A story I wrote back in 1998 about a bear study we were lucky enough to go out on:
TAKING THE BAIT
Redding Record Searchlight (CA) - Tuesday, July 14, 1998
Author: Thom Gabrukiewicz, Record Searchlight
DFG traps, tracks 'eating machines'
The study seeks information on how successful north state female black bears are in raising healthy cubs to join the adult population.
McCLOUD - American black bears are smart enough to tell an ice chest from a duffel bag in a locked car. They will extract the goods with lead-pipe cruelty and a mercenary sensibility.
But put a glob of strawberry jam on a rank, decomposed salmon head, wire it to the trigger of a culvert trap and the beasts can't resist getting caught. Over and over again.
''They're such eating machines that it just overpowers them,'' said Fred Schmalenberger, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist. ''Anything real stinky or real sweet works real well.''
Given time, bears will smell a trap.
''It's always a game of one-upmanship of catching these things,'' said Don Koch, a senior wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game in Redding. ''These things are smart. They will figure out how to throw the trap and get the bait. That's why we have to move them.''
Koch, Schmalenberger and three other researchers are in the sixth year of a 10-year DFG study to see how successful female black bears are in introducing yearlings into the adult population. Each year for about three months, bears are trapped, weighed, measured and tagged for study between Happy Camp and Somes Bar in western Siskiyou County and in the McCloud Flats on the Shasta-Siskiyou county line.
Females are fitted with a radio collar and the biologists will track the sows to winter dens. Biologists trek to the dens using cross-country skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles and snowcats to listen. Sounds will determine if the sow has given birth. Sounds will also be used to detect how many cubs are in the litter. Sows are capable of having one to four cubs, usually every other year. Cubs will stay with the sow for about a year.
This trapping season has been good. Twenty-two bears were trapped in 12 nights, with five recaptures. Trapping will continue through July.
Since 1992, Schmalenberger has helped capture 200 bears and fitted 71 with radio collars. The DFG has located collared bears by aircraft 1,050 times and has visited 93 dens. The study costs about $26,000 a year. Each radio collar costs $400.
There are an estimated 18,000 to 25,000 black bears in California. They range in color from blond to brown and from cinnamon to black .
Last week, DFG officials allowed the Record Searchlight to follow along for a morning check of the traps on private timber land near McCloud. The traps are set and checked twice a day.
Three culvert traps - basically giant tubes with a heavy grate on one end and a steel door on the other - yield three adult males. The first is a recapture of a 285-pound male tagged a few days before. In a fury of power, it is released. It takes seconds for the bear to disappear into the forest.
About 20 minutes down a dusty logging road, another trap is full.
''Ugh, another big male,'' says Stuart Itoga, a Forest Service wildlife biologist, as he illuminates the bear with a flashlight.
''This is work,'' Schmalenberger says. ''Females are a bit easier to handle.''
The bear is clearly agitated. It groans like a reveler recovering from a wicked hangover. It pops its jaw in a defensive posture. Once eye contact is made, the bear charges the grate and leaves the viewer stumbling backward, even though the tightly-woven grate wire is at least a quarter-inch thick.
''You never get used to it,'' Koch says. ''They don't enjoy eye contact.''
Littered around the trap are bits of rotting, spawned salmon parts from DFG hatcheries, ripped up tins of mackerel and cat food, and banana peels.
Schmalenberger gathers a pack and tackle box from the back of a pickup while Itoga readies a vial of Telazol, a veterinary anesthetic, to subdue the bear for about an hour.
The drug is delivered with a quick jab of a syringe fitted onto a flexible shaft.
''It takes about seven to 11 minutes for the bear to go down,'' Schmalenberger says. In 20 minutes, the bear gets another dose of the drug. Ten minutes later, there's a thump.
Itoga and Schmalenberger strain to drag the bear from the trap. It's covered with urine and feces. Itoga wears latex gloves, Schmalenberger does not. Flies, mosquitoes and meat bees drown out the rest of the forest sounds.
Information is recorded on a form that has 58 individual spaces for data.
Metal tags are attached to each ear. Itoga uses a leather punch to make the holes. Tissue samples from the punch are collected and put into a test tube for study .
The bear 's head is laid on a tarp and Schmalenberger extracts a premolar from behind the bear 's two-inch-long canine tooth. It's the only way to tell the exact age of the animal. Each year, another ring is added to the tooth. The premolar is sent to a lab to be sliced almost transparent. The rings are counted - just like the rings of a tree - giving an exact age.
The bear will not miss the tooth. Evolution has rendered it useless.
''Bears have an immune system that's just unbelievable,'' Schmalenberger says. ''If we catch this bear again in a week, the hole would be gone, healed.''
Itoga takes two blood samples for various tests. It's temperature is taken and is 100 degrees, perfect for a bear . The paws are measured, as is the bear 's girth, head width and length, and overall length. The men struggle to weigh the bear with a pulley scale. It weighs in at 306 pounds. Then the scale breaks.
''Boy, they are just in the greatest shape, the best I've seen in seven years,'' Schmalenberger says. ''This should be the worst time of year for them, just coming out of hibernation.''
Come fall, the bear could swell to 600 pounds. It depends on the food supply.
''They are very opportunistic feeders,'' Koch says.
The blackbear , ursus americanus, is the lone species of bear in California. It's a shy creature that will retreat to the brush if spotted by man. But presented with easy food, Koch said, it will crash picnics, peel back car windows and pull down backpacker's food bags from trees.
Normally, bears feed on insects, pine cones, berries, acorns and the occasional fish.
But biologists in this study have learned that bears will eat other bears. They do it frequently. The radio collars emit two signals, once of which is a death beep.
Once, Koch said, biologists discovered a large adult male sleeping atop of a radio collar. A few remains were scattered about from a yearling that was wearing the collar. Cubs weigh about 30 pounds; yearlings weigh about 60 pounds.
Bears trapped and tranquilized in the study get a biologist babysitter until the Telazol wears off.
''They'll eat anything and just as soon walk by these guys and start feeding,'' Schmalenberger said.
''This is what it's like in a bear 's world,'' Koch said.
ThomG / Thursday, April 24, 2014 / 0
The heart is heavy today. I had to put down Trinity, my 16-year-old border collie. Sixteen years to the day I got her, I've realized.
To celebrate her life, here are a couple of newspaper columns I did over the years - one about her coming into my life, the other just a funny look at what can happen when you live with dogs. A Pack Of Three
Since I have oodles of free time and, quite frankly, was
getting way too much sleep, I decided to adopt a new puppy from Haven Humane
Society about two weeks ago.
Trinity , my new border
collie cross, came home March 14 with kennel cough, worms, some sort of
parasite -- and a healthy appetite for digging holes and chewing on everything
she could get her mouth around. It was everything a very organized, very clean
individual, needs in his life.
I'm disheveled and cranky, the house is a wreck, my shoes have departed to the
spare bedroom, the cats have moved to a life 5 feet off the floor and my
3-year-old Aussie cross, Scully, looks at me with pleading eyes -- little puppy
jaws clamped firmly on her ear -- that scream why, why?
Why? All Trinity has
to do is one cute thing and all is forgiven. In the first week, she learned to
sit and lay down on command. We're still having some problems with piddling on
the floors, but at least she's trainable. And Scully has learned to inflict
enough pressure to let Trinity know
We've evolved into a pack. A pack of three. Running buddies to the end.
Puppies are a lot of work, and not a decision to make lightly. For the past six
months, I've thought about adding another dog to the clan. I looked at breeds -- Purina has a World
Wide Web site (www.purina.com) that allows you to fill out a questionnaire and
matches the best dog to
your lifestyle -- and settled on a border collie. Nothing really caught my fancy
until I went to Haven Humane on my lunch hour.
There she was, an almost pure white puppy with one blue eye and one brown eye.
I spent the entire lunch hour playing with her. Then I left. I had to think
Was I ready? Did I have enough time? Enough money?
I decided that if she was still there the next day, I'd take the plunge. She
was and it's been a great, if not expensive, addition.
It cost me about $195 to adopt her, get her well and get her fixed. It was
another $180 for a kennel, leash, lead, toys, food and rawhide chewies (to curb
I know I'm just getting started. Puppies need shots, heartworm medication and
obedience classes. But there's memories to be made and I'm ready. Befriending
Scully taught me that.
I adopted her a month before I moved to Redding and Scully has probably been to
more rugged places in the state than some two-legged residents. She's been on
snowshoe excursions on the flanks of Mt. Shasta and the ridges of the Latour
State Forest; she has scaled the Castle Dome Trail in the Castle Crags
Wilderness; chased snakes through the Caribou Wilderness and climbed downed
logs (some 20 feet in the air) at Carson-Iceberg Wilderness; she has swam in
the pools of Brandy Creek and paddled with me on Whiskeytown Lake; and she's
watched from shore as I've chased trout across the north state.
I'll expose Trinity to
the same adventures. The first steps begin in late May, when I'll take the dogs
up the coast for a week of hiking. That should be a riot.
But we're a pack of three. And the adventures stretch before us like the north
Trinity Creates Her Own Chaos
For those who do not know me well, I tend to create my own
chaos; the situations that befall me thus leak onto the people and pets I hold
near and dear (though quite unintentionally).
Most of the time, my chaos presents itself as a Series of Unfortunate Incidents
-- humorous stumbles that are recounted later in a light and breezy,
back-handed manner. Reader's Digest moments.
Like last summer's river-rescue of my 12-year-old dog, Scully, which directly
led to her retirement from large-scale outings. Looking back now, the 150-yard
swim in the Sacramento River to rescue Scully from being swept all the way to
the Delta has taken on the sepia-toned quality of a good yarn.
But sometimes, the bedlam stinks. Literally.
It was 11 p.m. on May 16 and I had found myself without a ride to the
Sacramento International Airport. With nine hours to go before I needed to
leave -- and I still had to pack for a two-week tour of the Midwest with my
dad, his Chrysler and various graduation ceremonies spread from Kansas to
Cell phone in play -- and trying to come up with names of people who would
actually answer at that time of night -- I had the dogs in the 24-acre field
across the street from my house.
Trinity, my 7-year-old
border collie, bolted from my side and took off into the darkness
in full-on search-and-destroy run.
Somewhere from within the recesses of my brain, a thought screamed out -- from
that little piece of medulla oblongata that allowed our caveman ancestors to
flee instinctively from predators -- "Skunk!"
"Be here at 7:30 a.m. OK?" I blurted into the phone. "I think
Trin just found a skunk."
The striped skunk, common throughout North America, belongs to the family
Mephitidae. Skunks are omnivorous, meaning they eat everything from insects and
rodents to all manners of vegetation.
But what really sets skunks apart is the two walnut-sized glands near their
backsides that can be used to secrete a yellowish oil composed of thiols and
thioacetate derivatives -- from several feet away.
By the time I caught up to Trin, she had her face buried in the dirt.
She had been blasted square in the left eye and neck.
The smell made me gag.
I dumped her in the shower, turned on the water, soaped her up with Dawn
dishwashing liquid and hurried to the store for the only viable solution I know
will oxidize the thiols -- and lessen the stink.
The formula is thus: one quart fresh hydrogen peroxide, a quarter cup of baking
soda and a teaspoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid. Mix well _ it'll foam up so you
have to use it all -- and spread liberally to the affected area, being careful
not to get it into the dog's eyes. Let it sit for five minutes, then rinse.
Repeat as necessary (and you will repeat).
Anything you might wear while doing this will find its way to the trash. Trust
me on this one.
And that's why, at 1 a.m. and again at 3:30 a.m. on May 17, I stood in my front
yard, buck-nekked but for a pair of rubber gloves, spraying Trin off with the
Thank goodness for the cover of darkness -- and a very quiet
That's a scene that's just way too hard to explain to the casual
ThomG / Friday, March 14, 2014 / 4
Wyo. – Thom Gabrukiewicz’s first collection of flash fiction, Troublemaker, will be released on
Kindle, Nook, Smashwords and iBooks on Sept. 23, 2013.
Troublemaker contains 30 flash fiction pieces Gabrukiewicz
has written over the past eight years. The titles shift from light and
whimsical to maliciously dark.
flash fiction exactly? That's hard to pin down, since opinions vary. Most flash
fiction writers agree that the genre is brevity in action, a story that has
been whittled down to its essence whilst remaining a complete story, with plot,
narrative, character/s, conflict, and resolution.
In Troublemaker, the stories range anywhere
from 300 to 2,000 words, meaning readers can consume a little or a lot at one
Gabrukiewicz is both a communicator and a writer of flash fiction. Most of what
he writes is kind of dark, with occasional forays into the light. He’s a winner
of some awards and has covered two Winter Olympics for Scripps Howard News
Service. He’s also written a guidebook about hiking with dogs. He’s worked in
newsrooms across the U.S., most recently in Sioux Falls, S.D. and Redding,
Calif. He currently lives and works in the wilds of Wyoming.
He sat and watched the couple
in a mix of outward disgust and regret, through his car windshield and the
dust-caked windows of the convenience store.
He turned up the knob of the
air conditioner, loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of the
once-crisp oxford shirt, which had grown limp and somewhat dampish in the Texas
His eyes never left the
She sat with her back turned
three-quarters to the window, a plump woman with pouty shoulders and hair the
color of a mouse turd that she tied up into a ponytail. She wore a surgical
scrub top the color of bubblegum. She laughed easily at the man’s stories, and
each time she heard something particularly funny, her shoulders would wobble.
The man was huge, and not in
a pleasing way. All rounded edges, lumps and bumps. He wore a white V-neck
T-shirt under thin leather suspenders; a tuft of course chest hair protruded
from the V, like a weed that sprouts from a crack in the concrete. His jowls
shook when he talked, as did his supple man-tits.
He talked. A lot.
Her shoulders trembled in quick
He stretched tanned,
manicured fingers upward from the leather-covered steering wheel and watched
the scene unfold through the dual panes of glass. An uneasiness hung in his
belly, but he couldn’t turn away.
The behemoth masticated on a
burrito the store sold in a heated case near the do-it-yourself coffee and soda
machines. The woman worked on a foot-long hotdog with the works, chunks of
white onion falling like hail onto the red Formica tabletop in the store’s
excuse for a dining room.
His mobile rang. Her favorite
song. He sucked air into his lungs through his nose, one long hissing intake.
“It’s 7:30, where the fuck
are you? We have a house full of people.”
“Getting ice, as you
requested. Do we need one bag or two?”
“Jesus Christ. Three, I told
you, three bags of ice. And hurry it up, would you? You’re seriously pissing me
The screen went dark and he
tossed the mobile haphazardly onto the black leather passenger seat and wove
his fingers around the steering wheel and shook.
Yet his eyes never left the
The hulk was nearing the
terminus of another story, the pudgy fingers of his left hand making a point as
the right held what was left of the burrito. Her shoulders vibrated uncontrollably.
And in an instant, he snatched
a wadded ball of paper napkins from the tabletop and dabbed at the woman’s
mouth before he planted a wet and sumptuous kiss upon her lips. She put both
her hands around his massive head and massaged the buzz cut stubble.
Their embrace finally broke,
and they quivered into more laughter.
And through two panes of
glass and the oppressive Texas heat, he dabbed at his watery eyes with the
corner of his silk tie, envious.
ThomG / Wednesday, September 04, 2013 / 9
Barreling across the high plains in a rented Ford POS, I’m silently
sure Laine is doing her upmost best to hit every hole and uneven spot on the
Interstate in an effort to dislodge some sort of an apology from my
She squints into the distance, the afternoon sun harsh
through intermittent thin, gray clouds. I would say something about putting on
her sunglasses, but I don’t want to argue. Not again.
She’s been silent now for some 167 miles. And in that time, I’ve
picked at my jeans and licked my lips. A lot.
We’re on our way to her parent’s house in Cannon Falls,
Minnesota. Yeah, I don’t know where that is, either.
We’re going for Easter weekend.
Laine was raised in a strict Christian home; her dad is some
sort of elder in the church or something.
I’m a lapsed Catholic. Something of an agnostic if you
really want to know the truth, a turn that transpired after watching my dad
die in a hospital bed from lung cancer, unable to speak and in considerable
And the man went to church every single fucking day.
Laine informed me, as we crossed the border into South
Dakota, that I’d be required to go to Easter sunrise service. At dawn. In some
field. In Minnesota, for chrissakes.
My dad was fond of saying that people shouldn’t discuss
politics and religion in all social situations, since he was something of a
racist homophobe conservative Republican and his offspring all turned into varying
degrees of liberal activism. Of course, I remember he started saying this only after
he made my sister openly weep. At Easter dinner, come to think of it.
Laine and I bickered for a good 90 miles – and passed up
Wall Drug and all its kitschy glory and maple-glazed doughnuts – in the
So I did what I’m seriously good at: I let her make one last
snarky comment as I fell silent, letting the plains rush by the windows as I
licked my lips and picked at my jeans.
Now she’s bouncing us around in the Ford so I’ll confess
that I’m wrong about God and religion - and life, probably – and get a promise
that I’ll be on my upmost behavior while she’s sequestered in her childhood
bedroom – and I’m riding the sofa in her parent’s “rumpus room.”
We’re coming up on the South Dakota/Minnesota border and in
the distance there’s a huge fireworks sign that rises from the prairie. I purse
my lips, take in a deep breath and speak:
“Hey, seriously, we need to stop for some Easter fireworks.
We have to pull over.”
“Well, if you’d like to know, I celebrate the Resurrection
with some Roman candles. Maybe a few fountains. Certainly some bottle rockets.”
She swallows a laugh that sounds a lot like “gurk.” That’s
“You celebrate the Resurrection with fireworks?”
“Oh absolutely. It’s a known fact that God loves himself one
helluva rave. I like to put the boom-boom into His rebirth.”
She shakes her head in mock disgust, takes her hand off the
gear shift and weaves her fingers into mine as we hurdle past the last exit in
“You’re a shit,” she says. “And you had better not embarrass me
“As God is my witness...”
ThomG / Thursday, April 04, 2013 / 5
Thom Gabrukiewicz is both a communicator and a writer of flash fiction. Most of what he writes is kind of dark, with occasional forays into the light.
He’s a winner of some awards and has covered two Winter Olympics. He’s also written a guidebook about hiking with dogs.
He’s fiercely loyal and has a malevolent side that seems to visit less and less. He’s both a hopeless romantic and a realist.
He's currently working on community wellness issues in Wyoming.