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Friday, June 19, 2015

Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen

Obviously Olsen is quite taken with Glacier National Park and the first section of the book is devoted to a close examination of the flora and fauna of that region before he delves into the habits of Ursa Horribilis, otherwise known as the Grizzly Bear.  They are huge creatures, standing erect sometimes close to eight feet tall and despite their size can run faster than you’ll ever hope to.  Their habitat has been under pressure for decades: “ ...the destruction of the forests in which he could hide, the plowing of the plains on which he grazed, the stringing of thousands of miles of barbed wire, and the pervading, unpleasant stink of man, who only smells good to himself and his fellow man, and not always then. The grizzly of the plains, as was his custom, backed into the final square miles of American wilderness, avoiding a fight. He is holed up there today, his numbers reduced to less than 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, his range restricted more or less to a few states: Montana, Wyoming....”

Grizzlies had been living in Glacier National Park for decades and their relationship with humans had been a comfortable one, each leaving the other alone.  In 1967, however, an emaciated bear was seen foraging in garbage cans around Kelly’s Campground.  The permanent residents noticed his strange behavior and warned the rangers that this bear was not acting normally, standing his ground when yelled at instead of running away.

The Park Service was torn, clearly it had a rogue grizzly on its hands, yet the ethic was to leave the wildlife as intact as possible.  The visitors didn’t take numerous warnings seriously and the end result, a combination of negligence and procrastination coupled with some rule violations and insouciance resulted in two deaths and a mauling.

Several years ago, my wife and I went horseback riding in Glacier National Park.  We had been told there had never been an attack on a person while on horseback.  Just the following week, a group of riders ran into a large grizzly on the same trail we had been riding. When one of the children fell off his horse and attracted the interest of the bear,one of the guides reflexively charged the bear on “Tonk” a huge horse (part Percheron and 18 hands high -- I owned a large Arab that was 16 hands and he was big) that must have terrified the bear for he took off.  The horse and wrangler made it on Letterman (full story here.)  The Letterman show can be seen here.)

Olsen writes well and I must say the scenes describing the human/grizzly interactions are the stuff of nightmares.
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