'Scholarship, sainthood and simplicity'

 

Frank C. Craighead Jr., a world-renowned grizzly bear researcher, environmentalist and author, died in Jackson, Wyo., on Oct 21. He was 85.

Craighead and his brother, John, who lives in Missoula, Mont., were best known for their pioneering research on the great bear, Ursus arctos horribilis. Among the first people to track wildlife using radio transmitters, the Craigheads followed and observed bears in Yellowstone National Park from 1959 to the early 1970s. They did chin-ups to prepare themselves for tree climbing, should they be chased, and they crawled into dens and observed bruins during every phase of the bears' lives.

Sticklers about their reputation as independent researchers, they quit studying in Yellowstone when the Park Service imposed conditions on their work that they found unacceptable. The Craigheads warned that suddenly closing garbage dumps in Yellowstone, a plan proposed by the Park Service to return bears to natural diets, would put grizzlies in conflict with people.

Their theory proved correct when the dumps were abruptly shut and scores of bears were killed foraging for food in developments and campsites.

But Frank Craighead's work went beyond science. Many people credit him and his brother with launching the careers of a generation of aspiring biologists and environmentalists and bringing the notion of conservation into the American imagination.

Chris Servheen, the federal grizzly bear recovery coordinator for Wyoming and nearby states, remembers watching, as a youth, a National Geographic television program on the Craighead brothers working with grizzlies.

"From that point on, I wanted to do what I do today," says Servheen. "Those guys were just so important to the education of so many people by providing examples, by being willing to speak up and do the right thing when it really counted."

Craighead wrote a moving account of his Yellowstone work, Track of the Grizzly, and later For Everything There is a Season, a delightful guide to how Jackson Hole wildlife acts and reacts during different seasons.

It was impossible to walk with Craighead in the outdoors without learning something about the animals around you. He could spot a raven, determine that it was a juvenile by the way it flew, and locate its parents nearby.

"Craighead was a towering figure in the world of bears and wilderness," says Louisa Willcox of the Sierra Club's Montana chapter. His life, she says, was a blend of "scholarship, sainthood and simplicity."

"He lived consistently with his principles," says Willcox. "While doing so, he raised our standards all around."

 

Donations in Frank Craighead's name can be made to the Frank Craighead Memorial Fund, c/o the Craighead Environmental Research Institute, P.O. Box 113, Moose, WY 83012.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Angus M. Thuermer, Jr.