Australia doing numerous jobs as a traveler. In 2002, Dean found his way into filmmaking while living in Japan. Two months after arriving there he found work as a soundman on a documentary shoot in Africa. After working on many film and television projects, Dean joins the crew of Bears of the Last Frontier as assistant producer and 2nd camera.
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