Jogger Mark Mellish is eternally grateful to some motorists who came to his aid Monday morning. Unbeknownst to him, he was being chased by a bear.
The 63-year-old Whonnock resident was taking one of his frequent midday jogs along 272nd Street, when a pickup truck driver alerted him that he wasn't alone.
But this week, he had a tag along - and wasn't even aware of it. A black bear was running along behind him on his five-mile trek.
While the pickup truck driver was kind enough to offer him a lift down the road, and out of range of the bear, Mellish said he's also grateful to another couple who saw the situation, turned around, and chased the bear off the road with their car.
"I continued my run, but was somewhat nervous on the way home along the same route," Mellish said, noting he's been jogging the same route a couple times a week for the past decade - at least.
"This is certainly not the first time I have encountered bears while hiking or jogging here in Whonnock, but it is happening more frequently; the bears are now way more numerous and are completely fearless," he elaborated, noting he's lived in the area for 25 years and moved there to enjoy the rural life with its opportunities for growing his own fruit trees, berries, vegetables, chickens, and more.
He did that, and continues to do that, knowing full well that there are bears, coyotes, deer, and other wildlife "here on the urban fringe."
That goes with the territory - literally, Mellish said.
"However, when bears and cougars lose their fear of humans, and are allowed to increase in great numbers, they can become dangerous," said the retired municipal worker.
"The Bear Aware program appears to consist of an expensive website to state the obvious: there are lots of bears here, and to blame residents for growing food that bears like," he said, critical of how Maple Ridge subsidized compost bins a few years ago and is now threatening a "large fine for having an unsecured composters, or an apple tree that may appeal to a bear."
The human population hasn't increased much in Whonnock in recent years, he said, suggesting long-time residents know how to deal with their garbage, and newcomers learn quickly.
"It would be a shame to have to drive into town for a run on the treadmill, to the post office, or to the Whonnock cemetery to visit my mother's grave, rather than running or walking here at home," Mellish said.
Must he pack bear spray, bear bangers, and an airhorn outside? the Whonnockian queried.
"I know there are those who enjoy the frisson of excitement of bear encounters, but I am old enough to prefer my exercise without having to be armed and looking over my shoulder when I'm out in the hood." So what is this jogger proposing?
"Thanks again to those kind strangers who stopped to help," he said, but he feels action must be taken.
"As with the case of the over abundant Canada geese that made Whonnock Lake for a time an unsanitary and unusable mess, there can be too much of a good thing. City dwellers whose experience of nature come mostly from the National Geographic channel might not like it, but there needs to be fewer bears out here."
Mellish described bears as territorial, so he's not hopeful that relocation would work well, but the population has to be thinned.
He said he's not one who believes the residents of Whonnock are encroaching on the bears, as much as the bears are recognizing and appreciating the enticing habitat that has been established and preserved in the easterly end of the municipality.
Ultimately, Mellish said, he's calling for some efforts - whether it be by the municipality or the provincial conservation services - to be made to cut down on the growing black bear population in Whonnock.