Real bears get a helping hand from Hollywood

 

It’s a long way from the cold, rainy valleys of northwestern Montana's Cabinet Mountains to the bright lights of Hollywood. But they are both bear country, in very different ways.

Hollywood is about myths — taking old myths and digging them deeper. Grafting on new, odd branches to existing myths.

DB1.png
Doug Seus and his most famous movie bear, Bart.

Hollywood plays to the mythology of bears.  A Hollywood bear did in Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall and menaced Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in The Edge. More recently, a Hollywood bear snarled in front of 10 million viewers worldwide, in the opener of Game of Thrones on HBO.

Those Hollywood bears are the product of Doug and Lynn Seus, who have made a career of training grizzly bears for the movies. These bears, with trademarked names like Bart, Honey Bump and Tank, have eaten more Oreo cookies than huckleberries.

The bears of the Cabinet Mountains look similar but act different. They have no sense of at all for the limelight. I’ve been roaming here 25 years and seldom see more than a scratched up tree or tracks in the trail mud. Small wonder, since the grizzly population of that mountain range was probably below 15 bears before conservation measures began taking hold.

This time of year, what’s left of them Cabinet grizzlies leave their dens in the snowy alpine and go to scrounge the sprouting grass and moldering winterkills of the Yaak, Fisher, Kootenai and Bull River valleys.

But Hollywood bears and Cabinet Mountain bears have more in common than ancestry.  Nearly 25 years ago, Doug Seus joined with Montana biologist Doug Chadwick to create Vital Ground. It’s a land trust that focuses on conserving private land that provide key “linkage” habitat for grizzly bears. Sues’ bears have become ambassadors for habitat conservation.

Since its founding in 1990, Vital Ground—working in partnership with many organizations—has helped to protect and enhance nearly 600,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and British Columbia, and is involved in an effort to protect and restore the few remaining Gobi grizzly bears in Mongolia.

As Chadwick says, it’s not about protecting the most acreage; it’s about protecting the right acres. In northwestern Montana, the “right acres” are those lush lowlands where bears spend their spring days.

Seus’s bears are smart enough to learn to act; the wild bears are smart enough to skirt around the ranches and stump farms that historically dominated the valleys of northwest Montana. But subdivisions are another order of magnitude – essentially mine fields that could spell the end of the struggling Cabinet Range bear population.

Over the past years, the movies have changed a lot. We’ve got 3-D and Surround Sound, DVDs and on-line streaming. The valleys of the Cabinet Mountain Ecosystem have changed too. Acres of former timberlands have been “converted” to summer homes and remote getaways.  But thanks to Vital Ground, some of the key lowland habitat have also remained natural.

Me, I like the movies. But the big screen is mighty small compared to the real woods and the real bears.

Image: Doug Seus and his most famous movie bear, Bart. Credit: Vital Ground.

Ben Long is a father, conservationist and outdoorsman in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director for Resource Media.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • RANCH HAND & HOUSING OPPORTUNITY IN DURANGO, CO
    Remodeled home with the opportunity to work off part of rent. Renter(s) must be available to help with lifting, irrigation & outdoor chores, 15-40 hrs...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....