In my opinion the grizzly is the ultimate symbol of North American wilderness. Grizzlies are deeply embedded into our lore, and embody the character of our wild places. For centuries grizzlies were extinguished from their home range, and are now absent from most of their native habitat. The Sierra Nevadas, the Colorado Rockies, the Wind Rivers, The Wasatch, the Great Plains, and the Black Hills, to name a few, are all much tamer places now that the great grizzlies have been eradicated. Only the legends and the ghosts remain.
I have been enchanted by the grizzly bear since I was a child. I was never into trucks and soldiers and video games, like many young boys, but by age 10 I had read every book written on grizzlies to date. I admired their ferocity, toughness, and ability to intimidate humans as much as any creature on our continent. I eventually moved to Alaska for college, mostly to be closer to grizzlies.
I will never forget my first serious encounter with a grizzly while living in Haines during my first summer in Alaska twenty years ago. I was fishing for salmon alone along the banks of the Chilkoot River around dusk. Having had a funny feeling that I was no longer alone, I turned around and stared right into the eyes of a giant female grizzly and her two cubs. As my stomach tightened into a knot, and adrenaline blasted through my veins, I wondered what I was supposed to do. Should I shout at her, play dead, jump into the river? I knelt down in submission and froze. The mother bear slowly put her head down and started grazing on sedges gradually closing the distance, with their heads to the ground, to around 25 feet. My fear subsided, and I savored this strange sensation of being at the mercy of both the scariest and the most beautiful creature I had ever dreamed of. She made eye contact with me again, studied me, and carried on upstream with her cubs. She trusted me and let me go. I was hopelessly hooked, and thankfully, this was only the beginning….
I was given a special gift after I graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a degree in Wildlife Biology and trained under legendary bear experts Derek Stonorov and Larry Aumiller while working as a researcher and ranger at the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary on the remote and wild Alaska Peninsula. Since then, I have worked as a bear viewing guide on the Katmai Coast ( Click here to see these trips). I feel indebted to the bears for allowing me to live my life’s dream, and now I will do anything and everything to support their conservation.
There are lots of grizzlies in Alaska, but this actually is a hard place to live for someone who loves them. Everywhere you look you can see the bears struggling to coexist with humans. Some of the greatest threats include gun toting fishermen, bears shot because they were attracted to garbage at homes, trophy hunting, poaching, mines that threaten to destroy some of Alaska’s most precious bear habitat, bears being provoked to attack by ignorant humans, predator control and poor management initiated by our selfish, corrupt and misguided State Government Regime…. the list goes on and on and on.
I believe putting a value on these animals living in their natural habitat is one of the best ways to support their conservation, and the best way to do this is through carefully controlled, responsible ecotourism. I pray that Alaska will eventually follow the models of Botswana, Costa Rica, and other nations who treat their wildlife resources as if they were gold or oil deposits. Unfortunately, I fear that we are too tied to our 19th century roots of manifest destiny which drive us to conquer the land, rid the forest of evil creatures, and to kill what scares us rather than to embrace it. The grizzly bear is always destined to lose in the end.
I wish everyone would watch this brilliant video created through the donation of a private donor, and narrated and designed by bear conservationist and wildlife film presenter and narrator Chris Morgan.
Quotes and further reading, Click blue links for book info-
“The grizzly is a thing of beauty and grace, a magnificent beast in his own right who is capable of stirring deep reverence and humility in humans. The awe-inspiring bear is, however, married to danger. For thirteen thousand years grizzly bears occupied the top of the food pyramid in North America, their dominance barley contested until the nineteenth century. This is the one animal who challenged human impulses to extend our dominion over all lands and creatures, informing us that we still live close to but not quite at the top of that pyramid.” -Doug and Andrea Peacock (In the Presence of Grizzlies The Ancient Bond Between Men and Bears-, ix)
“That night I slept soundly. A deep tolerance and appreciation had crept into my dreams, born of living with the most dangerous animal on the continent and embracing the inherent risk. It lifted the burden of dominion, and left me strangely open and vulnerable (64).” “Grizzlies are wilderness incarnate. If we are to succeed in saving grizzlies with all their wildness we will not do it by changing the bears to meet our needs. For the first time in our relatively short history on this planet, we will have to be the ones to bend (274).” -Doug Peacock (Grizzly Years- In Search of the American Wilderness)
“Those who have packed far up into grizzly country know that the presence of even one grizzly on the land elevates the mountains, deepens the canyons, chills the winds, brightens the stars, darkens the forest, and quickens the pulse of all who enter it. They know that when a bear dies, something sacred in every living thing interconnected with that realm… also dies.”
– John Murray, The Great Bear- Contemporary Writings On the Grizzly.
“In part because bears can be so dangerous, they force you to pay attention. The awe of being in their presence strips away the chaos of thoughts and distractions that normally dominate your consciousness. They focus your attention on the moment. They flood your blood with adrenaline and endorphins…. They introduce you to terror, awe, amazement and ecstasy. They connect you to the deepest pulses of life. This is their gift. The power to take your life, or to renew it; to re-create who you are, if only for a moment, and perhaps for a lifetime.”
Dr. Stephen F. Stringham Beauty Within the Beast
“These men, plus a number of others-some famous and some not- stood in the gap and courageously halted the fusillade of bullets, traps, poison and poor policy in their circles of influence to staunch the flow of innocent blood and bring the grizzly back from the brink of extinction. “ -Mike Lapinski, Grizzlies and Grizzled Old Men- A Tribute To Those Who Fought To Save The Great Bear, xi
Check out my playlist featuring all of my grizzly footage-
Check out best images from 2013 Grizzly Expeditions!