Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Story

Okay, now that I've made a few posts to this blog and gotten some information out there, I feel like I can safely give you the abridged version of my story and fill you in on how all of this came together.

My fascination with bears began in the summer of 2008 when I took a seasonal job in southeast Alaska and, being an avid reader, decided to brush up on some of the local literature. Thus, into my hands landed the infamous Alaska Bear Tales by Larry Kaniut, a collection of bone-crushing, blood-spilling true stories that make Jaws look like Finding Nemo. It didn't take long - maybe only a third of the way through the book - for me to decide that I was never going to leave the house again, certainly not to venture out into the wilderness.

But being an outdoor enthusiast - and being in Alaska, where outdoor adventure is a must - venture into the wilderness I did. I think I mastered every hiking trail near the town of Skagway, though I expected all my limbs to be violently ripped off at any moment every step of the way. Can you imagine my puzzlement when that did not happen? I never once saw a bear in those woods - though I did occasionally see signs that they were nearby somewhere - and I began to feel more and more foolish as time went on. Even so, my dreams were haunted and I awoke more than a few times in the middle of the night to see large, dark silhouettes lumbering up to my bedside.

Being stuck in Alaska for so long, The Edge became one of my favorite movies to watch and it inspired me to look into the full story of Bart the Bear when I returned home....just to see how anyone could work that closely with such a vicious creature and live to tell about it. I watched the "Legacy of Bart the Bear" video that I posted a link to in an earlier post and it completely blew my mind. Now it seemed like bears were just one big walking contradiction. That video never left me, though, and began to linger in my memory even more than the horror stories did.

Now interested in bears mostly because I wanted to know which side of the story was true, I stumbled across the work of Charlie Russell and his book Grizzly Heart, still the greatest book I have ever read. That ended up being the perfect place to start, simply because of the ideas that it presented and the things that it made me think about; things that I had never heard said about bears before but that somehow made complete sense to me. That led to more reading, all the internet research I could muster, and plenty of personal musing...and this is where it's brought me.

Now I obviously haven't done any work around living, breathing bears and I'm not a scientist (and I'm not sure I would want to be, especially in this field of study), but I've seen enough evidence to completely change my stance from bear hater (I often wondered why we didn't just take the initiative and wipe these "monsters" off the face of the earth) to bear lover. Now I look at the work that's been done with gorillas and killer whales and I see how far we've come in our understanding of those animals and I wonder what's holding us back from accomplishing the same thing with bears? What is it that scares us so much? Why is it that we have no problem ascribing intelligence, emotion, self-awareness, and humanity to primates, whales, and dolphins, but we lash out in hostility when someone says the same about bears? The reason is because bears are a trophy animal, heavily hunted and heavily poached, their organs and bile worth thousands of dollars on the Black Market, a practice that would be abolished if people began to see bears in a more humane light (Charlie Russell's bears were slaughtered because of that). The reason is because the hunting industry has planted a backwards idea of wildlife management in our heads to keep their coveted trophy animal legal. The reason is because bear biologists - the people who are supposed to be for the bears - subject these animals to much of the same cruel treatment in university laboratories as poachers do in bile farms in Asia, justifying it by saying that the bears are machines without thought, feeling, or emotion. Even poor Lily the Black Bear and her cub have to be closely watched from a distance to ensure that some psychopath doesn't decide to get his 15 minutes of fame by sticking a shotgun barrel in her den live on the internet. That is a sad, sad world.

The good news is that the tide is slowly turning. Right now the number of revolutionary books on bears that are available can be counted on one hand, but judging by the list of books set to be released over the next year, that number is set to skyrocket. Beyond that, it's just a matter of hoping that people will listen and make the attempt to unlearn what they have learned.

Folks, that is the purpose of this blog, to do whatever I am able to do to help keep that snowball rolling. Most people will disregard the information here, calling it unscientific and anthropomorphic (the hopeless is what we'll call them) and others will embrace it (the hopeful) and learn from it and pass it on to someone else or make a donation to conservation work. If even one person does any one of those things, then I've done my job.

So let's keep that snowball rolling.


  1. This blog is GOLDEN!

    Just finished reading almost every single posts in here, so glad that I've found this place.

    I've recently became interested about this "bear controversy" and have been doing lots of google searching, looking at works of Lynn Rogers, Charlie Russell, Ben Kilham, etc, as well as controversial stories like Timothy Treadwell and the responses from many different sides.

    Right now I'm pondering over the issue of outlawing bear (black and brown alike) hunting, after seeing the opinion of a hunter (who does support Lynn Rogers and on outlawing killing of radio-collared bears) claiming that hunting is part of the wildlife management necessary to maintain the population health. While I initially agrees on this slant, it becomes (just like always) a much more complicated matter as I read more about it. Is valuing the life of these animals for its emotional capability and intelligence merely a irrational attitude driven by emotion?

    Thank you so much for offering such wonderful insights on the web; but the stubborness of a mob is not un heard of, I could only pray these things would eventually work out some day...

  2. Thank you very much for your kind words and for reading! I've been a bit too busy of late to keep it as updated as I would like but I am working on a new post that I hope to have up soon.

    I don't think I have ever seen a more controversial animal in all my life as a bear, nor have I ever seen one that stirs as much fascination and intrigue. I believe the tide is turning more in their favor. We just need more of this type of education to get out there to make things work out.

    There's a lot of information out there from many different perspectives and I think the idea of bear aggression towards people being caused by hunting and the resulting fear of man is one that should be looked at a little more closely. I really think there is a connection there.

    Thank you again for reading and finding value in the work that I've done here. It's been, and continues to be, a great passion of mine and just as much of an educational experience for me. Keep reading and learning; it really is a fascinating world to explore!

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  4. Hey there!
    I'm a guide in the Canadian Rockies, and I have the pleasure of working with bears everyday. I've been teaching the public about bear controversy and overthrowing myths about them, to people from all over the world. Having such a passion for these animals it hurts to see the damage being done, but our work and research is helping.
    I had just discovered this blog, and I want to thank you for your contribution. It's so important for the general way of thinking of bears to change in order for them to thrive and survive. From one bear person to another, thanks and keep it up!

  5. Hi catcee,

    I'm glad you're enjoying the blog and thank you for reading! If any of the info here can help you in your work, please feel free to use it.

    I envy you being able to do what you're doing as a guide working with bears. I have come close to getting a bear viewing guide position a few times but it never seems to work out.

    I'm just finishing up a book version of this blog that I plan to self-publish very soon. Details will be posted as soon as it's ready to go.