Remembering Dawn

This week's local paper in the Canadian Rockies was awash with bad news for our struggling wildlife: a rare female wolverine killed on Highway 93S in Kootenay National Park, a young male grizzly bear run over at night on Highway 68 in Kananaskis Country, an adult male black bear shot in downtown Canmore, and a young black bear hit by a train in Yoho National Park.

Perhaps fitting, then, that today marks the first anniversary of the magical morning that wildlife photographer Cai Priestley and I spent with a female grizzly bear and her two yearling cubs in a late spring snowfall one year ago near Lake Louise.  Less than 48 hours later, Dawn, the mother grizzly, was dead, hit by a Canadian Pacific train only a few kilometers from where Cai and I had photographed her, leaving her tiny cubs to fend for themselves in a landscape rife with hazards.

Dawn with her two cubs on May 27th, 2011 near Lake Louise in Banff National Park

I would like to think that her death was not in vain; after all, the incident got press all over the world and led to major news programs like CBC's The National covering the story and discussing concerns with the section of Canadian Pacific track that knifes through the heart of Banff National Park.  Dawn's photo graced the cover of national magazines like Canadian Geographic and the controversy over her death eventually led in part to a number of research studies that began this spring to address the issue of bear-wildlife-train conflicts in Canada's first national park.

Dawn playing with one of her cubs

On a more personal level, Cai and I launched a Facebook group, Save Banff's Wildlife, to keep interested parties up to speed on the fight to keep our mountain national parks a refuge for wildlife rather than a sinkhole. We were both really encouraged to see the response and felt like we were getting somewhere with our conservation efforts.

Yet when we have weeks like last week where wildlife carnage seems to be the order of the day in our Rocky Mountain national parks, it quickly seems as if nothing's changed.  Dawn is dead, and other animals continue to follow in her footsteps at an alarming rate. I begin to question myself, as do my friends and colleagues, wondering if we're actually making any difference at all.

But then, last night, a ray of hope emerged from the shadows. A text arrived from a Parks' friend.  It was short and sweet, saying simply, "They're alive!"

And just like that, I remembered Dawn and I remembered exactly what I'm fighting for -- two young, beautiful cubs.

Dawn's cubs have survived the winter.  Now let's hope they can navigate the coming summer.

Happy shooting everyone.


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