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Don't shoot that grizzly; she's combing her hair

Grizzly bears never cease to amaze. The latest news about the powerful bruins comes from The Economist, which reports that a British biologist observed a grizzly in the shallows of Glacier Bay National Park doing something unique. The animal would pick up rocks and then discard them until it seemed to find just the right specimen, perfectly encrusted with barnacles, whereupon the grizzly "rubbed away at its muzzle and face for roughly a minute before dropping the stone back into the water." Voila! The grizzly is "the only species other than humans to have invented the comb," declared Volke Deecke, a biologist at the University of St. Andrews. Other mammals have developed tools, including sea otters that smash clams open with rocks; dolphins, which wrap sponges around their noses to protect themselves while foraging on the seabed; elephants, which use their trunks to break off branches and swat insects; and humpback whales that gather in a circle and then confuse trapped schools of fish by blowing bubbles. But as far as we know, only bears have made technological breakthroughs in personal grooming.

In other bear news, a Brigham Young University study of wildlife encounters found that firing a gun at a bear "was no more effective in keeping people from injury or death during a bear encounter than not using a firearm." Biologist Tom Smith analyzed nearly 270 conflicts involving bears and people. A shooter might be able to kill an aggressive bear, he concluded, but there's always a risk of injury to the shooter or others, reports the Billings Gazette. As for what backcountry hikers and hunters should do if threatened by a bear, Smith echoed what conservation groups and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency have been saying for years: "Carry pepper spray when in grizzly bear country and know how to use it."

Who do you call for help when it's the sheriff himself who tossed you through a bar window? That was Robert Savanda's problem last summer after he and the sheriff, Freedom Crawford, got into a fight at the Montana Tavern in Lewiston, Mont. Sheriff Crawford, who'd come to town to provide security during a murder trial, first pleaded not guilty and insisted that Savanda, 48, of Pennsylvania, "accidentally fell through the window." The Associated Press says that Crawford later changed his plea to guilty, admitting that he was undergoing treatment for alcoholism. "I learned a lot about the issues of why I was drinking so much (and) of what I wasn't doing to reach my full potential," Crawford said. A Montana judge sentenced the sheriff to a 6-month suspended jail term, fined him $1,350 and also ordered him to pay more than $2,600 in restitution.

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HCN in the outhouses of the West

From my Alaska trip: I flew into a small town that is not reachable by road, then hopped on a motorboat and drove across lakes and rivers for 2.5 hours to reach the scientists' camp way out in the boondocks -- out there they have a few rough cabins and a generator that makes electricity only in the evening and two outhouses -- and lo and behold, for reading material in the outhouses they have issues of the Economist magazines and HCN -- amazing to discover HCN readers way out there!

Ray Ring, HCN Senior Editor