Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Big Bad Bear

Right now I am reading Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen.  This is Olsen's true account of two grizzly attacks, maulings, and deaths of two campers at Glacier National Park in Montana in August of 1967.  After more than fifty years of no human fatalities from a bear, in one night two unrelated campers, in two different parts of the park, we killed by enraged bears.  Olsen's book traces the causes of that tragic night as they built up throughout the summer and bemoans the fact that it is the invasion of humans that is slowly exterminating this grand old creature into extinction.  It is a good book and one that I would encourage anyone to read if he or she wants to learn more about the grizzly bear--especially before going hiking in any of Montana's beautiful wilderness.

The Grizzly Bear is not a cute cuddly "teddy bear" wanting to share hugs with humans.  The Grizzly is a wild, violent creature trying to survive in an wilderness domain that is growing smaller and smaller every year as humanity encroaches on the bear's home.  The Ursus arctos horribilis--the Grizzly Bear--is the largest of all carnivores in the continental United States.  The bear is called grizzly because of its silvery white-tipped fur looked, to the early explorers who named him, like the gray in an old man's hair.  A female can weigh between 330 to 770 pounds, while the male weighs in between 510 and 990 pounds.  When standing they can be between seven and eight feet tall.  For such a large creature they are fast--unlike the myth that they are big and slow--being able to beat the world's fastest human beings by 30 to 35 yards in the hundred yard dash.  Like humans they vary in their looks, colors, and size--but one distinguishing mark of a Grizzly is its hump upon its back.

Grizzly Bears have one of the lowest reproductive rates of all terrestrial mammals in North America for a variety of reasons.  This might explain why the big critters are so protective of their cubs, which they raise until they are a little over two years old.  There is nothing worse than getting caught between a mamma Grizzly and her youngsters--except maybe for a moose and its youngsters.  Beware the "mamma bear"!

Since moving to Montana I have heard the stories of the close encounters between humans and Grizzlies--always with a great deal of respect for the bear.  I have not yet encountered a Grizzly Bear while hiking in the  Absaroka and Beartooth Wilderness for which I am especially thankful, but they have been in the areas I have hiked.  I have seen their scat and little reminders of where they have rutted around in the dirt looking for something to eat.  Such signs keep me aware and on the defense--especially since I often hike alone or with my dog.  Grizzlies don't care too much for dogs and according to a report of a recent mauling in Wyoming the cause was the hiker's dog.  Typically I take my bear spray and bells--the bells are for warning the bears that I am out there, and the spray is to ward off an attack.  I don't have a lot of confidence in either one--I figure the bell is basically calling the bear to dinner, while the pepper spray is just seasoning for the feast.  I will say that my most recent hike was cut short due to a Grizzly sighting in the area I was hiking to--two different verifications of of personal encounters from two different hikes within thirty minutes of each other.  Seems it was hanging around the lake I was going to due to the fact that there was a cow Moose with a baby hanging around the lake.  It is better safe than sorry, besides I didn't think I could out run my Boxer, Maddie--I would have been the bear food that day!

The only two Grizzlies that I have seen first-hand--not behind a cage, but in the wilds--were in Yellowstone National Park.  The first one was quick as the bear was moving fast--I did not get a very good picture of the bear.  Primarily I got its back.

This bear wasn't stopping for anyone!

The second one, a year later and on the opposite end of the park, was a little more cooperative even though it was in a hurry too.  I got to follow it from the road for quite a while before it disappeared--it moved fast as I had to run to keep up.  As you can see in the picture below, it is much darker than the first one, but definitely had the hump.

My second Grizzly in Yellowstone!

With the heavy snow fall from this winter the mountains--the natural domain of the Grizzlies--has kept then down in the valleys a lot longer than normal.  With the slow snow melt it looks like it could be a long summer as the bears search for food wherever they can find it--human sources are the best!  Because of the increased  activity of the bears a lot of the campgrounds are closed in the area.  This is to protect the bears as much as the humans.  During this tense time both bears and humans need to show a healthy respect towards each other--typically the bears does unless it feels threatened.  Either way, one has to be careful.

I am sure that the first time I come upon a Grizzly Bear while hiking I am not going to stick around to determine whether or not it wants me not as a dinner guest but as the dinner.  So I keep my eyes and ears open whenever I am hiking--besides, I am still looking for the elusive "Beer"!

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