Law and Order: Yellowstone Style
April 2, 2012 12:36 PM   Subscribe

A Death in Yellowstone: On the Trail of a Grizzly Bear. a gripping story and a well written article in Slate, by Jessica Grose. Includes a similarly remarkable photo feature.

"A grizzly was ambling along the Yellowstone River on a clear day in late September 2011, when she lifted her nose up and smelled something familiar in the air. She couldn’t tell quite what it was, but it smelled like food.. . "
posted by spitbull (51 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Personal nitpick: Though the author of the Slate piece probably didn't do this intentionally, there's also a really great book on the various ways people have died over the years in Yellowstone. It is appropriately titled, Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park. I can just see some people confusing search results with that much similarity, but a good article all the same.

It's a great read (as also noted by the Amazon reviews) if you're into that sort of thing. I stumbled upon it during one of my two summers working in YNP, one of those rare gems that you'd never find otherwise, much like this one, though I guess you'd have to have worked there to fully appreciate/enjoy it.

*sigh* I miss the park sometimes.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:54 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've also been reading that book, RoalndofEld - I found a copy at Powell's the last time we were in Portland. It's kind of depressing, but fascinating. I've decided that if I go to Yellowstone and have to die, I'd rather be eaten by a bear than fall into one of the hot springs - it sounds faster and less painful.

Okay, now I'll go RTFA.
posted by rtha at 1:10 PM on April 2, 2012


.

For both hikers and bears.

There is also a video series of, basically, Stupid Tourist Tricks, such as dropping out of trees and onto wild bison for photoshoots. The book mentioned by RolandOfEld is, um, horrifying, if you're a ten-year-old camping in Yellowstone, and looking for some light reading...Let's just say that "wild bears eating you" didn't really seem as bad as "guy who jumped into a hot spring after his dog and tried to get out again," which is mentioned by the Slate writer as well. The back country is beautiful, tantalizing, and treacherous. I can't imagine trying to manage the policy of the "boundaries" between people and bears.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:12 PM on April 2, 2012


Not much in the piece surprised me, sounds like a case of grizzly mama drama. My scary/life-threatening situation ranking while in the park/backcountry/hiking was pretty much 1) somehow getting mauled by a bison, 2) inadvertently getting between a grizzly sow and her cubs, 3) breaking through a thin crust in a thermal area and boiling, 4) falling/sliding off a cliff, 5) pissing off some other employee in the pub and getting whupped.

On preview: Yea, the dog/hot spring thing is well known to me and most former employees. YNP is one of the few state/national parks/forests/preserves where a leash law makes 100% good sense and I'll stop and restrain any dog/child I see unattended in or near a thermal area.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:15 PM on April 2, 2012


Speaking of Supid Tourist Tricks...

Back in the bad old days (the 60s), bears and humans were not separated the way they do now, bears were very visible in the park, and often found begging for food. Someone I know worked summers as a forest ranger. He was totally floored one day when he ran across a tourist who had stopped, and was attempting to physically push the bear into the driver's seat of his car so he could get a photograph of the bear sitting next to his wife and "driving".
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:42 PM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can't help it....

I don't know if I'd mentioned it in another comment here before but the worst one I saw was when I went into a backcountry permit office to reserve a few campsites for a hike I was planning. As I was waiting I noticed a picture under the glass of the ranger's desk that was of an elk with an amazingly large rack grazing on the roadside, in and of itself not that unusual of a sight in the park. The kicker was that a man (and his child? I forget) was standing for the photo *INSIDE* the elk's rack as it grazed.

I had to ask how the ranger had obtained the picture and he said that a tourist had approached him saying "Hey, you won't believe the great picture I got! Look!" whereupon the ranger confiscated the camera/gear/picture and issued him two citations. If I recall correctly one was for molesting the wild life and the other, more serious one, was for reckless endangerment.

Note that all crimes in YNP are federal. I'm not sure what this means with regards to low level misdemeanors but something potentially moderate outside the park, like some illegal drugs or assault, becomes a much bigger deal.

While the bear in car story may seem fantastic and unbelievable, I totally believe it. While in the park I learned: Never underestimate the stupidity of the human being.

Note: From what I can tell the person who was killed in the article linked by the OP wasn't really doing anything more or less dangerous than hiking alone. While not ideal, it's not something I think he shouldn't have been doing, I did several long distance backcountry hikes solo, he was just unlucky.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:02 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


So this has nothing to do with Veckatimest?!

Disappointed
posted by Fizz at 2:05 PM on April 2, 2012


I once had a job where one of my tasks was to help instill fear of humans into black bears that were becoming a little too familiar. I have chased, thrown rocks at, yelled at and done many other things to intimidate some rather large black bears. I still fear black bears, I'd be stupid not too, but they are a know quantity.
The very thought of brown bears makes me feel a little loose in the bowels. My family used to camp all over the west when I was a kid and we spent plenty of time in Grizzly country. I don't recall having the fear then. At some point (after the job scaring bears), I was driving from Washington to Montana and had picked up some salmon candy at Jensen's in Seattle on the way out of town. I became road weary and I stopped to stretch my legs at a roadside park in a forest and fell asleep in a deserted picnic area, off the road and was having a delightful nap until I sprang up, awake in an instant, with screaming thought in my head that my shirt was covered in tasty, smoky, sweet salmon drippings. I about crapped myself right there, no bear in sight.
What changed between youth and adulthood? I think I might read too much. I have this evening's reading lined up for me. Thanks.
posted by Seamus at 2:37 PM on April 2, 2012


I'm cool with killing grizzly in Yellowstone, particularly in ways that reinstill fear of humans. Grizzly bears are very far from being endangered -- there are huge populations in Canada and Alaska. THe lower 48 are crowded and there are few places to experience wilderness in anything like pristine condition (many fewer than people realize if they are not active hikers). Leaving such a dangerous animal roaming large tracts of the most beautiful hiking territory is a problem.

Have to say though, it's not an easy problem -- one issue with grizzlies is that it's unclear whether they can become afraid of humans in the same way black bears can. As I understand it, grizzlies instinct is almost invariably to attack a threat, so if they come to feel humans are dangerous that may affect their behavior toward us in unpredictable ways.
posted by zipadee at 2:43 PM on April 2, 2012


A good read, but I didn't love the way they kept referring to human kills as "crimes" and kill sites as crime scenes. Pretty sure there was no malice on the part of the bear - she was eating her prey, unlike many trophy hunters.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:49 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


). Leaving such a dangerous animal roaming large tracts of the most beautiful hiking territory is a problem.

Wiping out top predators leaves the "wilderness" in less than pristine condition. If you just want to go somewhere scenic, quiet and totally safe then wilderness is not for you. Requiring that some animal that makes you uncomfortable be removed is hubris. [/ecologist]
posted by fshgrl at 3:17 PM on April 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm a hiker, and I've always been afraid of bears. So, a few years back, in an effort to educated myself to a less intimidated stance vis a vis The Bear, I did some reading. (Among the best was this little tome by Stephen Herrero, a prominent bear biologist.) As a consequence, I'm marginally less afraid of black bears and a LOT more afraid of brown / grizzly bears.

I visited Yellowstone a few years back on a hiking trip, and marveled in the realization that it is a creature park for sure with furry critters everywhere. But to my relief (and especially in hindsight), my hiking buddy and I needed a couple of days off from hiking so we didn't do the big hike he had planned right smack in the middle of grizzly country. I plan to visit Yellowstone again someday, but I don't think I'll ever be comfortable venturing far off the beaten path there.

As to bear control, I'm with zipadee on this one. Interestingly, Stephen Herrero, the above mentioned biologist, acknowledges the significant risks posed by grizzlies, and seems to think that culling the herd significantly is not a bad idea.
posted by cool breeze at 3:29 PM on April 2, 2012


I'm cool with killing grizzly in Yellowstone, particularly in ways that reinstill fear of humans. Grizzly bears are very far from being endangered -- there are huge populations in Canada and Alaska.

So because something is "far from being endangered" it's cool to just kill it for whatever reason? Murder of sentient beings becomes gradually more acceptable as their populations ramp upwards? That's neat as hell, because I've got a big ole sack of "Ugly Baby Poison" sitting in the shed and I've had no idea if I should tip it into the water supply or not.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:51 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grizzly cub hitches a ride on his mother's back to keep his paws from getting cold
posted by homunculus at 3:56 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are loads of beautiful hiking to be had in places where you will not encounter grizzlies. Go hike there instead.
posted by rtha at 4:10 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding a fear of grizzlies with regards to hikers that I'm seeing here, I don't have the cite for this statistic at hand (but could probably look it up if someone REALLY wanted me to) but the numbers for grizzly attacks drops off precipitously as the number of participants on a hike increases. I think it was something like half the risk if two people are hiking vs a solo hiker and even less than that if three were present; four or more and the odds pretty much fell off my radar altogether. I don't remember if that statistic was YNP specific or not.

That's why I said above that the only thing he did that some *might* question was hike solo. I encountered grizzlies a few times while hiking, never alone and I like to think my constant, purposeful noisemaking helped with that, and I never felt inordinately fearful. I was much, much more concerned about bison, who by the way hurt numerous people in the park every year while bear attacks are uncommon. It was even a feature in the article that this is only the 2nd bear related death in the park EVER. I personally talked with someone whose dad had been mauled by a bison while sitting in the doctors office at Lake Lodge while my friend got his stitches pulled (from a softball accident).

Yellowstone also has Bear Management Areas that open up portions of the back-country at different dates as the summer progresses. I'm a bit fuzzy on their logic but I think the cornerstone was something along the lines of letting the bears have free reign and not letting them get too used to humans, even if they are only the stalwart back-country hikers/campers. Ha, turns out I was pretty close now that I go to that link.

I even took a group of three of us into the upper Pelican Valley BMA the day after it opened up for a long overnight hike. Not for any particular bear sighting purpose but because it was rumored to be a beautiful hike that was mostly flat [a rarity it seemed at the time] with some semi-secret thermals at the end. Plus it was the only window we had in our off days for a while. Turns out the problem with going into that backcountry setting the day after the BMA opened up wasn't bears, since we didn't see a single one or any tracks/scat, but the fact that trail maintenance teams hadn't been in there since the previous year. When you get 8 miles in with 4 or more miles left to go to your campsite and the trail goes into the woodline and every 4 feet or so is a down tree across the trail that's all too often just the wrong height to duck under or go over, that's when things get a bit uncomfortable/scary. I felt really exposed and frustrated in that situation. We got through it but it pretty much ruined that hike for us since we were running a thin comfort zone with regards to distance/time anyway.

I guess I'm saying that groups of smart hikers that follow the rules really do minimize the risks of a grizzly bear encounter turning sour and that there are better things to be concerned with, like terrain surprises or inclement weather surprises. I don't even think bearspray is necessarily a good thing in most use cases since after initial deployment it actually attracts bears.

Turns out we met the 3 trail maintenance rangers on our hike out the next day and we told them, after they set down their various saws/axes/chainsaws/10 gallon gas canisters/etc, where the problem was and they said they appreciated the tip and went off to rectify things much to our chagrin.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:11 PM on April 2, 2012


(Also, you sound remarkably like all the tourists in the book Roland mentioned way up top who are shocked, SHOCKED to find wild animals and dangerous hot springs in a national park! People have been saying that literally since the park opened. It doesn't make any more sense now.)
posted by rtha at 4:12 PM on April 2, 2012


Oh, and I forgot to mention that the few times I saw a fresh carcass in the backcountry we didn't linger around and reported it to the rangers immediately upon our return who thanked us and usually mentioned that they were aware and warning people as they registered for any nearby campsites or came into the office for information. I'd be doubly careful if I saw cubs ANYWHERE.

I'm searching for that statistic I mentioned but can't find it amongst all the Google search returns for "OMG OMG HOW TO SURVIVE A BEAR ATTACK" and some nutty debate over if it's better to carry a gun or bear spray when hiking [as if loaded guns were legal in YNP and ?most? other parks anyway], so in lieu of that here's this which isn't as scientific as the one I'm searching for but has some decent, if uncited, information.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:29 PM on April 2, 2012


Cripes. The local library system has finally failed me. Not a single copy of Death in Yellowstone. Thanks for the links, spitbull and roland.

As for the bear-slaughtering crowd, we'll just leave this sage advice.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:50 PM on April 2, 2012


Nice One PareiodoliaticBoy, I just came in to link that same sign pic.
posted by mannequito at 5:06 PM on April 2, 2012


also, this:


I'm cool with killing grizzly in Yellowstone, particularly in ways that reinstill fear of humans. Grizzly bears are very far from being endangered -- there are huge populations in Canada and Alaska.


is 100% Grade A Bullshit. I spend half my year working in the bush in Northern British Columbia and have gotten used to being close to grizzlies on a regular basis. I was literally once within sight of 3 separate bears, including one with a cub. A little respect and common sense, and both sides can exist happily without problems. Honestly, black bears make me much more nervous since they tend (at least in my experience) to be much more unpredictable. Grizzlies, unless you are doing something stupid or they are very ragged/starved looking, are happy to mind their own business.
posted by mannequito at 5:11 PM on April 2, 2012


The local library system has finally failed me. Not a single copy of Death in Yellowstone.

I'm not one bit surprised, assuming you're not in a huge city of course. It's has the smell of small production run. Not necessarily "self published" small, but you get the idea. I'd think it should be available somewhere nearby, but maybe not... there's always amazon I suppose.

Regarding that [hilarious] sign, gawd I hope that's not photoshopped. It's funny how people really want to rely on devices like ineffective bear bells and pepper spray in lieu of exercising proper judgement and caution. In my book I'd say 99.9% of the pepper spray I saw carried/purchased in the park and 100% of the bear bells would be as useful in a grizzly encounter as a fart in a windstorm.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:17 PM on April 2, 2012


Yeah, it's an oldie, Roland. Not actually an official B.C. Parks sign. The original pictured is actually in a private camp-ground in Fort Steele, and has been copied extensively elsewhere.

Bear encounters were a real problem when we first started making major treks into the back-country here in the Coast Mountains on our pedal-bikes. On the downhill sections we travel so fast that bears don't have the same opportunity to avoid people as they do with hikers. More then a few times the whole crew would come ripping around a corner only to find the trail guarded by an annoyed and confused bear. We stopped running into bears on these excursions after implementing a mandatory bear-bell on every bike and pack policy.

But they only work with the common Black and Brown bears between Vancouver and Pemberton. Once you cross over the watershed you move into Grizzly terrain, and Grizzlies pretty-much fear nothing. When rookies come along on these trips, and we give them the wildlife safety lecture, we always finish the bear-encounter portion with this old woodsman's saw, which goes; "Oh, don't even try to our-run a bear. Because you can't. But that's okay, because you only need to be able out-run the slowest person in the party."
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:33 PM on April 2, 2012


Off topic, but Edward Abbey's character George Washington Hayduke was inspired by Doug Peacock.
posted by alpinist at 5:40 PM on April 2, 2012


Hayduke Lives.

Perhaps overly close bears?

That said, where is our imagination, when we insist that the inevitable outcome of human/bear interaction must always be negative? In rebuttal of this, Ladies and Gentlemen, I offer you Voytek the Soldier Bear as proof of the wasted potential of a possible bear/human alliance.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:14 PM on April 2, 2012


My scary/life-threatening situation ranking while in the park/backcountry/hiking was pretty much 1) somehow getting mauled by a bison, 2) inadvertently getting between a grizzly sow and her cubs, 3) breaking through a thin crust in a thermal area and boiling

Your 1) nearly happened to me on the boardwalk in the Old Faithful geyser basin, only it was an elk, not a bison. And part of the reason it nearly happened was that my options for places to retreat were heavily constrained due to your 3). One of the most terrifying experiences of my life, made worse by the fact that I've run it over many times in my head since then and still not been able to figure out how I could have avoided it.
posted by asterix at 6:15 PM on April 2, 2012


I'm a hiker, and I've always been afraid of bears. So, a few years back, in an effort to educated myself to a less intimidated stance vis a vis The Bear, I did some reading. (Among the best was this little tome by Stephen Herrero, a prominent bear biologist.) As a consequence, I'm marginally less afraid of black bears and a LOT more afraid of brown / grizzly bears.

And yet, if you read Herrero's book you should have noted that he specifically says that when he's in the backcountry he's far more concerned about things like fording cold streams than bear attacks. And that most of the attacks he documents came after the victims did some remarkably stupid/dangerous things; relatively few of them were on people who were taking reasonable precautions.
posted by asterix at 6:21 PM on April 2, 2012


devices like ineffective bear bells

or as the bears have grown to call them, "dinner bells."
posted by timsteil at 6:28 PM on April 2, 2012


The Bear is an interesting fictional film interpretation of human/bear encounters. The outtakes were intense, sorry no links.
posted by ovvl at 6:39 PM on April 2, 2012


Wiping out top predators leaves the "wilderness" in less than pristine condition. If you just want to go somewhere scenic, quiet and totally safe then wilderness is not for you.

I have news for you: humans, not grizzlies, are the top predators in Wyoming and everywhere else. I should have used a different word than 'pristine', as it made it seem as though I subscribed to the fantasy of 'wilderness' as unspoiled. Modern wilderness is an environment artificially maintained in a particular way so that humans can have a particular kind of experience. All I'm saying is that I personally would prefer that that experience not include any kind of significant chance of being eaten by a grizzly bear when hiking alone, and I am cool with whatever steps are taken to make that happen. (I suspect that many of the folks most vociferous about grizzly preservation don't hike that much). I realize that preference needs to be weighed against other desirable goods, like preserving endangered species and the range of experience of other species that is available in a natural setting. If there weren't huge populations of grizzlies in Canada and Alaska my tradeoff would be different.

is 100% Grade A Bullshit. I spend half my year working in the bush in Northern British Columbia and have gotten used to being close to grizzlies on a regular basis. I was literally once within sight of 3 separate bears, including one with a cub.

In other words, my comment, far from being bullshit, was quite accurate -- there are big grizzly populations in Canada and Alaska. The implication that one can coexist peacefully with grizzlies under certain circumstances is from all I've heard quite true as well -- until it's not. It's also possible the grizzlies you see up there are safer because unlike grizzlies in crowded lower 48 national parks, they are unlikely to have become habituated to human food. The lower 48 is like Grand Central Station compared to Northern BC.

So because something is "far from being endangered" it's cool to just kill it for whatever reason? Murder of sentient beings (etc.)

Last I heard, it was OK to kill a sentient being because you felt like steak for dinner. Let's put this in context with the hundreds of millions of animals humans kill each year for all kinds of reasons.
posted by zipadee at 6:40 PM on April 2, 2012


All I'm saying is that I personally would prefer that that experience not include any kind of significant chance of being eaten by a grizzly bear when hiking alone,

You can have this. Millions of people are not eaten by grizzlies every year in Alaska and Canada and Wyoming even. There's also an awful lot of open space in Wyoming that *isn't* a national park where you might feel safer hiking alone. Places where there are fewer people and therefore fewer bears habituated to humans.

You are more at risk from dying as you drive to the park than you are to fatally encounter a grizzly once you get there.
posted by rtha at 6:50 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


On this list, I count seven deaths from bear (grizzly and brown) attacks at Yellowstone, from 1916 through 2011. Them's pretty good odds, considering how many people visit every year.
posted by rtha at 6:55 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The outtakes were intense, sorry no links.

Paraphrase from memory:

There is a bear and a man face to face on a narrow mountain ledge. The bear is growing at the actor, according to script. On the audio track, the director is asking something in French, and the wrangler says that the bear is getting excited, and that everyone should relax.
posted by ovvl at 7:04 PM on April 2, 2012


Pareidoliactic: I withdraw my statement on bear bells as they apply to bikers. I can see that being useful on single track. There are only two bike approved trails in the park and both are closed service roads, so wouldn't apply there.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:34 PM on April 2, 2012


Modern wilderness is an environment artificially maintained in a particular way so that humans can have a particular kind of experience.

No, it's not. Nature isn't a frikken carnival ride. Maybe try Disney World instead.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:49 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


FTA: Gunther was also carrying a .45-70 rifle slung over his shoulder and a .44 Magnum revolver in a holster on his hip. Either would have been strong enough to kill a charging bear.

Not likely. It is much wiser to use bear spray.
posted by humanfont at 8:29 PM on April 2, 2012


“They don’t work at all and we don’t recommend them because they’re not loud enough,” Fizor said regarding the use of bear bells in Kananaskis Country.

Yes, this was the error. You need big, honking, no-nonsense, brass-ball-bells to be effective. At speed, with ... let's say ... 3-15 riders, we continuously make one hell of a racket, as a matter of course. Some back-country users resent this cacophony, a point-of-view which resonates with more aware riders. Once the strategy is explained however, all but the most self-involved grasp the logic taking these precautions. I have been told by some hikers whom we chat with that they also really appreciate knowing that we are coming, so much further in advance than would be the case, otherwise. They think of the JINGLE GINGLE Jingle ting-a-ling-ling of our bells as a mobile bear-repellent and early-warning system.

1/2 of us also usually run AirZound air horns. These will typically sweep even the most groggy of Black or Brown Bears back into the bush. In Dire Straights this bike-bell can also be employed as an impromptu fog-horn.

Not to mention scaring the last neurons out of the plethora of BMXers or Boarders who insist on smoking-up on the downhill side of jumps. This also covers all the Smart-Phone pinheads, wandering the wrong way along marked-trails, absolutely unaware of the beauty and magic surrounding them.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:13 PM on April 2, 2012


Ok, so, let's see if I can phrase things coherently and respond to a few things that jump out at me.

Modern wilderness is an environment artificially maintained in a particular way so that humans can have a particular kind of experience.

Have you been to YNP? Serious question, because the maintenance you're referring to, a bit haphazardly if I may presume so much, goes to great lengths to protect the wild nature of the parks once you get past the boardwalks and visitor centers. Sure they made mistakes in the past and they'll make them in the future, it kinda comes with the territory when it's the first national park on the planet, but I think they're doing a decent job in the now. Hell, I didn't even see flyovers or planes while in the park and it turns out that's kinda intentional, except when things like serious medical emergencies or research on the park itself requires it*. Ditto for the Bear Management Areas I mentioned above. Sometimes they don't even open those to humans at all. That means a place can go for nearly 2 years without a single non-ranger/researcher entering it. Adding in the fact that Yellowstone is home to the most remote point in the contiguous US and that in the winter access into all but two locations (of 8 or so) in the park (and then only by permit and snowcoach/snow mobile) is pretty much sealed off and you have yourself a pretty serious wilderness. Not equal to remote Canada or the Amazon by any means but I personally prefer to use trails instead of bushwhacking into the thick of things to enjoy myself in the woods. Let's face it, roads and trails are a necessity and I think Yellowstone maintains the balance in the favor of nature over development pretty well.

All I'm saying is that I personally would prefer that that experience not include any kind of significant chance of being eaten by a grizzly bear when hiking alone, and I am cool with whatever steps are taken to make that happen.

As I've said above, and others have emphasized, any safe, educated hiker would have to be a fairly serious hypochondriac to consider bears as a enough of a concern to restrict their activity. There are other things to worry about in life that make much more rational sense than this. I'm not saying don't be careful or concerned, but don't think it's logical to single out grizzly attacks as a reason not to hike in Yellowstone, alone or not.

The implication that one can coexist peacefully with grizzlies under certain circumstances is from all I've heard quite true as well -- until it's not. It's also possible the grizzlies you see up there are safer because unlike grizzlies in crowded lower 48 national parks, they are unlikely to have become habituated to human food.


So, one implication you seem to be making here is that coexisting with grizzlies isn't possible because there are attacks. That's like saying it's not possible to view the Canyon of the Yellowstone without guard rails/massive walls along the length of every possible tourist vantage point, because people fall in and die. Could they put up guard rails or taller walls where motorists stop to sight-see? Sure, but instead they choose to accept that the natural state of the park requires, nay deserves, to stay natural and unmarred by structure where not otherwise dictated.

Oh, and you're also implying that the grizzlies are habituated to human food and are thus causing a problem. Um, from my knowledge this has been fixed for years and years. These attacks were not caused by some human-food-loving-bear epidemic but instead by the fact that the wilderness that is Yellowstone receives more visitors than a place like Northern BC. Some friction is inevitable and I'm totally ok with the park service's guideline for dealing with animals that attack/kill humans, from the article:

If a grizzly hurts someone while acting in a naturally aggressive way, then the bear goes free. If a grizzly acts unnaturally aggressive, though, and injures a person, it must be euthanized. It all comes down to the animal’s state of mind.

Unless you're advocating for a stricter policy then I can't help but wonder if you're not railing at the wind.

Last I heard, it was OK to kill a sentient being because you felt like steak for dinner. Let's put this in context with the hundreds of millions of animals humans kill each year for all kinds of reasons.

You're making a false equivalency there. The line in the sand is the park's border, whether that's regarding bison hunts or other matters of ecological concern. Saying that because we kill cattle for food we are able to use the same reasoning to justify killing the animals in a National Park like YNP is just silly. The purpose of the animals being killed in a factory farm is to serve as food. The purpose of anything, excepting the most basic of facilitation for humans to experience things (otherwise what's the point?), in YNP is for it to be a wilderness, otherwise again what's the point? I'm all for total wilderness preserves with no people, no trails, no roads but places like Yellowstone where people meet the best nature has to offer is of extraordinary value to keeping people aware of what the words nature and wilderness mean.

Our national parks system is a national museum. Its purpose is to preserve forever ... certain areas of extraordinary scenic magnificence in a condition of primitive nature. Its recreational value is also very great, but recreation is not distinctive of the system. The function which alone distinguishes the national parks ... is the museum function made possibly only by the parks' complete conservation." - Robert Sterling Yard, conservationist, 1923
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:08 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have loved bears since Yogi and Smokey.

One time I was in Grizzly country and I was hiking alone. I was about a mile from the cabin I was staying at with a bunch of other people. There was a very small stream running across the trail and I looked down as I stepped over it and right in the middle was a perfectly fresh Grizzly bear paw print. It looked about as big as a dinner plate.

I decided to walk back to the cabin. Quickly. On the mile return hike about five different times I hallucinated the sound of a grizzly bear in the bushes where the wind was blowing through the bushes right beyond the distance where I could see clearly off the side of the trail.

Fun.
posted by bukvich at 10:19 PM on April 2, 2012


I have loved bears since Yogi and Smokey.

I had to read this 3 times because I kept thinking to myself "...his partner's name was Boo Boo, not Smokey." Then I realized I'm an idiot.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:23 PM on April 2, 2012


Google, John Capen Adams
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 11:47 PM on April 2, 2012


Talking Bear True Crime With Jessica Grose
posted by homunculus at 12:03 AM on April 3, 2012


Not likely. It is much wiser to use bear spray.
posted by humanfont at 11:29 PM on April 2 [+] [!]


Depends on environment, bear species, and how good you are with guns. I spend a lot of time in the Arctic and out on the ice. We see polar bears all the time, mostly at a distance of a few hundred yards to half a mile or so, and they generally keep their distance. Good thing too, because those guys can move like 20-25mph over the ice. Just as with grizzlies, some are more acclimated to humans and have learned to come into towns for garbage, which makes them very dangerous. But your big worry is coming up on a bear accidentally, with no warning. The ice is not flat. There are big crags and outcroppings. So it's entirely possible to walk up on a bear and not realize it until you are within yards, too late to slide away unnoticed.

Bear spray doesn't always work on Polar bears. Certainly not if they are already charging and close. So most of the ice hunters I know carry a 44 magnum, which is about the only handgun that will stop a 600-800 pound nanook with one or two shots well placed. Of course that gun kicks like a mofo, so you have to be a good shot, because if you miss you might well not get another shot off. This is in addition to whatever hunting guns you are carrying.
posted by spitbull at 4:59 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, for what it is worth (which may not be much and I'd hate for anyone to find out the hard way), the native folks I know who hunt (including bears, in limited number) on the ice and have done so for a few thousand years (and often spend hours observing bears as they hunt seals at breathing holes alongside humans doing the same thing) say that most bears are in fact right-pawed, and that your odds are better if you can get on the bear's right side as a result in an emergency. Bears and humans have a symbiotic history in the arctic. Bears have often subsisted on the remains of human kills butchered at the killsite (whale, walrus, bearded seal), and humans have long observed bears in order to locate prey and indeed to learn hunting technique -- I have heard Eskimo hunters discuss the finer mechanics of bear seal-hunting techniques with great admiration). Polar bears are less aggressive, by a notch, than grizzlies, but often bigger and more lethal because they are full-time hunters, unlike those soft southern bears who get to eat berries and such.

I posted this in part because I too am fascinated by bears, and consider them magnificent wonders of nature, fellow and fairly equal top predators for most of human history in North America. We have penned them in and altered their reality so quickly. They're smart and adapt quickly to our behaviors, but we're moving the ball too quickly for them to catch it. The ice is melting, the forest is shrinking, the humans are spreading out into more and more corners of the remaining open wilderness. The bears were once our equals. Now they are essentially our dependents in the larger sense. It's an eco-tragedy.

For what it is worth, there are confirmed instances of polar-grizzly hybrids (at least one in the wild, so-called grolar/pizzly bears) as the grizzly range extends north with warming and melting advancing, and the nanook range moves south as they seek out new inland food sources to replace their rapidly diminishing ice platform. It is in principle possible, I believe. Alaskan hunters have also reported nanook/grizzly battles (how's that for an apocalyptic image?), as they are on different mating cycles and as they come into competition for the same food sources.
posted by spitbull at 6:45 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


As always, knowledge is power.

Brown bears are awesome, potentially dangerous, and unpredictable - but not totally unpredictable. The more you know about them, the safer you will be. Common sense and respect go a long way.

Coexistence is possible with a little forethought. For instance, my wife and I were spring skiing at Big Mountain in Montana about fifteen years ago, and the resort had closed some trails on the back side of the mountain because it was getting to be time for the grizzlies to start emerging from their hibernation. The thing is they did it as much for not stressing out the bears as protecting the humans.

A bear is gonna do what a bear does - seeing only a killer, instead of a majestic animal with a job to do, is sad.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:53 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


> there are confirmed instances of polar-grizzly hybrids

I have seen a couple bio guys arguing that they are the same species. Google isn't helping me on this one today, though.
posted by bukvich at 9:56 AM on April 3, 2012


Leaving such a dangerous animal roaming large tracts of the most beautiful hiking territory is a problem.

Uninformed nonsense. Since record keeping began in the 1870s and 1880's there have been ~59 fatal brown bear attacks on the entire North American Continent (North America, Alaska and Canada). This is less than one grizzly bear death per year for the entire North American continent. This number includes the "spate" of bear attacks in Yellowstone last July / August. It should be obvious to anyone looking objectively at the situation just how little, statistically, these bears pose to people. These bears are, by definition, NOT a problem.

I personally would prefer that that experience not include any kind of significant chance of being eaten by a grizzly bear when hiking alone, and I am cool with whatever steps are taken to make that happen.

An average of 3.5 million people visit Yellowstone annually. Hundreds of thousands hike its trails annually. Tens of thousands of those people take backcountry excursions and overnight away from established campsites. A mind bogglingly small statistically insignificant number of these people get killed by brown bears. You have nothing to worry about...there is no significant chance of being eaten by a grizzly bear when hiking alone or otherwise (although a slightly higher chance alone than not - don't hike alone in grizzly bear country....then you might up your chances of being eaten slightly closer to half of one percent).

If you're really interested in protecting people while they are enjoying the backcountry then you should forget about bears and get to work insisting that foot bridges are installed over every major stream and river crossing.

Grizzly bears are very far from being endangered -- there are huge populations in Canada and Alaska

I think that hardly excuses killing them for no reason in the lower 48. Not to mention that their populations are managed in Alaska and Canada and as the human population encroaches further into their environment you will see marked decreases in their numbers. Their are, in fact, areas in Canada where the brown bear population is decreasing do to both hunting and industry.

I suspect that many of the folks most vociferous about grizzly preservation don't hike that much

I see this attitude a lot on hunting forums and it drives me nuts. If you come to the defense of bears or mountain lions or any large game, you must be an environmentalist who never hikes or experiences the outdoors? I know i'm fighting anecdata with anecdata but my experience is that the opposite is true. Most vociferous people I know speak out against the destruction of the wilderness because they experience it, enjoy it and realize how special it is. I personally hiked and camped in grizzly country with a friend off the 212 in Montana / Wyoming last summer. We both carried bear spray...which most people who get killed tend not to.

I would personally rather NOT have the remaining isolated population of grizzly bears in the lower 48 to go the way of the California Grizzly. The actual facts on the matter tend to demonstrate that people and grizzlies ARE coexisting without too much risk to either species - despite such a crowded space. Very, very, very rarely someone gets killed by a grizzly bear...in the wilderness...hence the name wilderness. In my opinion risk, however small, is necessary for a true wilderness. Once the risk is gone...it is no longer wild. It is sanitized. We as a country decided that we value preserving these wild, risk-filled pockets of space for perpetuity. I hope we keep it that way.
posted by jnnla at 11:32 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Amen.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:36 AM on April 3, 2012


I once had the chore of looking through an excel spreadsheet detailing every known fatality in seismic field operations recorded from ~ 1960 to ~ 2010. The most dangerous thing the workers do is drive or ride in passenger autos (d'oh). One of the categories was wildlife encounters. There were around a dozen fatalities due to wildlife. A couple snakes. One grizzly bear.

Over one half the incidents were bee swarms. When you are out in the wilderness watch your ass out for the fucking killer bees.
posted by bukvich at 1:53 PM on April 3, 2012


Also there was one homicide to match the grizzly death toll. One of the workers stabbed another over a card game and he bled to death. Please be careful who you play cards with when you are in the wilderness.
posted by bukvich at 1:58 PM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


All I'm saying is that I personally would prefer that that experience not include any kind of significant chance of being eaten by a grizzly bear when hiking alone
posted by zipadee


Well ... in that case, you might want to want to give bear-suit researcher, and Ignoble recipient, Troy Hurtubise of Project Grizzly infamy a call, zipadee.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:19 PM on April 3, 2012


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