Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beary scary ...

It's 2:50am and I can't sleep. Not sure why -- maybe it's too hot. One thing that's on my mind are bears. There's been a lot of bear stories going around these past few days, especially here in Montana. Last Saturday, Jack Hannah, who has a home just down the road from me, was hiking with his family in Glacier National Park when he had a bear encounter. They were on a trail when they came across a grizzly sow and her two cubs. They weren't attacked, but one of the cubs approached Hannah and his family. Jack had to use bear spray to repel the bear cub. He's carried spray for 15 years and this was the first time he's ever had to use it. It took him three sprays before the cub backed off. He was lucky.

Some campers in Cooke City, MT, just outside of Yellowstone, weren't so lucky last night. One person was killed and two others were injured. Officials investigated the campsites and came to the conclusion that they were clean and that everything had been stored properly. They weren't sure why the bear attacked. They've evacuated the campsite and have traps out, hoping to catch the bear if he returns. At my last check, they weren't sure if there was more than one bear or if they were black or grizzly. Most people think grizzlies attack more, but that's not true. I'm pretty sure there are more black bear attacks than grizzlies, simply because there are more black bears.

I've been following some of the pages on Facebook for Yellowstone and Jack Hannah. I probably shouldn't. People make me cuckoo with their stupid comments. Some are ranting about bringing guns into the parks, others are freaking out that people would do that. Others say you should never tent camp in Montana and just stay in hotels. Others simply believe people shouldn't be out in the wilderness at all and they basically get what they deserve if something bad happens. It's true that humans have encroached on the bear's habitat. No one is denying that. But for someone to say people shouldn't be outside enjoying the trails is stupid. At least I think it is. Jack Hannah is actually encouraging people to go out and hike. It's beautiful country. The chance of seeing a bear is far less than people think. Just because there are stories in the news today doesn't mean everyone gets attacked. And, there's a huge difference between a bear sighting, a bear encounter, and a bear attack -- huge difference between all three.

Reading their comments makes my head hurt. One guy posted something about it being a risk you take when camping in the backcountry with bears. Another guy slammed him saying it wasn't backcountry, but a developed campsite. It's that kind of stuff that makes me want to bash my head on the wall. First of all, have any of those people even been to Cooke City, MT? It's like stepping back in time. It's one of those towns you drive through in amazement that people even live there. Last time I was there, I saw a sheriff's car parked on someone's lawn with grass growing up around the tires. The injured campers were taken to a MOTEL to get medical treatment before they could be transferred to a real town. It might not be considered backcountry, as in way back in the wilderness, but it's about as backwards as you can get. It's a very primitive town and I'm sure the campsites are no better. And regarding that guy's comment about the attack being in a developed campsite -- HELLO! Where else would a bear go for an easy meal other than a campsite? Once a bear gets a taste of human food, they'll return to the source. So for that guy to ridicule the other guy for calling the area backcountry was idiotic. This is Montana. Not everywhere is considered backcounty, but it's all considered bear country. There's really no difference, not when it comes to these animals.

People make me crazy sometimes. I'm no bear expert, but I'm learning. I have to with having bears so close. My house is on a mountain in the middle of a forest. We have both black and grizzly bears here. Yes, we've encroached on their habitat, but I personally didn't develop this neighborhood. A native Montanan did. Everyone has simply learned to live with the bears. We don't freak out everytime we see one. We don't run outside with shotguns, nor do we blast them with bear spray. We give them their space and they usually move on. This is their neighborhood too. I'm not anti-gun and I would use one if someone was being attacked and spray wasn't an option. But like I said, there's a huge difference between a bear sighting, a bear encounter, and a bear attack. I prefer to shoot bears with my 400mm camera lens.

Maybe I see things different than others since I live here. I don't think people shouldn't hike or camp in bear country. I personally wouldn't tent camp, but that's just me. I'm thinking more of my kids than myself. It's too risky. I've been within an arms reach of 400+ pound bears, separated only by a glass door, and I've seen how powerful they are. Bearzilla, as I call her, makes my heart skip a few beats at a time. I do think people who hike in bear country should learn what to do and be prepared. Bad things could happen and sometimes there's nothing you can do about that. Jack Hannah was lucky because he was prepared and he knew what to do. If you're asleep in a tent and don't hear a bear coming, there's not much you can do. The bear has the advantage. But with these stories so close to each other, everyone's going to start freaking out. Sightings are rare, encounters are rare, and attacks are even more rare. I mean, think about how many people go hiking or camping who don't have problems. Maybe people should actually take a few minutes to READ all those brochures and signs they get when in bear country. Now there's novel idea, huh? It's like swimming in the ocean. How many people have done that and had a shark attack them? Should we not swim in the ocean because we're encroaching on a shark's habitat? I don't think so. I lived in southern California 40+ years and never once saw a shark in the wild. People just need to use common sense.

Gosh, talk about a rant ... sorry about that. I'll go back to bed now.


  1. On our news here a day or two ago was a story about a bear that got into a car and wrecked it. The dirver had left a peanut butter sandwich inside. Maybe you saw that story too. I'm pretty sure it was in the USA, but I can't remember the region now.

  2. Am learning about bear country. With bears coming to campsites and other areas, are they badly dislocated from their habitat?

  3. Joanne -- No, I missed that story. Where was that? I know Yosemite has (or used to) a big problem with bears breaking into cars. Ironically, Yellowstone doesn't seem to have those problems and they have a whole lot more bears.

    Keats -- They come out of their usual areas for different reasons. For us, it was because we had a very late winter and their food sources are messed up. I've read that happens about every 7 years. Last year we had very few sightings. This year we've had a lot. It seems to come in spurts depending on how the weather is.

  4. Hi Rena,
    Great blog, esp. your post about the bears! Learned early on to hoist all my food when camping, esp. marshmallows ;-), in a bag up hanging from a high tree branch. And no flavored lip gloss in the tent!

  5. Hi Rena. I just found the BBC news report I saw. It happened in Colorado. You can watch the report or read more at this address

  6. The fear of creatures such as sharks and bears is sensible. It must be all about preparation, and learning how to keep oneself safe.

  7. You need to publish this blog post as an editorial in your local newspaper!!!

  8. Man, I missed all of this. I guess its harder to keep up on MT news when I live in ME now...

    I'm definitely on the "Admire bears from VERY far away, and keep your food locked up tight while camping" side of the fence.

    I had too many close encounters when I was a kid to be stupid about them.

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