We heard them long before we saw them. My husband and I were watching a grizzly feeding on the slope across the drainage from us when weird howls drifted through the valley. The bear heard the strange sounds, too, and eased into the brush at the base of a berry patch. The noises came again, closer, but they weren't wolves; they sounded more like coyotes.
We waited, until words emerged out of the
drawn-out yips: These were humans. "They're afraid of bears," it
dawned on me. Really afraid. Within minutes, a trio of
outdoorsy-looking 20-somethings emerged from the trees to cross the
dry creek from where we had been watching the bear, still shrieking
and blowing whistles so loud that everyone within miles knew they
"You don't have to make that much
noise," my husband, grizzly-expert Doug Peacock, told the group.
"Well, what if I want to?" one of the men
retorted belligerently, a statement punctuated by one of his
companions who let rip with another blast from his rape-alarm
Speechless, we followed the bear's
example and hit the brush, vowing to avoid trails for the rest of
our visit to Montana's Glacier National Park. (What the hiker
failed to realize was that he had just escaped a potentially
dangerous encounter with a wild animal named Doug, but that's
Yet I recalledsomething the
woman in the group said before leaving. "They're looking at
something," she'd told her companions, when they first noticed us
scanning the far slope with binoculars. There was curiosity in her
voice: She wanted to see something, too. Obviously they weren't
going to catch so much as a glimpse of a chipmunk, what with all
the racket they were making. And that's too bad, because it's not
hard to learn how to walk around grizzly country in relative
safety, without shouting yourself hoarse. The trouble is, most
tourists just don't take the time.
Yellowstone National Park, a group of investors is banking on that
combination of curiosity, fear and ignorance. They've applied for a
zoo and menagerie permit from the state of Montana to build a
"grizzly motel" between Livingston and Bozeman, about 60-odd miles
north of the park.
>Hotel guests will stay in
underground rooms designed to look like caves, though with all the
modern amenities. The main attraction will be a display window,
one-way glass in each room through which guests can watch a set of
captive grizzlies, much as they might watch the Discovery Channel
on the TVs in their "caverns."
"It's going to be
the best thing this area's ever seen" the group's spokesman, Casey
Anderson, told a local reporter, adding that the owners are
considering featuring trained-bear acts and renting out the
grizzlies for movie work. Anderson expects to charge upwards of
$200 a night to sleep with the bears, and my imagination runs to
ludicrous possibilities. Why not charge adventurous guests even
more to suit up in protective gear and "- having signed the
requisite legal releases "- compete with the bears for a hunk of
meat off a buffalo carcass?
I'm sure motel
owners could get their hands on some winter-killed bison normally
wasted on Yellowstone's free-roaming bears. Successful contestants
would win a dinner of buffalo steaks for their families. In another
game, a "tribe" of brave tourists could sneak up on a sleeping
bear. The first to tap it on the butt and get back to safety
unscathed would win a free night's stay, with the other guests
taking home consolation prizes, perhaps tee-shirts "- also
available for sale in the gift shop - with the motto: "I counted
coup on a grizzly bear."
Anderson's project seeks to sell itself as a bridge between people
such as the hikers we encountered, uninformed and frightened of the
unknown, and nature. The problem is the inverse relationship
between wildness and control.
Grizzlies are the
epitome of what scares us about nature. We don't boss this animal
around. But grizzly bears that have become habituated to people,
whether along Yellowstone roadsides, in farms that cater to
"wildlife photographers" or, God forbid, in a motel that boasts of
tame bears, lose their wildness and their danger. We, in turn, lose
the lessons in humility they have to teach us.
choosing to domesticate these great wild animals, all we do is rob
them "- and belittle