October 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 6
The Last Stand of King Grizzly
Bears and people have been at war for a long time-possibly longer than two predatory mammals should be, with any hope of mutual survival. In the beginning, the bears won almost every time, though not as often as the great cats did. Together with the great cats, bears provided spice to the human experience. People were obliged to defend themselves, were forced to think . Fires were lit at the mouth of the cave. Weapons were invented. Then the bears began to lose. People pictured them on the walls of caves. In some cultures, bears became as gods, and apologies were offered even as huntsmen plunged their lances through the bear’s hide. Next, there were legends and tall tales at the campfires. Smokey put on his ranger hat. Gentle Ben smiled for the television camera. Soon, a few people began to root for the bear, or at least for a truce.
They offered renewed apologies even as they designated one kind of bear a threatened species throughout much of its historic range. This was Ursus horribilis , the great silvertip grizzly, the onetime scourge of mountain men and cowboys, the epicenter of the back-country camper’s darkest dream, the largest, the deadliest, the most fearsome fang-and-claw critter on the North American continent.
It was a fine gesture, this effort to protect the bear, but late. Once, the grizzly ranged far and wide; east from the Pacific coast halfway to the Atlantic, and south to the Gulf of Mexico. But most are gone now. The grizzly was gone from California by 1922, from Utah by 1923, from Oregon and Arizona and New Mexico by 1935 or earlier; so long gone from the Dakotas that few citizens of those states are old enough to remember the last of the breed thereabouts. Though sizable and somewhat stable grizzly populations still prevail in Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska, the bear’s range in the coterminus United States is sharply pinched. It is about four hundred miles long and from one hundred to two hundred miles wide; it embraces Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, and spills somewhat questionably across the Idaho panhandle above Coeur d’Alêne into the northeast corner of Washington State. Considering what used to be, that isn’t much of a kingdom. Not for the grizzly, anyway.
In all likelihood, most of the 750 to one thousand grizzlies remaining in the Lower Forty-eight are confined to the near precincts of Glacier and Yellowstone parks, where, despite increasing human pressure on the back country, bears find fewer opportunities to test the marksmanship or trapping skills of people who still perceive predators darkly from the mouth of an ideological cave.
Rooting for bears, as I do, one has to believe that the grizzly deserves to find its own way to extinction, unhurried and unaided by humankind, like the brontosaur before it. But that kind of going is out of fashion these days; it is almost impossible when, on the one hand, you have a large animal capable of homicide, and on the other, ideological cavemen with high-powered rifles, builders of logging roads and condominium resorts, tenders of sheep and cows, miners of ores, and others who press their claims to some part of the bear’s diminishing world. So the war goes on, protective rulings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notwithstanding.
To be sure, the nation will not perish should the grizzly disappear altogether. But something of importance will be missing nonetheless. I mean the cultural loss, the purging of risk and danger from a wilderness that is already safe enough for all but the errant fool. I believe that to qualify as wilderness a piece of country requires something special: a presence larger and stronger than a man, and wiser to the woods, and fully capable of killing. It is not essential that one encounter such a presence. It is enough to know that it is there.
The history of Ursus horribilis is a capsule history of the American West. No other single wild species—not even the wolf or the cougar—has figured quite so prominently in the literature of exploration and settlement beyond the hundredth meridian.
Paleontologists tell us that somewhere to the north and west is where it all began—likely in the early Pleistocene forests of Asia, in the form of a large brown bear since immortalized as Ursus etruscus . About thirty thousand years ago came great sheets of ice. The forest became sparse and coniferous. In some places taiga and tundra took over. The bear adapted. Ursus etruscus became Ursus arctos. And one fine morning in Siberia, Arctos gazed out upon a shallow Bering Sea and saw a bridge of tundra reaching to America.
No doubt it took the bear many millennia to wander through what is now Alaska into the coastal ranges of the Northwest, to the Sierra Nevada, to the Rockies, to the parched hills of Mexico. With a preference for open country, the bear ranged eastward, moseying along the rich river bottoms of the Great Plains, growing fat on berries and ungulate prey. There is fossil evidence that some grizzlies crossed the Mississippi River and poked tentatively into the hardwood forests of Ohio. But mostly the species backed off and retreated with the sun, leaving the East to Ursus americanus (the black bear) and to the woodland Indians who would come later.
To what extent the early Indians of the West counted coup on Lord Grizzly-and vice versa-can only be conjectured. Bear hides and claw necklaces were worn or displayed by members of some tribes. The acquisition of such finery no doubt was costly. For the most part, the American Indian revered the great bear. Indeed, to some cultures it was a deity. Charles Fletcher Lummis, a newspaper correspondent who spent many years among the Indians of the Southwest in the late 1800’s, reported that the Navajos were in mortal dread of the bear-not of its fangs and claws but of its imagined supernatural powers. There was only one excuse, wrote Lummis, for meddling with a grizzly. That was when a bear killed a Navajo. A large party of warriors and medicine men would proceed to the animal’s lair. And then, as Lummis told it: “The praises of the bear, commander of beasts, are loudly sung, and his pardon is humbly invoked for the unpleasant deed to which they are now driven. Having duly apologized beforehand, they proceed as best they may to kill the bear, and then go home to fast and purify themselves.”
Probably the first written account of the grizzly by a European was that of Father Antonio de la Ascension, official scribe on the voyage of Sebastian Vizcaino to Monterey Bay in 1602. The padre saw the bears feeding on a beached whale, and later, inspecting their tracks in the sand, noted that they measured “a good third of a yard long and a hand wide.”
The first English observers were more observant. In 1691, the Hudson’s Bay Company dispatched one Henry Kelsey on a thousand-mile journey from Fort York, at the mouth of the Nelson River, to the plains of western Saskatchewan. According to Kelsey’s journal, he and his Assiniboin guide pitched their tent on August 20 and looked out upon a view affording “Nothing but short round sticky grass and buffalo and a great sort of a bear which is bigger than any white bear and is neither white nor black but silver hair’d like our English rabbit.…” Later, the two men encountered a pair of grizzlies at close range and discovered that this great sort of a bear had something else in common with the English rabbit-a swiftness of foot. The grizzlies charged, chasing the Assiniboin up a tree and Kelsey into a thick clump of willows. From this implausible hiding place, Kelsey claimed he shot and killed both bears with his flintlock musket. The feat earned him the honorary title of “Little Giant” among the northern tribes, and possibly the dubious distinction of being the first white man ever to slay a grizzly.
A century after Kelsey’s journey, Alexander Mackenzie set out from Montreal to complete the first overland crossing of America north of Mexico. In his journals, the Scot referred to “grisly and hideous bears,” and recounted how “One of our men, being at a small distance before the others, had been attacked by a female bear with two cubs but another of [the men] arrived to his rescue, and shot her.”
One of the richest lodes in the early literature on the bear was opened in 1804 when President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to chart the way to the Pacific Ocean. The journals of Lewis and Clark and their associates are filled with hair-raising tales of encounters with “white” bears-a misnomer then in use by French traders and some Indians who were impressed by the silver tips of the grizzly’s otherwise brownish hairs. According to Elliot Coues’ edition of the journals, the first significant encounter occurred on April 29,1805, somewhere on the Missouri River, beyond Fort Mandan:
“Captain Lewis, who was on shore with one hunter, met about eight o’clock two white bears. Of the strength and ferocity of this animal the Indians had given us dreadful accounts. They never attack him but in parties of six or eight persons, and even then are often defeated with a loss of one or more of their party. Having no weapons but bows and arrows, and the bad guns with which the traders supply them, they are obliged to approach very near to the bear; as no wound except through the head or heart is mortal, they frequently fall a sacrifice if they miss their aim. He rather attacks than avoids a man, and such is the terror he has inspired, that the Indians who go in quest of him paint themselves and perform all the superstitious rites customary when they make war on a neighboring nation.… On approaching these two, Captain Lewis and the hunter fired, and each wounded a bear. One of them made his escape; the other turned upon Captain Lewis and pursued him 70 or 80 yards, but being badly wounded the bear could not run so fast to prevent him from reloading his piece, which he again aimed at him, and a third shot from the hunter brought him to the ground.”
On May 5 the party encountered another “white” bear. Sergeant Ordway wrote, “We shot him as he was swimming in the river.” On May 11, William Bratton shot a grizzly through the lungs. The bear then chased Bratton for “a mile and a half.” On May 14, near the Musselshell River, six men went out to kill a bear on a hillside. Wounded, the grizzly by Ordway’s account “chased two of them into a canoe, and another into the river, and they steady firing at him. After shooting eight balls in his body … [the bear] took the river and was near catching the man he chased in.”
And on June 14, at the Great Falls of the Missouri, Lewis again was pursued by a grizzly that “ran open-mouthed and at full speed upon him.” Lewis saved his skin by plunging into the river.
On the plains, it was fat and easy living for the great bear. Buffalo were plentiful. The vast herds were riddled with sick stragglers and each year offered up a new crop of vulnerable calves. Thousands of migrating buffalo drowned at the river crossings or were trampled in the wild scramble up and down the river-bottom bluffs. Like all bears, the grizzly was not so proud that it would turn up its nose at carrion. Yet in other plains matters, its pride was supreme. For want of a handy carcass or a stray calf, the bear would not hesitate to attack a grown buffalo bull, crushing the animal’s hindquarters with the full impact of its awesome charge. Such habits honed the bear’s arrogance to a fine edge. Of the plains grizzly, Lewis would write: “These bear being so hard to die rather intimidates us all. I must confess that I do not like the gentlemen and had rather fight two Indians than one bear.”
Nearly all the roving explorers who followed Lewis’ way west in the early 1800’s corroborated his estimate of the bear’s ferocity. There was, however, at least one dissenter. This was Zebulon Pike, who, returning from the southwestern mountains in 1807, presented President Jefferson with two grizzly cubs. Ina letter to Jefferson the following year, Pike described how the cubs had followed “my men like dogs through our camps … [playing] with each other and the soldiers.” He begged Jefferson to assure some measure of humane care for the two captives (by then in the custody of Philadelphia Museum curator Charles Willson Peale). And finally, as if to set the record straight as to the nature of the grizzly, he wrote, “they seldom or ever attack a man, unprovoked, but defend themselves courageously.”
Pike’s heroic vision of the bear apparently failed to attract many converts. Even trained scientists persisted in depicting the grizzly as a monster; and perhaps the most hyperbolic description came from none other than John Godman, the distinguished Pennsylvania naturalist. In Godman’s view, the grizzly was “the despotic and sanguinary monarch of the wilds… terrific in aspect… ferociously bloodthirsty … [causing] man himself to tremble at [its] approach.…”
With the opening of the West to the fur trade, the grizzly’s monarchy began to crumble. Now it was not just an occasional two-legged intruder to be chased ignominiously back into his canoe, but a seemingly endless flotilla of canoes and pirogues and keelboats, each bristling with fire sticks. Trappers in their wolfskin caps and fetid leathers had ample reason to fear the bear. And in their fear they despised it, and slew it with monotonous regularity. Unfortunately, so much of the record of this period has been distorted by Godmanesque exaggeration that it is difficult now to separate fact from fiction.
In the archives of my own family, for example, looms a largerthan-life fellow named Malcolm Clarke-a great-granduncle, I surmise by imperfect genealogical calculation, but a mountain man for certain. In 1841, Clarke hit out for the Upper Missouri with the American Fur Company. There he married a Piegan Blackfoot woman, one Cacocoma, sired four children, ranched a bit, and then of a summer evening in 1868 had the rotten luck to be gut-shot by his wife’s own people. By then, Malcolm Clarke was something of a legend himself. The Piegans for a time had called him Four Bears, an honorary title and possibly an apocryphal one as well. One account has it that Clarke killed four grizzlies in a single morning, and all before breakfast. Another story holds that a huge bear once almost ended Clarke’s career in a Montana huckleberry thicket. With a swipe or two of the paw, the bear is said to have lifted Clarke’s scalp, knocked him down, worked him over for a moment on the ground, and then left him for dead. Whereupon a friendly Indian, passing by, spotted the dying trapper and with good-samaritan haste pasted the unhinged scalp back in place with spittle and chewing tobacco. So it is said, but I cannot vouch for it.
Far more implausible to me, though surer of documentation, is the saga of Hugh Glass, the doughty Scot who survived a terrible mauling at the forks of the Grand River in 1823. Old Hugh, an advance man for William H. Ashley’s beaver trappers, apparently ran afoul of a she-grizzly out foraging with her cubs. By most accounts, it was combat at close range: Hugh with a long knife, the bear with five on each paw. Later, two companions (one, according to some chroniclers, being the young Jim Bridger) discovered Hugh’s torn and lacerated body beneath the dead bear. The mountain man was still breathing. Figuring that Glass was too far gone to be moved, and with only a few hours of life left in him, the two trappers tended his wounds as best they could, dug a shallow grave nearby, and waited for the end. But Old Hugh refused to die. Finally, fearing for their own lives in such hostile country, the two bid a last farewell to their unconscious comrade and hurried away to catch up with the rest of the Ashley party. Soon thereafter, Glass regained his senses. Racked with fever and pain, he saw the open grave, realized he had been abandoned, and vowed to have revenge on the deserters. Thus motivated, the indomitable Scot proceeded to crawl a hundred miles on hands and knees, grubbing bugs and roots and the carrion remains of wolf-kills along the way, until he reached a tributary of the Missouri. And from that point he floated by log the remaining 150 miles to Fort Kiowa. Eventually, Old Hugh confronted the two trappers, but the embers of his rage had cooled by then and he let them go. Perhaps it was enough for Hugh Glass that he had survived.
No doubt the Glass saga inspired less reliable tales of dread encounters betwen men and bears. In his classic volume The Grizzly Bear , William H. Wright concluded that much of the lore of the last century was sheer fiction. As Wright perceived it:
“[T]he old hunters and trappers, however well meaning they may be, are not to be relied upon for information that is worth much from a scientific standpoint. I well remember the first one I ever saw. He was an old, grizzled fellow, all covered with scars, which he claimed were the results of his encounters with grizzly bears, mountain lions and Indian arrows.… He maintained that he had shot grizzlies that had gone a mile or more after receiving several mortal wounds, and that, when finally overtaken, they were found to have plugged up the bullet holes with moss to stop the flow of blood.… f course, we must not mix up the entirely distinct acts of lying and ‘stuffing the tenderfoot.’ When a man can neither read nor write, and lives most of his life alone on fresh venison and flapjacks, he is entitled to some amusement.”
Still, dread encounters, however embellished in the telling, were common. Before the introduction of the breech-loading Sharps rifle in 1848, Western rovers were armed with muzzleloaders. Even in the hands of a crack shot, these were pitifully inadequate tools to turn against a grizzly. The Kentucky long rifle carried by Lewis’ men had an effective range of only seventy-five yards, and it took thirty seconds to reload. In that time, a charging grizzly could cover nearly three hundred yards. Consequently, as reconstructed by Andy Russell in his book Grizzly Country , “what started as a grizzly hunt often dissolved into a spirited foot race for the nearest tree.” Russell further points out that a grizzly’s heartbeat is relatively slow; that, as a result, the animal “takes a long time to bleed out even when struck in the heart.” Thus, he adds, the hunter with a muzzleloader, even after shooting a bear through the heart, sometimes was “desperately mauled or killed” a moment later.
If any Western state was ever grizzly country-and more than a few once were—it was California. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, bears by the thousands roamed the High Sierra and lesser mountains along the coast. The Los Angeles region, for example, swarmed with bears. Trapper Andrew Sublette tangled with one grizzly in a canyon behind what is now Santa Monica and later died of his wounds. And historian Horace Bell, reminiscing in 1881 on his earlier days as a back-country ranger, recalled that “grizzly bears were more plentiful in Southern California than pigs.”
That the grizzly lasted as long as it did in California is something of a miracle, for nowhere else in its once wide domain was it pursued, baited, tortured, and slain with such unremitting human savagery. The Spanish vaqueras made a grim game of snaring a bear with their rawhide reatas, then dispatching the snarling animal with lances.
There were pit fights as well. Bears were roped, chained by the leg to a heavy post, and obliged to defend themselves against longhorn bulls. Quoting one account by an American journalist of the early 1800’s, Horace Bell reported that bears and bulls were pitted against each other frequently at PaIa, the outpost of Mission San Lui’s Rey near San Diego. In one bloody episode, the tethered bear rose on its hind legs to meet the assault of the first bull. When the horns were within a yard of the grizzly’s breast, the bear seized the bull’s head with both paws and “in a twinkling … the bull lay limp as a rag, his neck broken.” Three more bulls were sent against the bear. Two met the same fate as the first. The third gored the grizzly fatally. Bell also told of a grizzly sent in chains from Los Angeles to Monterrey, Mexico, where it was matched against “Parnell,” a “man-killing African lion.” According to Bell, the “great Californian handled the African king as a cat would a rat.”
The California grizzly fared better with lions and bulls than with people; and with the discovery of gold in 1848 (and the introduction of the Sharps rifle), the grizzly’s fate was sealed. In that signal year alone, five hunters delivered seven hundred grizzly pelts to Sutter’s Fort at Sacramento. The pelts were stacked near the flagpole, at the top of which fluttered California’s newly adopted flag—the flag of the golden bear.
The war between people and grizzly bears in North America has been largely a struggle for protein. People eat meat. Bears eat meat. Some people eat bear meat. The human appetite for bear flesh is probably as old as the flint-tipped spear. In more historic times, on the plains and in Old California, grizzlies were not simply dispatched for sport; more often than not their choice parts wound up in the assassin’s stewpot. Osborne Russell, a member of Jim Bridger’s Rocky Mountain Fur Company brigade, wrote of one such repast. “Our camp keeper,” Russell noted, “had prepared an elegant supper of grizzly bear meat and mutton nicely stewed and seasoned with pepper and salt, which as the mountain phrase goes ‘is not bad to take’!” In gold-rush California, grizzly meat was apparently considered a great delicacy. At the mining camp of El Dorado, hunters were paid $1.25 for a pound of it. Moreover, a slain bear yielded ancillary benefits. Wilderness prophet John Muir, who wandered the length and breadth of the High Sierra in the late 1800’s, mentioned a few of them in his book Our National Parks :
“ ‘B’ar meat,’ said a hunter from whom I was seeking information, ‘b’ar meat is the best meat in the mountains; their skins make the best beds, and their grease the best butter. Biscuits shortened with b’ar grease goes as far as beans; a man will walk all day on a couple of them biscuit.’ ”
To what extent people have compensated the bear in kind is beyond statistical recall. Reports of bears devouring their human victims are extremely rare, even in the turgid buckskin fictions of the nineteenth century. People who have occasionally been close to the bear’s jaws in adversary situations swear that the human odor seems to offend the animal—a condition that, if correct, might explain why few people attacked by grizzlies are killed on the spot, much less eaten.
Some old-timers insist that grizzlies once fed ravenously on sick and dying Indians in smallpox-ridden Western camps, thereby acquiring not only a taste for people meat but a tendency to stalk and devour healthy specimens as well. Possibly—yet to me it sounds as likely as Uncle Malcolm Clarke’s scalp restorative in the huckleberry thicket. In recent years, nonetheless, there have been several instances in which grizzlies partly devoured their human prey. Such was the fate of Michèle Koons, one of the two young women attacked and killed by separate grizzlies, in separate campsites only miles apart, at Glacier National Park in 1967. And in 1976, at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, searchers following grizzly tracks found the regurgitated remains of a missing backpacker. Incidents such as these awaken lingering human suspicions about the habits of grizzlies. In Montana, one wildlife official quoted a resident rancher as having proclaimed with conviction that the grizzly is “good for nuthin’ [because it] sleeps all winter and eats people all summer.”
Many Montana ranchers nowadays might take sharp issue with that assessment, insisting that the grizzly is good for worse than nothing because, after sleeping all winter, it spends its summer eating cows. The introduction of livestock to grizzly country, beginning on a large scale in the 1860’s, drastically accelerated the process of bear extirpation west of the Dakotas. With the bison going, going, gone, the great bear naturally turned to the next most plentiful and vulnerable ungulates to supplement its predominantly herbaceous diet. With prized longhorns and heifers and sheep becoming piles of fragmented bone overnight, the rancher just as naturally turned to cash bounties, poisons, posses, and set guns. And more tall grizzly tales: of “Old Mose,” the Colorado stock-killer that reportedly did in five of its human pursuers; of “Two Toes” (the other three having been lost to a trap in Montana); and of “Old Ephraim,” the elusive sheep-eater of northern Utah, pursued for thirteen years and finally shot by Frank Clark on August 22,1923, in the Cache National Forest. In memory of Old Eph, the Cache County Boy Scouts later erected a monument. The inscription informs the mourner that Old Eph weighed 1,100 pounds and that his skull now resides in the custody of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
On August 1, 1975, under provisions of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the grizzly bear in the coterminus United States a threatened species. One immediate effect of the ruling was the reinforcement of Montana’s two-year-old moratorium on grizzly hunting. (Idaho has enforced a closed season since 1946; Wyoming, since 1972.) The federal-state regulations further stipulate that no more than twenty-five grizzlies may be “removed” from the Montana grizzly population in any one year-not only through sport hunting but for whatever reason, including the protection of persons and property and through accidental road-kills.
In recent years, however, sport hunting has not figured as prominently as it once did in the demise of the bear. From 1967 to 1975, the so-called “harvest” by trophy hunters in Montana averaged only nineteen bears a year. No doubt a heavier toll has been taken illegally by jack-lighting poachers and proxy hunters with assignments from trophy collectors in Texas, New York, and California, who reportedly have paid $3,000 for an adult grizzly hide, $500 for a full set of claws. Bear bladders are likewise in demand. At the time of the threatened species ruling in 1975, a West Coast clearinghouse was circulating handbills throughout western Montana, offering $50 per bladder, to be used “for a part of a new medicine.” In fact, this new medicine was to be marketed in Japan as an aphrodisiac. “Please do not kill the bears for this reason only,” the flyer piously suggested. “We would like to keep this business for a long time to come.”
Wildlife officials remain deeply concerned about livestock grazing in the national forests of grizzly country. The real and imagined defense of cows and sheep still probably accounts for more dead bears than all other causes combined, excluding natural mortality. The Targhee National Forest, west of Yellowstone Park in Idaho, is prime sheep country. Stockmen there kill at least half a dozen grizzlies every year. East of Glacier National Park on the Blackfoot Reservation, cows help hold that tribe’s fragile economy together. Not surprisingly, grizzlies are vermin in the eyes of the Blackfoot ranchers.
Logging operations also take a toll. Apologists claim that clearcutting actually improves habitat, inasmuch as grizzlies prefer open country. While there may be some truth to this, it is doubtful grizzlies thrive when clear-cuts on high slopes result in soil slippage and erosion, as they most always do. Still, the real problem is not the manner of cutting trees, but of getting to them. Logging roads lace the forest lands of grizzly country. Montana Hunting Area 110, a section of the Flathead National Forest just west of Glacier Park and barely half its size, contains an estimated six hundred miles of logging roads, twice the aggregate of paved and unpaved roads within the park itself. Such roads provide easy access to hunters, licensed and unlicensed.
Then there is the problem of mineral and recreational development. Near Glacier Park, more than 200,000 acres of the Flathead Forest are under oil and gas lease applications. East of Yellowstone, the Sunlight and Needles Creek watersheds have been proposed for copper mining. West of Yellowstone, at Hebgen Lake, promoters are hustling plans for a huge ski resort and condominium complex. And north of Yellowstone is the burgeoning residential development at Big Sky. “You know what they’re doing to us?” said a young ranger I met at Yellowstone Park. “They’re closing the circle. One of these days the park will be all that’s left. But it won’t be enough for the grizzly.”
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.