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Talking the talk

As a bear biologist, I walk the walk as often as I can. I get out into the woods. I walk the bear trails and look for sign of them, trying to imagine what it’s like to be a grizzly bear in Alberta. In my career, I have been employed as a science educator, interpreter, and outreach coordinator. I even had a contract to design and construct a visitor centre at the mouth of the K’tzim-a-deen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary as part of my Master’s work . Through these experiences I have come to appreciate that science shared only with other scientists isn’t enough, especially in the world of conservation biology. If conservation science is to really make a difference in the world, then it’s got to get out to the world at large.

It’s not enough to walk the walk, I also have to talk the talk.

Part of the K'tzim-a-deen Sanctuary visitor centre included a replicate bear mark tree, which was super fun to make.

Part of the K’tzim-a-deen Sanctuary visitor centre included a replicate bear mark tree, which was super fun to make.

Sharing the Passion

The best speakers are passionate about what they do. Ok. Check. I’m pretty passionate about bears, and I’m even more passionate about keeping Alberta grizzly bear populations healthy across our province. As a biologist, I’m not alone. There are several grizzly bear biologists working in Alberta who are all aiming for the same thing – recovering Alberta’s grizzly bear populations. Some work on habitat issues, others on human-wildlife conflict issues, others on land-use planing, and even some on climate change modeling. Most of this work is shared within the scientific community through journal articles and conferences. That’s a huge part of being a biologist and it’s how your theories and hypotheses get vetted and fleshed out and eventually supported. Presenting your science (not necessarily passion) to peers is an essential part of the scientific process.

But just because you’re a good and passionate scientist, doesn’t mean you’re a good speaker who can motivate and empower people to share your passion. Sometimes, biologists need a little help to share the passion and mobilize the people. There are conservation groups, like CPAWS Southern AlbertaYellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and the Alberta Wilderness Association who work tirelessly to affect government policy and mobilize the public to increase protection for Alberta’s grizzly bears in myriad ways. In many instances, scientists work with these kinds of organizations to help spread the recommendations stemming from years of scientific research to the public and the politicians.

But maybe that isn’t enough. As a former interpreter, I’m a good public speaker. As a passionate grizzly bear biologist, I can talk about bears… for a long time. I’ve come to realize that part of my job as a bear biologist to share what I know and to share my passion in the hopes that I can help mobilize people to protect and love our bears the same way I do. Who do I share it with? Anyone who asks. Below are a couple of links to a short video I did while at CPAWS Southern Alberta. This was one of the best projects I did while there. LOVE this video.

Spreading the love

A few weeks ago, my 6-year old niece very politely asked me if I would do a presentation to her grade 1 class. Of course! Who could say no? (Honestly, the little video she put together to ask me is the cutest thing I have ever seen). This is the second presentation I’ve delivered like this; last year I delivered a presentation to my nephew’s grade 3 class. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Standing in front of a grade 1 class with 30 six-year olds sitting on the floor staring up at me when I say: “My name is Sarah and I am a bear biologist” may be one of the proudest moments of my career. All their little faces were stunned and they gasped: “Wow. That is SO cool.” And I thought – YES, yes it is and I think that every day. It is SO cool.

I think sharing passion with the next generation is critical to building a conservation ethic in our society. Part of that is helping children understand that bears are cool and part of it is sharing with them why they are important for our ecosystems and even cultural identity.

Presenting to my niece's grade 1 class. One of the best presentations of my career hands down!

Presenting to my niece’s grade 1 class. One of the best presentations of my career hands down!

But kids are kids. What about adults? Hey, I’m not partial, I’ll talk bears with anyone who asks.

This year I have been approached by two business owners in Banff who want someone to talk to their summer staff about bears in the area. This is more than a bear safety talk, it’s an opportunity to share with adults what bears are in Banff and what their lives are like. Bears living in Banff have a challenging life, navigating different hurdles to their survival everyday. It’s the reason why I am doing this PhD and why I am working with these bears in the first place. Having the opportunity to share this information with others who live and work here is a great opportunity to spread the love.

Planning and Delivering

These presentations are obviously very different. Talking to a group of Grade 1’s is not like talking to a group of adults… well not really. There is preparation time that goes into these presentation to make sure I’m putting age-appropriate information out there. This is where I am thankful for my past interpreter experience. When I first worked as an interpreter at the Royal Tyrrell Museum 13 years ago, I had no idea how handy those skills would be throughout my career as a bear biologist. You never know how what you’re learning will be useful later on. I love putting these presentations together and I love seeing people’s faces, kids and adults alike, when I say something astounding that surprises them about bears. Hopefully at the end of it all, they love our bears a little more. And that’s what sharing the passion is all about. I love that part of this job. It’s not all hiking, data analysis, and writing – there’s a real opportunity to share my passion. And that’s pretty awesome.

Sarah’s Speaking Tour

Haha. Kidding. I’m not going on a speaking tour. But I’m happy to come to your group and give a presentation about grizzly bears, if it doesn’t interfere with my PhD work (becoming Dr. Sarah is still the number one priority).  My presentation runs about an hour. It’s not free but it won’t break your bank either. Email me at if you’re interested.

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