Departments - Spring 1997
STOP, DROP AND ROLL
By Steve Wasylik
I was just coming through the office door when the phone started to ring. It was the secretary at the local RCMP detachment.
"Can you call the Girl Guide Camp? A women from the camp called saying that they're having a bear problem and need some help right away."
Next to a bear on a playground, a bear in a Girl Guide Camp could be pretty serious stuff.
I called the number and a very worried-sounding woman answered. "Thank God you called! We have a bear in our camp right now!"
I asked the woman if all the girls were safe and learned that some had run into their tents when the bear showed up and some had made it into the camp dining hall from where she was phoning. A couple of leaders were with the girls in the tents and it didn't look like the bear had any plans to leave in the near future.
"He's got hold of our compost box and has dragged it out into the middle of the camp and is eating it!"
I told the woman to keep all the girls inside and that I would be on my way as soon as I could load up a bear trap.
As I drove into the camp, several faces could be seen peering out from behind tent flaps on one side of a playground and from the windows of the dining hall on the other side of the playground. In the middle of the open area was a large chewed-up plastic box. The bear was nowhere to be seen. I got out of my truck and a woman came out of the dining hall to tell me the bear left shortly after I had spoken to her on the phone. He had gone out past the campfire circle and off into the trees. I went over to the area where the bear had disappeared into the dense timber. The lid to the compost box lay at the edge of the bush, punctured by the bear's teeth. The bear was gone for now. I returned to where I had left the woman standing.
"He seems to be gone for now, but he will likely come back later to see if there's anything else to eat and hopefully go into the trap."
Girl Guides of all shapes and sizes had now gathered around the woman, who was obviously the Guide leader. No one had been hurt but some of the girls had been scared by the sudden appearance of the bear.
The leader explained to me that they had been in camp for a week and had another week to go. They had started the compost box to show the girls how it would work.
"We never even thought about a bear coming," she told me in a worried tone.
They agreed to cancel the compost project until the bear was caught. I busied myself setting the trap with an audience of curious Girl Guides who all had questions about bears and bear traps. I heard several stories of bear encounters on family camping trips and at family cottages. Most of the girls said that they hadn't really been scared but agreed that it was always better to be in a building if a bear came along.
Setting the trap must have been boring because I soon stood alone with one Girl Guide and the leader.
"What should we do if the bear comes back?" the leader asked. Before I could answer the question the little Girl Guide answered and said, "You stop, drop, and roll."
Taken by surprise, I asked her to repeat what she had just said. "If a bear shows up you are supposed to stop, drop and roll to your tent.
I looked at the leader, trying to think of a polite way to tell her that the Girl Guide manual on bears needed an overhaul. I looked back at the Girl Guide, "I think you're supposed to do that if you catch on fire," I said.
"No, it's what you do when you see a bear!" my little expert replied in a tone that made it very clear that there wasn't much room for argument.
"What's your name", I asked.
"Amanda," was the reply.
I figured if I knew her name I could give some big-brother type advice.
"Amanda, if a bear comes around you really shouldn't stop, drop and roll. If you are on the ground you should just lie still until the bear goes away," I advised in my bear big brother-type voice.
"No," she replied firmly, "you have to stop, drop and roll. They taught us it in school!"
I looked towards the leader for help but she seemed to be more interested in kicking at a rock with the toe of her shoe than saving me from this pint-sized bear expert.
I finally said, "Amanda, I don't think you should do that. I work with bears all the time and I would never do it. You could get hurt, okay?"
Amanda looked me square in the eye and said, "I did it this time and the bear left me alone."
"How close to the bear were you, Amanda?" I asked as I could feel a headache starting.
"Pretty close," Amanda said. "Come here and I'll show you."
With this, Amanda took my hand and led the leader and me over to a trail near the tents.
"I was coming back from the outhouse and I saw the bear. He was over there, so I stopped walking and dropped onto the ground and rolled over to our tent."
The distance from where Amanda had been standing when she saw the bear to the remains of the compost box was about nine metres. It was another nine metres or so to the tent, over sticks, rocks and tree roots.
"You rolled all the way to the tent?" I said in disbelief.
"Yes!" she replied.
I walked toward the tent. On the ground was a trail of girl guide paraphernalia. A whistle, some string and a pencil. About halfway to the tent I found a blue hat with a bunch of artifacts sewn to it. I'd seen several of the other girls wearing similar hats around the camp.
"Amanda, is this your hat?" I asked.
"Yes. It fell off when I was rolling to the tent to get away from the bear."
I looked over at the leader who appeared to be just short of fainting.
"Amanda, please don't do that again," said the leader.
"But why not, the bear never got me?"
The leader looked at me for help. I was busy kicking at a rock with the toe of my boot. I knew I was never going to convince Amanda that you don't stop, drop and roll when you encounter a bear.
Steve Wasylik is a Conservation Officer at Castlegar, B.C.