If individual human personalities could be stuffed and displayed like the carcasses of trophy gorillas or reconstructed like the skeletons of brontosauruses, Henry Kelsey would make a fine display for a major museum. He was a courageous soldier, an effective diplomat and a successful entrepreneur. In terms of his own time, the 17th century, he was a keenly observant, progressive-minded naturalist, cultural anthropologist and topographer. In terms of all time, Kelsey was an explorer of the very first rank. Before reaching adulthood, he saw more of this continent when—for Europeans—it was absolutely virgin than any other white man had or would. He was also a poet, not a very good one but perhaps the first English-speaking individual with the temperament and talent to be a bard of the true, howling wilderness of the New World.
Kelsey arrived in the New World in 1685 as a 14-year-old boy-of-all-work who took part in the commercial buccaneering expedition that drove the French out of northern Ontario. He remained as a "servant" of the newly chartered Hudson's Bay Company. During the next five years he became, by the standards of the firm, odd; the only one of that hard crew sufficiently interested in the "red niggers" of the northern wastelands to learn anything about their language and lore or, it seems, to conclude that they were indisputably human.
In 1690 Kelsey was sent off from York Factory—a fortified post at the confluence of the Nelson and Hayes Rivers—on an extraordinary mission that was to keep him in terrae incognitae for the next three years. Officially he was ordered to establish a fur trade with savages who, it was assumed, might be found in the western interior. The masters of the Bay Company may also have concocted the assignment as a means of ridding themselves, at least temporarily, of a restless young man of unsettling, uncivilized opinions. In any event, Kelsey was very likely the only man who would have made such a trip. He left with a party of Cree tribesmen and with a "fire in his heart" to see the lands beyond the edge of the known world. When the Crees dared go no farther, he joined other Indian hunters, one of whom thought Kelsey insane because he "was not sensable of danger."
Always heading West, Kelsey skirted the great Arctic Barrens, then slanted southward across prairies, traveling at least as far as the eastern foothills of the Shining Mountains—the Rockies. He was the first Englishman to come upon a musk ox and the Great Plains, the homelands of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Crow Indians. Probably in the spring of 1691 he met what he accurately reckoned was the most formidable beast in the New World. It was, he noted, "a great sort of a Bear which is bigger than any white Bear [Polar bears were common around Hudson's Bay] & is neither White nor Black But silver hair'd like our English Rabbit."
July 22, 1984
So impressed was Kelsey, the first of us to see and describe a grizzly, that he summoned his Muse and wrote:
...an outgrown Bear w[ch] is good meat
His skin to gett I had used all ye ways I can
He is man's food & he makes food of man....
Subsequently, the grizzly has wasted enough trappers, lumberjacks, drovers and tourists so that the substance, if not the exact words, of the poet's bottom line hasn't been forgotten—that sometimes we may eat this bear and sometimes the bear eats us. Much lesser creatures of the bee, spider or snake sort have proved more deadly, to judge from the available statistics, but only the great bear, when so inclined for defensive or predatory reasons, has been able to make meat of us in direct, mano a mano confrontations.
As we began to settle in big-bear ranges, the animal proved even more ready and able to make meals of our cattle, sheep, horses, beehives, orchards and storage caches. It was quickly decided that clearing out the grizzlies was an imperative chore if the land from the Plains to the Pacific was going to be a nice place for us to live. This has been largely accomplished. It's thought that there were once 100,000 grizzlies roaming throughout the trans-Mississippi West. Now it's more precisely estimated (counting grizzlies has become something of a cottage industry) that only from 800 to 900 of them survive in the lower 48, mostly in northern Montana, northwestern Wyoming and the Idaho panhandle.
Only raving nostalgics can fail to understand why this has happened or argue seriously that it's possible or desirable to return—bearwise—to the good old days. For example, another guess has it that Northern California supported 10,000 of these beasts in the early 19th century. Now there are none, basically because you can't have that many—or, in truth, any—grizzlies and, say, Sacramento. It goes far beyond direct conflict—bears chasing state senators around Capitol Plaza or harassing midnight dope dealers in the bushes along the American River. All that bears imply in terms of habitat and ecology, and all that Sacramento implies in the way of human use and logistics make the species and city absolutely incompatible.
In their behavior toward us, grizzlies haven't changed appreciably since Kelsey met his first one. They remain determined to pursue and defend their own self-interest, by violent means if necessary, and they generally don't give a damn about what we want. There's no reason to expect they can be persuaded or forced to act differently than they always have.
On the other hand, our opinions about grizzlies have changed. There are still a few holdouts in bear country—for obvious reasons—who cling to the old view that the only good grizzly is a dead one. However, the prevailing attitude now clearly is that we should cherish our remaining grizzlies because this is in keeping with contemporary environmental sensitivities and because they are rare, esthetically impressive creatures, appealingly associated with our national history, or at least romantic versions of it. There is also some chauvinism involved. Passionate pro-bear people sometimes give the impression that the few animals remaining in our northern Rockies are the last of the species on the continent. This isn't the case. There are between 40,000 and 50,000 grizzlies in Alaska and Western Canada, and the evolutionary future of the bears lies there.
What it boils down to is that around 1970 we collectively decided that, for essentially sentimental reasons (which shouldn't be equated with foolish or trivial ones), the grizzlies remaining in the lower states were desirable adornments and should be preserved. Political authorities sensitive to such issues gave the appropriate public servants, wildlife and land managers, the job of executing the will of the citizenry, and ever since, we've been squabbling about how to do this work and why it hasn't been done faster and better. If nothing else, we've come to appreciate that there are few things in the world so difficult to preserve as a wild grizzly bear.
For the most basic physical reasons, a grizzly is a great deal more difficult to manage and manipulate than a black-footed ferret or a California condor. The species isn't senescent, clinging to a small scrap of prehistoric habitat, unable to survive independently in and cowed by the world as it now is. Rather, the remaining grizzlies are robust, adaptive omnivores who, if permitted, are quite capable of taking care of their own bed and board almost anywhere in their former range, i.e., the western two-fifths of the country. They don't even require excessively wild habitat, having frequently demonstrated that they're able and willing to tolerate our presence and, in fact, are fairly ingenious about finding ways to benefit from it. Their principal trouble is that we still find it difficult to adjust to free-ranging grizzlies. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty of how and where to keep such creatures, our good intentions run smack into the Sacramento syndrome.
To show concern for another species, up-to-date wildlife scientists almost reflexively try to put collars, bearing radio transmitters, on the creatures in order to follow and collect information about them. This is called research, and it sometimes is beneficial to the animals but, if not, at least it gives a soothing sense that good works are being done on their behalf. The grizzlies have come in for a lot of this sort of attention. Some 30 to 40 of them (from 4% to 6% of all the wild ones in the West) now wear transmitters. One of the wired bears is No. 38, a mature female which lives in the Yellowstone ecosystem, a tract of more than 8,000 square miles, about 40% of it within Yellowstone National Park; the remainder is principally composed of adjacent national forest lands.
Late last summer, Grizzly 38, accompanied by two cubs, began traveling in a southwesterly direction away from national park land toward the Tygee Basin area of the Targhee National Forest in Idaho. On Aug. 23 her transmitter signal was picked up by Dr. Dick Knight, a veteran Yellowstone bear biologist who was flying over the area, as he frequently does, to monitor bears equipped with transmitters. Knight called George Matejko, a Forest Service ranger-wildlife manager who works the Targhee Island Park District, and told him the three bears were headed his way. Matejko then called Bill Enget, a rancher who holds a federal permit to graze sheep on 28,126 acres of forest land in Idaho and Montana. That day Enget had about 2,000 sheep in the Tygee Basin being watched by two shepherds, Jess McIntire and Jose Rodriquez. As Enget had previously been informed, the sheep were then in one of the areas that, to protect grizzlies, federal agencies have designated as Situation I lands. In Situation I areas the welfare of grizzlies comes first, those of human users and property owners second. (There are also Situation II and III areas in which, vis-√†-vis bears, human interests are progressively upgraded.)
Enget said that though his permit entitled him to several more weeks of grazing on the land, he would immediately start moving the sheep back to a shipping corral at Big Springs, some 15 miles distant, to avoid any trouble with the bears. However, before anything could be done, No. 38 and her cubs arrived and jumped the sheep on their bed-ground. They were driven off by warning rifle fire from McIntire and Rodriquez, but during the night two lambs were injured and later had to be destroyed. (Before the episode was concluded—18 days later as it turned out—Enget lost 33 sheep. A Forest Service report says only four of them, beyond doubt, were killed by the bears; 13 others were reckoned to have been done in by coyotes or poisons; the remaining 16 died of causes about which the concerned parties could not or would not agree.)
On Aug. 24, Enget, his wife, Louise, and two nephews, Hal and Jeff Buster, joined the shepherds and started driving the flock. Shortly, a Forest Service biologist, Barbara Franklin, arrived on the scene and began riding around the herd looking for bear sign. None was found, and for the next three days nobody knew where the bears were, the weather having turned so bad that Knight couldn't fly. On the 27th, visibility improved, and Knight got a signal which indicated that No. 38 was only a half mile from the flock. That night, despite patrols by the herders, another lamb was killed.
Two days later, while working 40 sheep that had split from the main flock, Hal Buster, on horseback, was charged by No. 38, probably in defense of her cubs. Buster fired shots over the sow's head, and she retreated without doing any damage. During the next few days, the Forest Service closed several nearby campgrounds and evacuated two of its own nonbear work parties and some commercial loggers and sawmill operators. As these bystanders left, a mixed company of some 20 bear people—U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Forest Service and Idaho state game agents—assembled. Then some members of the press (who having learned of the happening followed it enthusiastically) joined the ground party, which was in considerable disagreement about what should be done. Enget, backed by other ranchers after they heard the details, wanted the bears removed—lured or trapped—before more sheep were lost or people hurt. Fish and Wildlife agents argued that this was Situation I country, where it was people and sheep who had to be moved, not bears. Forest Service operatives were indecisive, torn between their obligations to the grizzlies and to Enget. Idaho game officers, who had bear-catching and handling equipment, said they would use it, but not until the Feds made up their minds about what to do.
A compromise, which didn't entirely satisfy anyone, was struck. Enget would continue to move his sheep out of the area, and the agents would try to cover his retreat. Attempts were made to haze the bears with aircraft. Propane cannons (noisemakers often used to frighten birds out of orchards) were brought in and fired at the grizzlies, as were flares. On several nights Idaho game agents strung as much as a half mile of electric fence around the sheep bed-grounds. The three bears proved to be singularly unshockable. They had no difficulty keeping up with the slow-moving sheep, which could be driven only two miles or so a day, hanging around the flock and picking off a few more lambs.
The improbable entourage of herders, public servants, press, sheep and bears arrived at Enget's Big Springs corrals on Sept. 4. There the rancher sold his lambs, several weeks earlier than he had planned. He then drove the ewes and bucks back to his ranch, two miles away. The bears followed. All parties then milled about for several days, and the grizzlies began touring private and federal lands on which their status was less protected than in Situation I areas. It was decided that to avoid a serious incident and/or vigilante action by aroused local residents, the family had to be removed. Three culvert traps were set and baited with bacon, fruit and a dead sheep supplied by Enget. This stew was doused with vinegar, which smells like formic acid produced by ants—on which the grizzlies had been observed to snack between sheep meals. The bears roamed about for another day or so and at 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 9 entered the traps and were taken. Subsequently they were tranquilized, trucked back to and released in Yellowstone Park. Except that the sow got a replacement radio collar and the cubs their first ones, the three bears were unmarked by their excursion. On the human side, the incident cost about $15,000 for sheep, salaries, aircraft use, electric fencing, propane cannons and the preparation of a report.
Grizzly No. 15, a 430-pound male, was first radio-collared in 1975. During the next nine years he got into no trouble with people but showed a marked inclination to forage in the Gallatin National Forest on the northern (Montana) edge of the Yellowstone ecosystem. (Grizzlies may travel 100 miles a day while taking care of business.) He was in the Gallatin on June 24, 1983. Early on the morning of the 25th, he padded up to a Forest Service campground at Rainbow Point, where William May, 23, of Sturgeon Bay, Wis. was camping with a friend, Ted Moore. Without warning, No. 15 charged the tent of the sleeping campers, bit through the side, picked up May, carried the screaming man 30 feet away, killed him and ate about a third of his body.
One of the first outsiders to arrive on the scene was Dr. Chris Servheen, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and the chief scientific consultant to a committee of federal and state executives now grappling with the problem of grizzly preservation. As such, Servheen is the ranking grizzly professional among public servants in the country. As to bear No. 15, Servheen had no doubts about what to do, there being a firm, if unwritten, rule that a grizzly that kills a human must be killed immediately or permanently kept as a study captive. Some wild justice—the urge for revenge—underlies this practice, but it is also supported by certain behavioral observations. Grizzlies are very adaptive, i.e., they learn quickly, and if they hit upon a tactic that works for them, they remember and are apt to repeat it.
On the night of June 25, No. 15 returned to the scene of the tragedy and was caught in a foot snare lashed to a stout tree. As the enraged animal was tearing at the trap and its cables, a Montana game agent shot a tranquilizer dart into its side. Thereafter, an analysis of material under the bear's claws and in its excrement proved that this was the right animal, the one that had killed May. Servheen injected a dose of lethal poison into its side. An autopsy was then performed, one theory being that perhaps the animal was suffering from a disease that had caused behavior derangement and, if contagious, might similarly affect other grizzlies in the area. No such pathological evidence was found, nor did the autopsy reveal any abnormalities in No. 15 that might have caused him to act as he did. So far as biologists could determine, this was a robust, sane grizzly.
"A lot of theories have been advanced about why bears turn killer," says Servheen. (Among others: The killers are old or enfeebled animals and thus starving; human sexual or menstrual odors arouse them; uncovered food or garbage triggers a feeding frenzy.) "But none of them applied in this case. The two men had made a good, clean camp in a secure place. They did absolutely nothing—that we can understand, at least—to attract or provoke that animal. This case was a tragic reminder of something we too often forget. We know very little about the inner life, the motivations, of a grizzly. The same can be said about most other animals, but the grizzly is the only one in the terrestrial U.S. about which our ignorance can be fatal. If people and bears are in the same area, I think it is inevitable that there will, occasionally, be tragedies. This has to be a constant factor in our planning about, and the management of, the species."
Alaska aside, our remaining grizzlies principally inhabit two separate tracts, both primarily in large national parks. About 400 to 600 animals live in northern Montana, in and around Glacier Park, while 200 or so survive in the Yellowstone ecosystem. There are probably fewer than 100 elsewhere, in scattered pockets in Idaho, Washington and perhaps southern Colorado. (Until 1980, when an old female was shot in the San Juan Mountains, no grizzlies had been seen in Colorado for nearly 30 years. None has been spotted since 1980.)
In part because they're occasionally joined by bears traveling south from Canada, the northern Montana grizzlies seem to be holding their own. In the opinion of Montana wildlife officials, 25 animals a year can be harvested by sport hunters without destabilizing the population. (Northwestern Montana, outside Glacier Park, is the only area in the lower 48 states where the grizzly is a legal game animal.)
The Montana hunt is intricately supervised. Each year state biologists determine the number of bears known to have died of natural causes or to have been killed in control actions, by poachers or otherwise. This total is subtracted from 25, the number of presumably disposable animals. The remainder, say 15, is what's left for sport. Hunters who draw grizzly permits—about 600 a year—are required to keep game agents informed as to where they are and report their kills immediately. When the designated number of kills is approached, the hunt is closed and field parties are notified. Since it was established a decade ago, the system has worked fairly well. Grizzly mortality in northern Montana averages about 20 bears a year—sport hunters taking 10 animals. So long as the overall population doesn't decline, most conservationists accept the Montana hunt as a reasonable trade-off. In grizzly preservation matters, it tends to maintain the goodwill of hunters and outfitters—a powerful special interest group in this region—and therefore the political benefits for the species as a whole are thought to outweigh the loss of the few animals killed.
In the Yellowstone ecosystem, grizzlies are in a much more precarious position than they are around Glacier. The population has been declining there since at least the mid-1960s, when it was thought that there were from 300 to 400 bears in the area. Now there are from 180 to 210. In the popular sense of the term, the grizzly is considered endangered in Yellowstone. However, under federal law it is designated only as a threatened species. Officially endangered species cannot be molested for any purpose by anyone, including public wildlife managers. The agents who trapped and removed grizzly No. 38 and put down No. 15 after it killed William May would have been guilty of criminal acts if the animals had been legally designated as endangered. The reasoning behind the fact that the grizzly isn't so designated is that if field people don't have some freedom of action, conflicts between bears and humans will increase and worsen, making the species more vulnerable to acts of private vengeance and retaliation.
For the past 15 years, bureaucrats, scientists and private wildlife organizations have been feuding about why the Yellowstone grizzlies are disappearing and who's to blame. The Park Service has frequently been accused of mismanagement, principally because in 1970 and '71 it closed open-pit garbage dumps at which for more than 50 years many grizzlies had fed. Critics claimed that the closures nutritionally impoverished the area and dispersed hungry bears into the fringes of the ecosystem, where they got into more trouble with humans, often with fatal results for the animals. Elsewhere, the Forest Service was charged with being more interested in maintaining cozy relationships with commercial users of its lands—ranchers, timber companies, oil drillers and such—than in accommodating grizzlies and their protectors. State game agencies caught heat for not being energetic enough in enforcing laws that would benefit the bears.
In the 1970s many, not particularly successful, attempts were made to promote peace and cooperation among the disputing authorities. The latest effort of this sort occurred early in 1983 with the establishment of something called the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. It comprises upper-level federal executives (regional director types) from the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest, Parks and Wildlife services and comparable representatives from the states of Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming. Servheen is the scientific adviser to the group, in effect its chief of staff.
There has been some understandable skepticism about the IGBC. However, the creators of the new group insist it intends to do substantive work. Among the optimists is Ray Arnett, an Assistant Secretary of the Interior who heads both the Parks and Wildlife services. Arnett says, "Previous committees were technical groups made up of biologists. They did a good job of fact-finding but couldn't make management decisions. They could only report separately to their own agencies. In this new setup, people who can make broad decisions are sitting down together, getting the same technical information at the same time, trying to work out conflict-of-interest problems. I think the willingness to do this is evidence that we've finally all come around to realizing that if we're going to save the animal there's no more time for people to be dancing around trying to protect their own bureaucratic turf. I can guarantee that so far as the Feds are concerned, keeping grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem is now an absolutely top priority."
Arnett is a big man, bearish himself in appearance if one may say so, who was the chief California wildlife manager when Ronald Reagan was governor of the state. He was appointed to his federal position by former Secretary of the Interior James Watt and in most social and economic matters is a rock-ribbed conservative. However, Arnett, a passionate hunter and naturalist, has demonstrated a visceral compassion for wildlife and wilderness. In specific cases he has proved to be a formidable preservationist, though he would probably rather choke than so describe himself. The grizzly bear is one of the species he has tried to preserve, and he has won high marks in unexpected quarters for his efforts. "Ray has been good, very good about the grizzly," says Amos S. Eno, the wildlife coordinator for the National Audubon Society and a frequent critic of the present Administration.
The most notable actions that indicate there may be a new era in grizzly management have involved law enforcement, no small problem. Since 1970, 42 grizzlies are thought to have been killed illegally in the Yellowstone ecosystem. (Since most such deeds are committed surreptitiously, there have almost certainly been more than are known.) Some grizzlies have been done in by irate ranchers and property owners who took the law into their own hands. Others have been killed by hunters who mistakenly—so they claimed—shot what they thought was a legal black bear. A number have simply been poached. A whole grizzly is one of the most valuable game trophies in the world—worth from $10,000 to $15,000. Also, in parts of Asia and in communities in this country made up of emigrants from those parts, there's a great demand for bear heads, hides, paws, claws and innards, which are thought to have powerful nutritional and medicinal properties. For example, smuggled into certain Oriental cities, a gallbladder of an American bear may sell for from $3,000 to $4,000 because it's prized as an aphrodisiac.
As a first and obvious step toward stabilizing the grizzly population, the interagency committee decided unanimously to make a coordinated effort to put a stop to criminal assaults on the bears. The gist of the decision was forcefully expressed by Arnett: "We're going to spend more money and manpower to prevent illegal killings. If we catch anyone who has molested a grizzly, you can bet your bippy we're going to come down on him like a ton of bricks."
To this end various states are making new law-enforcement arrangements. Idaho and Wyoming, for example, have altered their black-bear hunting seasons in the Yellowstone area so as to cut down on mistake killings. Despite a very tight Interior Department budget, the Fish and Wildlife Service last year got $200,000 extra for grizzly protection, an appropriation that doubled funds available for this work. FWS now has four mounted wildlife investigators riding the backcountry throughout the seasons when grizzlies and grizzly killers may meet, looking for evidence of illegal killings. (Because of the difficult wilderness logistics, it costs about $75,000 annually, including salary, to keep one of these agents in the field.) Also, last year some 60 other employees of various agencies spent part of their time, collectively some 7,000 hours, riding the bear range. Much of their work was educational—talking to ranchers, herders, loggers, hunters, outfitters, recreationists—explaining the grizzly problem, how to identify the animals, how to avoid trouble with them and the penalties for doing illegal things to bears. On the latter score, a direct reminder is provided by 12,000 posters now on display throughout grizzly country. These state that the National Audubon Society will pay up to $15,000 to anyone supplying information that leads to the conviction of an illegal grizzly killer. Since the poster campaign began last year, two payments have been made. The most recent, $4,500, went to an Idaho informant who tipped state game agents that one James H. Bibb of Priest River had poached a bear on or about May 1, 1982. Idaho agents obtained a search warrant and found that Bibb had in his possession various grizzly parts, including a full set of claws—much sought after for pendants and belt-buckle adornments. Also he had color photos—taken with a self-timing camera—showing himself at the scene of the kill, posing with his hunting bow alongside a dead 400-pound grizzly. Later it was determined that after making this portrait, Bibb cut off the animal's head and paws and packed out these trophies, leaving the rest of the carcass in the woods. Shortly thereafter, he displayed the photos to acquaintances in the Priest River area. (Poachers have great difficulty not bragging about their macho feats, a trait that often brings about their downfall.)
On being questioned, Bibb first claimed he had legally killed the bear in Canada; then he claimed he had found the animal dead on a road, stuck an arrow in the corpse and took the pictures so he could boast about them. Investigation demolished these alibis. Then Bibb said that he had indeed been bow-hunting for other game from a tree stand when a grizzly appeared and acted as if it was about to attack him. He killed it in self-defense. This story was also deemed fictitious because evidence disclosed that Bibb had been trying to lure in a grizzly with a rotten-meat bait. "It appears that he was never in any danger from the bear," said Dan Hawkley, an assistant U.S. attorney who in the fall of 1983 prosecuted the case in federal court in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. U.S. magistrate Steve Ayers allowed Bibb to plead guilty to illegal possession of bear parts—a lesser charge than killing a grizzly. Last Jan. 24 Ayers sentenced Bibb to a year in jail and three years of federal probation and fined him $10,000. The prison sentence and part of the fine were suspended. However, during his probationary period Bibb may not hunt and must volunteer 150 hours of conservation-related community service.
The penalties, the stiffest to be given a bear poacher, were widely publicized in the Northwest, and law agents believe the Bibb case will have a good, cautionary effect. There is statistical support for this optimism. In 1982, 14 grizzlies were known to have been illegally killed in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Last year, the first for the come-down-on-them-like-a-ton-of-bricks policy, only six animals were lost in this way.
Since 1970 the body count of Yellowstone grizzlies has been officially tabulated as follows: 16 have died naturally or for reasons that haven't been determined; 42 have been illegally killed; and 135 have been lost through human actions that are considered legal and unavoidable. For instance, two animals were killed in bona fide self-defense situations, while six were traffic fatalities. The greatest number, 86, were victims of management, i.e., either intentionally or accidentally (most often by drug overdoses) done in by wildlife professionals while studying bears; destroying bears that posed clear threats to human life or property; or moving potentially threatening bears to more isolated areas.
These figures have made it clear to wildlife professionals that finding and managing habitats in which bears can live and not get into so much fatal trouble with us is the most critical preservation problem. This involves changing and restricting human behavior; bears can't be expected to modify theirs. "If we could treat the grizzlies with absolute benign neglect, completely isolate them from people, they would do fine and we could stop studying, managing and worrying about them," says Servheen, stating an accepted truism. If, for example, all of the Yellowstone ecosystem of Northwestern Montana were completely closed to human use, the bears would almost certainly prosper. There are many other areas of the West into which bears could be transplanted and would thrive under similar arrangements. (For that matter, if Northern California were evacuated and the weeds allowed to grow for a few years, it would make good grizzly country.) However, the expense and social commotion that would accompany any such action makes it fantastic. Therefore, grizzly bear planners and managers continue to ponder and argue habitat solutions which, if less promising for the animals, are more practical in human terms. Currently three alternatives are being seriously considered:
MODIFIED BENIGN NEGLECT
The Interior services, Parks and Wildlife, favor regulatory changes that would cut down on the opportunities for bears and people to meet. To this end nearly 20% of Yellowstone Park was closed to visitors during parts of last year. Other temporary and permanent bear closures have been made in Glacier and in other parts of Montana. The creation of Situation I administrative districts where grizzlies more or less have the right-of-way is another step in the same direction. Whether this policy can—or should—be extended sufficiently to stabilize the grizzly population is becoming more of a debatable matter. Last December the Wyoming Outfitters Association, for example, passed a resolution opposing "the closure of large areas of Yellowstone Park and national forests to human use." Other commercial and recreational users have expressed similar opinions.
Neither the Yellowstone nor Glacier area is particularly rich in bear resources, having become more impoverished because of developments made by humans. The animals hang on there not out of choice, so to speak, but because nothing better is available. Craig Rupp believes that an effort to enrich current bear habitats and create new ones would benefit the species and help to solve some of its human relations problems. Until his retirement in January, Rupp was the director of the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain region and a prominent member of the grizzly committee. He's one of the most knowledgeable advocates of the improved-habitat approach. (Within the service, Rupp also had a reputation of being a grizzly progressive. Many of his colleagues, at least until very recently, have tended to regard the bear and the hullabaloo about it as a colossal pain, something that interfered with their "real" work of leasing out grass, timber, mineral and energy resources.) Rupp says, "If the biologists, as they haven't done yet, would ascertain what is optimum bear habitat, give us a model of what it contains, we could manage forest areas to produce it—more huckleberry patches, meadows, downed logs for ants and grubs, the most desirable tree species, whatever. Having optimum habitat would presumably make the population more vigorous and would tend to concentrate the animals in these areas, keep them out of other ones. Some closures might be necessary, but I don't think so many restrictions on other uses are as necessary as some people claim. We could use logging, perhaps even grazing operations to help create and maintain the kind of habitat we wanted. The thoughtful use of such renewable resources can enhance rather than degrade an ecosystem."
Biologists agree that habitat improvement is a desirable long-term goal but don't feel it promises, in the short run, to alleviate the present crisis relating to the Yellowstone bears. It's also pointed out that all intensive management practices increase rather than decrease the possibility of bear-human encounters. Though it's dear to the heart of foresters, multiple use isn't a theory for which grizzlies have ever shown much respect.
Essentially this involves a return to the pre-1970 situation in which many bears in the ecosystem hung around and fed at garbage dumps in Yellowstone Park. Proponents don't advocate reestablishing the pits as they were but rather setting up a series of feeding stations in isolated areas that would be supplied with good bear chow, possibly including quality garbage from the park. Scientist backers of this idea suggest that the Yellowstone animals may at least temporarily need such nutritional assistance and it might improve their reproductive rate, which declined after the dumps were closed.
Users of adjacent national forest lands—ranchers, outfitters and hunters—tend to favor supplemental feeding because it's assumed it will draw animals back into the park. If this happens it's hoped there will be fewer bear-inspired restrictions on people using other areas of the ecosystem. This line of reasoning has support at the highest levels in the Forest Service. Last fall John Crowell, an Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, wrote a memo on the subject to Max Peterson, the chief of the Forest Service and Crowell's subordinate. After taking a passing swipe at the Audubon Society for its "very narrow and single-minded interest in grizzly bear preservation," Crowell said that the service, of course, had to be concerned with broader, multiple-use matters. He said it seemed to him that most of the trouble, or at least the service's trouble with the grizzly, came after the parks closed their garbage dumps. "Therefore it seems to me a top priority for the grizzly bear interagency team is to undertake reestablishment of such a core population [in the park] through artificial feeding, although not necessarily at dumps."
The Parks Service is adamantly opposed to supplemental feeding because, as a practical matter, it, like the other agencies, believes that if this policy is followed for any period, Yellowstone will once again have most of the bears and most of the bear management headaches in the ecosystem.
The federal Fish and Wildlife Service and centrist conservation groups, including the Audubon Society, feel that supplemental feeding should be used only in emergency famine situations and as a tactical management tool for moving—by baiting—bears within the ecosystem. As a regular practice, supplemental feeding is judged to be too expensive, usually unnecessary and a device which can be used by its advocates as an excuse for not making more important decisions about securing and improving natural habitat in which the bears can fend for themselves. Servheen says, "A lot of grizzly behavior is acquired, cubs learning from their mothers. If we habituate them to artificial food sources, they're going to be less inclined to forage on a mountain, perhaps forget how to. Their habits will change rapidly. We'll have something that looks like a grizzly but behaviorally will be something different from the wild animal we set out trying to preserve. If we have to feed them to save them, I, just as a personal, moral judgment, would rather see them disappear, go out on their own with dignity."
We're now probably spending more than $2 million a year to keep the token grizzlies we want in the West, although the total can only be estimated because it's made up of items that appear under different headings in many budgets. The off-budget costs are all but unaccountable in the conventional way but are also high: the price of closing 20% of Yellowstone Park; barring or restricting legitimate human activities in other areas; and the occasional property destruction and death that go along with keeping these animals.
We are at this time paying more to preserve grizzlies than we are for any other endangered or threatened species, but if we're earnest about getting the job done we'll no doubt pay more in the future. Clearly the grizzly can only survive in our midst as a managed species, something we have to keep accommodating, working with and arguing about for as long as it's here.
The grizzly controversy is generally cast in technical terms as a dispute about the best way to save the animals. However, the essential issue is cost: Bureau A and User Group B claiming that under Plan C they'll come in for an unfair proportion of the overt and covert costs; that we should think about Plan D for which they'll pay less and somebody else more. But estimates of the true costs of having grizzlies have seldom been interjected into the public discussions, managerial types being understandably reluctant to be messengers bringing unsettling bills. Also, questions about price inevitably raise larger ones about values, and this has been a matter on which the bear establishment and the larger environmental community have been singularly mum. In the voluminous testimony about how to save grizzlies, next to nothing has been said about why have them.
After a routinely hectic day at the office, wrestling with bear papers and problems, Servheen talked one evening about the worth of the grizzly. The bear-is-ecologically-insignificant argument annoys him, and he makes an interesting rebuttal. He says the fear of bears cuts down on the number of people traipsing around in the backcountry of certain national parks and forests. Thus, the animals help prevent overuse and preserve the wilderness. This leads to a more intricate concept.
Servheen is a recreational user of grizzly country, a hiker, cross-country skier and hunter, though not of bears. He says that when he has had it up to the eyeballs with his job he likes to go away for a few days and pack into an isolated district in the Mission Range of Montana. There he's unlikely to meet any people but is always very aware that he might come across a grizzly. (Servheen carries a gun on these excursions.) "I'll hear an odd sound and prickles start on the back of my neck," he says. "It's fear, but the consequences are interesting. While I'm in a place like that my senses seem extraordinarily sharp. It's more than being alert to danger. It's a kind of super awareness about myself and everything around me. Those are the times when I feel most alive. If there were no bears I wouldn't have that experience, which I think is very valuable."
I obviously am much less intimately acquainted with grizzlies than is Servheen. However, once, to the northeast of Great Bear Lake in Canada, I slid down a pinga (conical frost boil) and only by dumb, but very good, luck caught myself on a scrub birch or I would have fallen on top of a female grizzly and her cub, which were 15 feet or so below in a rose thicket. Until that moment I had no idea that any bears were in the vicinity. Fortunately, the sow may have had little idea of what I was doing there or even of what I was, since this is virtually uninhabited, very rarely used country. Without even looking up, the female grunted a few times and with her cub padded off into the scrub. While they were leaving I was absolutely motionless, not as a reasoned tactic, but because for the only time in my life I fully understood the meaning of the cliché, "petrified by fear." After they were gone, I think I experienced the sensation Servheen was talking about, one of marvelously heightened conciousness. Those few seconds remain the most memorable, the most powerful experience of a generally stimulating summer in the Arctic wilderness. In fact, except for a few people, some occasional lines of writing, maybe one or two athletic moments, nothing else has given me a high comparable to the one that the two bears provided.
That a grizzly can give such a direct, sensual charge doesn't in itself seem sufficient justification for making a complicated public effort to keep a few of the animals in our Western states. There are simply too few who would place much value on being so gifted by grizzlies. Nevertheless, I'm solidly pro-bear and think they're generally worthwhile, despite the trouble and expense of keeping them.
First, in trying to save such an animal for and from ourselves we express critical, definitive elements of our humanity; we demonstrate that we can act on abstract principle for intellectual, esthetic and compassionate reasons. In such situations we also admit that because of these attributes we have unique responsibilities not to bust up marvels that we cannot recreate. What applies in this instance is the story about the brash American who blew out a flame that had burned 1,000 years, just because he figured he could. All of our natural preservation efforts confer the same benefits, but the grizzly seems special because he's such a hard case. Keeping this beast alive will give us a real workout. We need such exercise. Insufficiently used, ethical reflexes go soft and flabby like muscles and then can't be depended upon in real crises.
Second, wilderness areas are gaudy demonstration plots of the ancient, immensely complex system that has produced and supports life in this world. We probably will never know exactly how the system works. But it's important—not just for good mental health but pragmatically—that we understand that we operate with and within the system. Hubristic conceits about resigning from nature or dominating it are dangerous delusions. When we try to act on them we are always slapped down, as a fish would be if it tried to hike the Appalachian Trail. To be reminded of the mystery of the origins of life, the brightest of us can get the point by contemplating a cockroach or gas station, but most of us need an exhibition like the wilderness to drive home the message. And the grizzly? He has such prowess, history and reputation that he isn't only of the wilderness but also makes wilderness on the ground and in our heads. We can sit securely at a scenic highway overlook and, if we know that there are great bears in the expanse of mountains and forests below, we understand immediately that we're in the presence of by-God wilderness. Valuable reflections about our places and possibilities often follow.
In 1691, Henry Kelsey evidently had some discussions with his savage companions about the value of the great bear. He reflected on them in the last lines of that first grizzly poem.
His hide they would not me it preserve
But said it was a god & they should starve.
We now express ecological observations much differently—and by and large far more prosaically—but the same principles still apply. This remains a wild place where we make meat for as long as we can, but eventually become meat. Trees or muggers can fall on us, we can succumb to microbes or motor vehicles, incinerate ourselves for political reasons. But the great bear is the only thing in these parts that now and then, simply as an expression of its nature, can step out and make us his meat. We can take the bear out of the woods permanently, but this won't change the reality he so powerfully represents—only make it more difficult to understand and remember. The grizzly is a valuable memento mod.