To make it in the wild as a grizzly in the Lower 48, you need an education. But mom may be teaching you some questionable survival skills: how to raid garbage cans, pilfer grain from barns and scavenge birdseed from backyard feeders.
As humans spread into prime bruin habitat, some bears are
becoming "suburban guerrillas." But a team of wildlife managers in
northwestern Montana is working as hard to retrain such "problem"
bears as the bears have to work to put on the 20,000 to 30,000
calories per day they need before winter.
True Grizz: Glimpses of Fernie, Stahr, Easy, Dakota and
Other Real Bears in the Modern World, wildlife biologist
Douglas Chadwick, a self-proclaimed "grizzly groupie," rides along
with bear educators who wear caps emblazoned with the slogan "Teach
Your Bears Well." They range about the Rockies in a pickup truck,
trying to improve the odds that the 1,000 to 1,300 grizzlies that
live south of Canada will continue their modest comeback.
The grizzly educators’ lesson plan relies on a stiff course
of negative re-enforcement. Tactics include shooting bruins with
rubber bullets, shepherding the bears with a pack of imported
Karelian dogs, and — their most controversial teaching tool
— feeding roadkill to a particularly vexing specimen, so
he’ll put on enough fat to den, and quiet down.
bear educators teach humans, too. (Note to self: Keep the 50-pound
bag of dog food off the back porch when a hungry sow and her two
cubs have been spotted in the neighborhood.)
Some of the
bears are good students, and return to a diet heavy in wild
huckleberries, instead of half-eaten hamburgers. Others, however,
just won’t learn, and either end up in captivity on a diet of
human handouts, or are killed.
Despite its corny title,
True Grizz goes a long way toward clearing away rip-snorting tales
to explain what most encounters today between Montana’s two
top predators — grizzlies and humans — are actually
like. Sadly, today, it’s not just circus bears that have to
True Grizz: Glimpses of Fernie,
Stahr, Easy, Dakota and Other Real Bears in the Modern
World By Douglas H. Chadwick, 176 pages, hardcover: $24.95
Sierra Club Books, 2003.
The grizzly's in the house — or at least, the yard
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