Wednesday, December 1, 2010

E-mail From Charlie Russell

Dear Chris,

Thanks for your letter. It is not often that someone expresses concerns in ways that I understand. A lot of people like bears, but liking them is about as far as it goes. You seem to get it. Too many people don’t know how to turn their fascination and concerns into anything helpful for the bear and so things just go around in circles.

Except for Gay Bradshaw, I do not know what most scientist are doing and I have two bear biologist brothers. After all the studying they do, I do not even recognize the animal that they describe most of the time. And too many conservationists use the grizzly mostly just as a tool to protect or establish wilderness by insisting that to survive the bear needs empty, peopleless land (that humans have no use of), ignoring the fact that this is a disservice to the bear because what grizzlies really need is for people to just relax a bit and let them share some good productive land on their ranch or along a road, etc, and even in our parks, without their mere presence causing a huge commotion and if they happen to decide to not be afraid of people, this does not automatically lead to their death.

What we have never learned is to be nonchalant around bears and it is getting to be more unimaginable all the time that we can develop this. Bears in general are too much like celebrities to us except we are afraid of them. We can not just accept them and carry on what we are doing and let them do what they need to do, which might even be sitting on the deck with us, enjoying the same scenery that we enjoy…

From what I and Gay Bradshaw have decided about bears becoming predators, it is initially about the disrespect that we create in them, by what we do to them, that sets the scene for what they might do to us if they run out of food, rather than the loss of a food source itself. If they decide they like you, you are pretty safe, no matter what goes on in their year to year lives…………… and all this, so far, is about questions that you did not even ask, except maybe the one about whether I have any hope left.

I was back to Russia a lot after 2003, but without Maureen. I rescued 7 more orphaned cubs (10 all together). I would not have gone back if a producer who I have known for 20 years had not wanted to do a movie of Grizzly Heart. It never happened but in the end, a good documentary was made about my work there. I finally left for good in 2007 and I do not want to go back ever again. It was an amazing privilege to have been allowed to be in that one place with all those bears for 11 years, 7 of which not one person interfered with my exploration about bears and trust.

I never did resolve for sure what happened to Chico, but in the end I had a lot more unanswered questions than that one about various cubs. I very deliberately chose not to have radio collars on my bears so I kind of expected to have those kinds of puzzles to ponder about. Those were not the questions that I was asking.

A friend from Switzerland was back to my cabin (which was in fine disrepair) for 10 days in August 2010 and he reported that there were many bears. He has spent a couple months with me in 2004. He said that the salmon also seemed to be in good numbers. It was a nice report except that the Russian guide that he had was insanely afraid of the bears of the area. It seems that there is a residing idea that there still might be bears around, left over from my "misguided" work there, that might be unafraid of people and that was totally scary to him. Oh well. After 13 years in total, in the Far East, there were a few Russians who appreciated what I was doing.

A question to you would be: How did you get a look at the letter we wrote to Chas Cartwright? We wrote him in 09 shortly after the death of Old Man Lake female and her cub and re sent it last spring to the request for public comment on their bear policy. We have never heard one word of response in either case. It was as if they disappeared into the ether. It is difficult to feel relevant with this level of consideration, given the amount of effort that I have put into understanding what bears are capable of around getting along with humans, depending on how we respond to them.

Thanks for writing to me. I know very well that what I have learned about bears and the way I learned it is important, not just about bears, but even about ourselves. However, most people in a bear management capacity deliberately dismiss and then confuse what I have done into something inappropriate because it suggests that it is OK to be close to bears. They do this because what I am really suggesting is that they, as managers, might be creating dangerous bears by their very policies of being abusive to bears. Not being an abuser myself, the only way I could study this question was to be kind and see if that was a problem. I found they like people if they are allowed to and I did not beat them away from me. That resulted in us being close together and comfortable and safe. Because I found that profound trust was possible with grizzlies and black bear if you did not beat up on them, an important question arises. Why are bears becoming increasingly impatient and violent in our parks? Could it be that they are never rewarded for their efforts to get along with us and they are just getting sick of trying?


Charlie Russell


To wrap things up, a video from a documentary about Charlie showing the paw to hand interaction that he and Chico developed.


  1. How do you get in contact with Charlie Russell?

  2. In my opinion Charlie Russell is "the" expert regarding "Understanding Bears". Charlie; Please keep a tab on this blog. Your knowledge, understanding and input will be invaluable. Your Friend. Mike

  3. Charlie Russell you shine light on a seemingly darker world & I love your time love & devotion to these Great Bears, your program on Eden (UK) virgin TV channel moves me through every emotion one can take in an hour of viewing ! Thanks for what you do Sir, Many many kind regards & respect Raymond Phillips (Scotland)

  4. We absolutely agree with what you are doing and find you very inspiring. In terms of how to go forward, is there anything that you would like us, the public, to be doing? Keep up the excellent work!

  5. I can't speak for Charlie, but if you live in or near bear country, feel free to share any information on this blog with your neighbors. New and better ideas about bears begins with proper education and understanding of their true nature. You can also suggest supplemental feeding programs to your state wildlife officials (though expect some resistance to that). Even if you don't live near bears, you can still help by pointing interested persons to this blog and helping to pass the information along. It's going to have to spread one person at a time.

  6. Thank you for the wonderful work you have dedicated your life to. In my dealings with wild animals I have found you get what you give. Hopefully others will take off their blinders and see humans share this earth with other creatures with the personalities and emotions as diverse as ours.

  7. I just finished reading Grizzly Heart and am so thankful for Charlie's work and attempt at creating real change in the way people perceive bears. I am having difficulty finding the movie The Edge of Eden if you have any suggestions?

  8. Cynthia,

    You can watch the whole documentary online at

    Thanks for reading!

  9. I saw Charlie Russel speak in Canmore this past winter. I had seen his documentaries and have his book. Despite having just been in a plane crash the day before he still came to speak to the public about his experiences with the bears. He is truly inspirational and I hope people can and will learn he has the key to positive bear interaction. It is truly about living WITH the bears.

  10. I hope for the same thing, Moira! I think he truly has the answer to the puzzle of bear/human interactions. I almost had the chance to hear him speak in Banff last October but the plane crash occurred just prior to that and he had to back out of the engagement. I hope that the opportunity will come again.