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Charlie Russell, ‘Bear’s Best Friend’ R.I.P.

YEAR END–CALGARY HERALD.: JULY 26, 2013 — Charlie Russell, a Canadian naturalist has studied the relationship between humans and grizzly bears for many years. He is pictured at his home in Calgary, Alberta on July 25, 2013.
Photo by Leah Hennel/Calgary Herald
(For City story by TBA).                                            The son of renowned conservationist Andy Russell and wife Kay (nee Riggall), and grandson of the famous pioneer outfitter and naturalist Bert Riggall and wife Dora (nee Williams), Charlie was literally born and raised to be a leader in wildlife conservation. As youngsters, Charlie and his brothers roughed it through Canada and Alaska in 1960 to assist Andy Russell with his groundbreaking film, Grizzly Country. After studying photography in New York, Charlie took up ranching on the family place, Hawk’s Nest, in the heart of southwest Alberta grizzly country. More and more of his time was devoted to conservation issues such as the Waterton Biosphere Reserve initiative, but the closest thing to his heart was defending bears, for as this bear of a man once growled, “If it hurts the bears, it hurts me.” Eventually, he decided to give up ranching and devote himself to disproving two myths then prevalent in our times: “1. that bears are unpredictable and 2. that they are inherently dangerous if they ever lose fear of people.” His researches led in the 1990s to a 13-year period of living in close proximity with wild grizzly bears and Kermode (black) bears on Princess Royal Island and Khutzymateen, BC, and then Kamchatka, Russia. In Russia he and then partner, the artist Maureen Enns, were instrumental in funding an anti-poaching program and creating a Brown (grizzly) bear sanctuary centered on a cabin they built on Kambalnoye Lake on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Charlie obtained a number of orphaned brown bear cubs from the Russian authorities, taught them to fish for char, defended them from predators and successfully got them into hibernation. These efforts resulted in documentary films with PBS and BBC and a number of books, including Grizzly Seasons. Charlie was heartbroken in 2002 when he discovered the bears he had protected were slaughtered by poachers while he and Maureen were back in Canada, fund-raising. More recently, challenged by old-school biologists who questioned his methods, he concentrated on convincing the public that” …the problem is with us, not the bears.” His work and example has shifted the public perception of bear human interactions more towards Charlie’s point of view, to the great benefit of bear conservation in general. But Charlie was also a mentor to a new crop of conservationists and biologists, whose thinking about not only bears, but all wildlife has been transformed by his ego-free gentle examples in the wild. Condolences can be sent to: [email protected]







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