Ursus Horribilis In Extremis

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Yellowstone and Glacier national parks already may not be enough for the bear. People are the problem. Historically, visitors have congregated in developed campgrounds, where they stepped on each other’s feet and generated huge volumes of garbage. The garbage attracted the bears. The bears amused the people. Then the bears grew bolder and frightened the people. Some people were mauled. Rangers tracked down the culprits and transplanted them into the back country. But that didn’t work; the bears came back. So some were “removed,” either tranquilized and moved or shot dead. Next, scientists began to quibble about the parks’ garbage dumps. The Craighead brothers, John and Frank, who had been studying grizzlies for years at Yellowstone, argued that the dumps should be phased out gradually. Glen Cole, the Park Service’s chief biologist at Yellowstone, argued that the dumps should be closed pronto. Cold turkey for the grizzlies. Cole won the argument. There was much lingering acrimony—and many studies and investigations, which proved nothing, except that grizzlies and people do not mix congenially. Meanwhile, the bears were moving back into the more remote precincts of the park. But so were the people. In four years (1970-74), back-country use at Yellowstone Park increased 400 percent as hikers and backpackers swarmed through the wilderness. Rangers were dispatched to the back country. Certain trails were closed. At Yellowstone, a young man backpacked into an area officially closed to hikers because of the known presence of grizzlies. A bear entered his campsite, sniffing food. The young man attempted to chase the bear away. The young man is dead. So it goes.

Such incidents as this, as well as the fatalities at Glacier in 1967 and in Alaska in 1976, have given rise to the idea that perhaps it would be best for all concerned, all people in any event, if grizzlies were eradicated from the two national parks; transplanted, if necessary, to some special refuge elsewhere, some open-air zoo where they would not interfere with people’s enjoyment of Old Faithful or the Grinnell Glacier. GairdnerB.Moment,aM aryland gerontologist and visiting scientist at the National Institute of Health, offered just such a final solution in a series of articles appearing in the journal BioScience half a dozen years ago. Moment had been vacationing at Glacier National Park at the time the two young women were killed by bears, and apparently he was deeply moved by the episode. “I can find no directive in the Ten Commandments or even in the New Morality of situation ethics,” he wrote, “requiring that every species be saved from extinction.” Moment then delivered his manifesto:

“Every park cannot serve every purpose under the sun, no matter how worthy.… Old Faithful and St. Mary Lake [at Glacier] cannot be seen elsewhere nor can they be transplanted. Grizzlies can.… If we are as anxious to see grizzlies as we evidently are to shoot ducks, grizzlies could be established in Wildlife Refuges outside of parks. In those locations, grizzlies could provide the danger some people seek.…”

Despite the fact that grizzlies are little more transplantable than geysers, Moment’s grim proposal bears watching. Total removal of grizzlies from the parks is always a possibility. We Americans are passionately devoted to personal safety. We absolutely insist on it. Given the worst combination of circumstances-a quadrupling of back-country pressures, a series of maulings, perhaps a repeat performance of Glacier’s haunting “Night of the Grizzly”—it could happen. Then—good-by, bears. The war is finally over. We win? No, I think not. We lose.