on Michael Raess, Langham, Saskatchewan
More dangerous than bears
Guess what the profession of Swiss-born Michael Raess is.
I’ll give you a hint: Last year alone, he endured 95 airplane rides, helicopters and seaplanes included.
a) a manager for a global company?
b) a researcher for a British company?
c) an expert in rare animals?
d) a professional biologist?
e) a consultant for mining companies?
f) a wilderness expert?
g) an author of environmental impact reports?
Well, Michael is all of this!
You can find this adventurous guy in the most remote places of Canada. And what is he doing there? Looking for bird nests, for instance. Or for animal poop, tracks in the snow, or rare frogs. He is catching bats with nets and checking their health or he is imitating the sounds of owls with a radio. And the owls call back!
Michael works for the global Great Britain based company Amec. Amec consults with other firms, like mining companies or road builders or utility companies that want to build something in remote areas.
Michael, who was raised in Rubigen near the Swiss capital of Berne, can explain it better than me: “When somebody wants to build a mine, for instance, we are going to the site to see whether there are any problems regarding wildlife or fisheries or vegetation”, he says. “We are looking for rare species and then give the client a recommendation whether they should build the mine there and how. The government then makes a decision based on our recommendations. ”
The people of Amec also help the companies to reclaim the area back to nature once the mine closes.
In the summer, Michael is flown to remote areas all over Canada, especially in the North. Then he proceeds on his Argo, an amphibian all-terrain-vehicle that can also float on the water. Sometimes he (and a colleague, because there have to be always two of them) are 5 (five!) hours away from the next road.
If he finds birds nests or a rare frog or some other endangered species in the area, there will be no building allowed. All the different animals are documented by Michael. “It is pretty much about finding what kind of wildlife is out there. I listen to them as well, especially to birds”, he says. “We need to recognise more than 400 birds by listening to them.”
400 bird calls? I don`t even know ten!
There was one sound that Michael registered that sent shivers down his spine. The howling of wolves. They began to circle around him and his colleague. That was scary. “We had to pack and leave”, he says, “it was too dangerous.”
Michael also meets a lot of bears. “If you see a bear and walk the other way, it is not that dangerous”, he says. “We try not to surprise them, we are pretty loud and we have horns and bear spray.”
There is something that Michael is way more afraid of than bears: the competition. There are other companies that do the same thing as Amec. The battle for projects and clients is fierce and stressful.
But bears? Michael is very familiar with bears. He used to put collars around the neck of grizzly bears as a conservation officer in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta. He also taught them how not to approach humans. How? “We put collars on them and as soon as a grizzly would get close to a campground, we would go there with dogs and bangers and chase them away.”
In case you wonder how a Swiss guy became a conservation officer in a Canadian park, I will tell you the whole story.
Michael was 18, when he knew he wanted to immigrate to Canada. At only 9 years old, he and his family had visited an aunt in Alberta. Several trips to Canada followed. “I fell in love with nature and wildlife when I traveled to a remote park”, Michael says. He always wanted to become a park warden.
In 2004, he went to a college in Alberta and met his future wife Kristine a year later. He got a diploma in Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation. His wife got a similar diploma for domestic animals. They married and went to university together.
Today they have two sons under the age of 3.
As a conservation officer, he liked biology and research – and his work with bears – but not the enforcement. Enforcement means, catching people for driving too fast in parks, drinking in public places or not having dogs on a leash, for boating and so forth. “I began to wonder whether park warden was the dream job for me”, he says.
He has a dream job now, without – yes, you are so right! – without the competition.
His mother in Switzerland sometimes worries when Michael goes somewhere really remote. “There are lots of areas where something can go wrong”, he says.
Oh, come on, Michael, what can happen out there – just a pack of hungry wolves chasing you in the middle of a very dark night.
And while he was running through the bush, Michael filled in the
– What gift do you take to Switzerland)?
Maple Syrup and Saskatoon Jam
– What products do you miss most in Canada (or in Switzerland)?
Rivella Rot, a pop drink, Miromat (NOT Aromat), a Swiss condiment, and Berner Haselnuss-Lebkuchen (Hazelnut Gingerbread from Berne)
– Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Canadian men or women?
A small taste of a redneck is imbedded in most of them, they are up for some spontaneous “long” road trips, and trusting
– What triggered a culture shock for you in Switzerland or Canada (in one sentence, please)?
I never experienced one.