“Are people more important than the grizzly bear? Only from the point of view of some people.” Ed Abbey
I have lived in grizzly bear country for almost 40 years now. I’ve encountered a few, never been charged, and never felt that deep down, sphincter-throbbing fear that this indomitable animal can produce if in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But I do know quite well the majesty of the grizbear: unnaturally strong, breathtakingly fast, and way too smart. I love the quote by Craig Childs that: “If it were a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey.” Damn straight.
But for all the great bears’ seeming invincibility, it is no match for we, the arrogant homo sapiens, and our technology, greed, fear … and indifference. If there is one iconic being in America’s wildlife catalog that shines above all others, that makes man and beast alike tremble with angst and wet themselves with fear, it is ursus arctos horriblius or as the Native Americans call it: “real bear.”
Alas, real bear is in trouble. It is a trouble that will never be appeased until we, as a species, learn a level of humility that allows it to freely survive, populate, and live unmolested with us here in “the land of the free.” And why shouldn’t it? We coexist with a wide variety of entities and devices that are detrimental to our existence — automobiles, for instance. Statistically, your chances of having an unpleasant encounter with G-bear are so small as to be ludicrous when compared to death by feckless human behavior in cars. The irony is undeniable.
In Montana, we crassly — and obsessively — use the grizzly bear image for brand names, advertising, and assorted commercial ventures, not to mention the University of Montana logo, which shamefully exploits the bear, yet has never been a legitimate voice in protecting it from a myriad of threats and possible extinction.
One would think that an institution of higher learning would recognize that an animal that possesses a level of self-awareness that can recognize its own reflection would justify coming out publicly in support of this extraordinary being, thus insuring the continued existence of that university’s treasured brand. Regrettably, this is not so.
Here in 2019, the assault on the great bear comes from many fronts and is ever increasing with an escalating human population and the horrors of climate change — here are a few:
- The wayward plot to delist grizzlies from the Endangered Species Act in the Lower 48, despite significant scientific evidence that they are not ready for such a measure.
- The continued, relentless campaign to degrade or destroy grizzly habitat through road proliferation. This, despite best available science that such practices are harmful to grizzly bears and other species, such as elk. Much of this will be in the name of wildfire mitigation and the notion that we can log our way out of fires and need more roads to do so.
- Proposing legislation that directly impacts the survival of grizzlies, such as the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, which caves to the special interests of mountain bikers that think a mountain bike play area in a designated grizzly recovery zone is a good idea.
- The greedy threat of a hunting season by states that should know better; Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have all considered a grizzly hunting season, with Montana actually having one up until 1991.
- The fact that there are multiple islands of bears that are isolated from each other and cannot intermingle, reproduce, and sustain current numbers. This fact alone—lack of interconnect-ability— will ultimately doom the grizzly in the lower 48.
And finally, all of this is being exacerbated by a warming climate that continues to lessen grizzly food sources, which is the central reason why they are showing up in new places such as golf courses in the Bitterroot and Hutterite colonies on the Rocky Mountain Front. Their traditional foods of salmon and white bark pine are either diminished or endangered, making the continued existence of grizzlies questionable.
So … what is the prognosis for the Great Bear? Only an enlightened mankind can truly answer that question.
Michael Jarnevic is a retired U.S. Army sergeant major with 42 years of continuous service in both the USMC and U.S. Army Special Forces. Currently, he is a freelance writer, outdoor lecturer and environmental activist residing outside of Missoula.