Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Analyzing the Whitebark Pine Crisis

A recent article from ( addresses the inevitable increase of bear attacks in Yellowstone National Park. They report that two hikers were killed in two separate maulings and that a total of ten people were attacked across the West this year. A number of scientists seem to be baffled and apparently still have not made the connection between the conflict increases and the decline of the whitebark pines and the nutrient-rich cones that they produce, a favorite late-season meal for the bears. With very little info coming out about the whitebark situation (yet with plenty of articles reporting on the "baffling" nature of this heightened aggression in the bears), I decided to do a little digging. On the website for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, I found some interesting numbers and the numbers pretty much tell the story.

On their site, the IGBST maintains a list of bear mortality records in Yellowstone and whitebark pine health data from 2009 through 2011 and the correlation between the two is undeniable. 2009 shows one of the strongest whitebark pine production years on record and the bear mortality reflects that. In going through the records, I tried to eliminate attacks that could have been in defense of cubs or carcasses and focus only on those that were abnormal or in which bears raided campsites and residential areas in search of food. In all, 9 of these incidents were recorded, with one labeled as "cause unknown" and "under investigation". That's actually not as high of a number as it sounds and is probably fairly average, maybe just slightly above.

The change recorded in 2010 is very dramatic. Whitebark pine production is shown to be alarmingly low - not the lowest on record, but a sharp turn nonetheless - with mortalities heavily increasing. Remember this is the year of the Soda Butte incident, which caused quite a stir in the bear communities. A grand total of 28 incidents occurred that summer, making the 9 of the previous year look infinitesimal by comparison and most were very abnormal. Five of these are classified as "cause unknown, under investigation" while some others are incredibly disturbing. On October 19, a bear stalked a hunter from the elk he had just killed (apparently ignoring the carcass) and twice approached to a very close range, leaving the hunter no choice but to shoot it after the second pass. On October 23, a man was threatened by a bear. After attempting to drive it away with warning shots, he blasted it with pepper spray. The bear refused to be deterred and was killed when it went after the man a second time. On October 24, a similar scenario played out. A man tried to deter an approaching bear with gunshots and ultimately bear spray but both proved ineffective and he had to shoot it at close range. It's very telling that these three incidents occurred in October when the bears were attempting to fatten up for hibernation. The cones of the whitebark pine are their primary source of fat and very few were available to them. The loss of winter-kill carcasses thanks to the wolf reintroduction program no doubt plays a heavy part in their food shortage crisis as well.

2011 shows some improvement in the health and production of the whitebark pines but still not quite where the numbers need to be and a large number of abnormal bear incidents were still reported, totaling 27, with ten of those being "unknown, under investigation". In one case, a bear who killed a hiker presumably in a surprise encounter in July was later found present at the site of another death in August.

This data presents a very clear picture, yet so many scientists are still studying the whitebark pine situation - or just pretending to - and wildly speculating on the cause of the increased conflicts, while many bear advocates and enthusiasts have been left feeling as if they're standing on very shaky ground by these attacks. No doubt the rising bear population in Yellowstone is playing a big part, as there aren't enough food resources to go around. If this trend continues, the bears will spread outside of the park boundaries, if they haven't already, and the intolerance they're going to run into, and are already being met with, will not be pretty.

For more info and a look at the data gathered by the IGBST, go here:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Data vs. Dogma

In all the controversy surrounding bears, nothing gets people more riled up than the issue of feeding them. It's long been the idea that feeding bears will ultimately make them dangerous to people but, as with all things bear, a closer look should be taken and more consideration should be given to the complexities and varied personalities of the animals before one simple vague answer is provided. This line of thinking came about as a result of the infamous "night of the grizzlies", though strong evidence suggests that the bear responsible for Julie Helgeson's death was not a garbage feeder. The park service wanted the matter closed, though, and did not put much stock in said evidence. Thus was born the idea that bears exposed to human food would inexplicably become man-eaters. Yet Charlie Russell fed his bears without them becoming a threat to him or losing the ability to function as wild animals, as did Charlie Vandergaw, Benjamin Kilham, Lynn Rogers, Jack and Patti Becklund, etc., etc. So what's going on here? Why have these people not fallen prey to a vicious bloodbath or created a situation where someone else would?

Allen Piche has been feeding black bears in British Columbia for 25 years with no problems either. A total of 24 bears would often frequent his home for companionship and dog food, only 2 miles from Christina Lake, an urban populated area. During that time, no bears caused problems at the lake, but Allen was arrested and tried because of the possibility that something could happen. Shortly thereafter, a rash of bear problems broke out at the lake and 18 persistent black bears were shot and killed, in an area that usually only receives half a dozen bear visits per summer season. The obvious conclusion put forth by the Ministry of Environment is that Allen's bears had become so dependent on human food that they had essentially forgotten how to be wild and went to the nearest human community in search of hand-outs. A scarcity of natural foods that year just made the situation even more volatile. Remarkably, when Allen was allowed to return home, 20 of his 24 bears returned to greet him, alive and well. None of them had been responsible for the issues at Christina Lake! The missing four had departed earlier in the summer and had not returned. Speaking with his immediate neighbors, Allen was delighted to find that none of them had had any problems with bears and did not have any hanging around.

Allen continued to provide some food for the bears - though much less this time - and noted that they began to spend more and more time foraging in the nearby woods. Undercover officers posing as curious photographers caught Allen in the act and he was re-arrested.

Allen has been a friend of mine through Facebook for some time now, ever since his discovery of my blog. We spoke several times about diversionary feeding, as he was making a case to present to the Ministry, showing how that could be used to get the bears back into the wild, and he read my post Of Bears and Bureaucrats (February 2, 2011), which relates how John and Frank Craighead studied garbage bears in Yellowstone and found that not only did they not pose a greater threat to people, they were still fully functional as wild bears. When the Craigheads presented evidence that the dumps should be closed slowly so that the bears could be properly weaned off the garbage rather then be left hanging, park managers disregarded the data and created a near-catastrophe. Allen was inspired by what the Craigheads had discovered and intended to use it in his defense, in hopes of persuading the Ministry to think before they act.

Diversionary feeding is a very new idea, so new that many researchers balk at it because it involves humans feeding bears. When problem bears surface, feeding stations are placed deep in the woods as a means of drawing them back into the wild, and these stations are moved further and further each day until the bears have been removed to a comfortable distance. The few states that have put diversionary feeding plans into effect as a more peaceful solution than bullets have reported an almost 100% success rate at solving problem bear issues. When Allen presented this idea to the Ministry, they were livid at the thought of providing bears with food because of the chaos they were sure would occur, despite the fact that all of the data Allen had gathered supported his side of the argument and the Ministry had nothing but old ideologies to support theirs. Still, Allen is not a wildlife biologist and 25 years of hands-on, practical experience is apparently invalidated by that little detail, whereas the Ministry officers hold the degrees and the official titles and all the lack of facts and experience that go with that, so of course they won. Now Allen awaits sentencing for the feeding, while the Ministry concentrates its attention on shooting more bears at Christina Lake, convinced that Allen's bears are causing all the problems. What's ironic is that, considering the lack of natural foods at the time, Allen's feeding of the bears acted as a sort of diversionary feeding program in itself, keeping these specific bears OUT of trouble, stopping them from going down in search of scraps at Christina Lake, where they still have not set one foot! They did not grow to depend solely on human food, they merely used it as a necessary supplement whenever natural foods were unavailable. Unlikely that the Ministry will ever be willing to see this, though.

On the Lily the Black Bear Facebook page, Lynn Rogers posted his thoughts on this issue and summed it up brilliantly: "Education about the true nature of black bears and about what creates bear-human conflict and what can prevent it can save so many bears. The same principles undoubtedly apply to bears around the world. It is hard to get past the untested assumptions that have been the basis for professional bear management for so long. It is hard to get past the exaggerated fear that drives liability concerns and leads to so many bears being killed unnecessarily. It is hard for most people to see black bears for what they are - basically shy animals trying to make a living while staying out of trouble. Not demons. Not the angry beasts of magazine covers and TV programs. Just the bears that we have come to know and understand in our 45 years of research. If bears behaved the way many experts and the media say they do, we could not have done what we have done with them these several decades."

On the issue of the continual head-butting between new facts and old ideas, Rogers provided a link to this blog post that sums it all up extraordinarily well:

For more info, you can check out Allen's website at:
His "Observations" page is of special note, a presentation of facts attained through real, practical research:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Are We Fighting a Losing Battle?

On the website for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (hereby referenced as ADF&G), it is stated that their mission is to protect and conserve as many natural habitats and wild species as possible, for the recreation and enjoyment of future generations. After spending so much time working with captive bears in Alaska and seeing firsthand how they execute their policies, I seriously have to wonder if they've even bothered to read their own mission statement. Certainly if you were unfortunate enough to be a bear in these parts, you would no doubt think the same thing, considering that you would be getting the shaft no matter what you tried to do.

Long-time readers no doubt remember my post "Fight For Life" (June 7, 2010) and the controversy that erupted in Sitka over the department's attempt to confiscate and euthanize Seek, the black bear cub, after putting him in our hands. As brutal as that confrontation was, it ultimately served to pave the way to what seemed an alliance between ADF&G and Fortress of the Bear, an alliance that saved the lives of Toby, Baloo, and Lucky last year and, in mid-2011, a grizzly cub named Pandora who now resides at the Montana Grizzly Encounter as Lucy. An incident that took place earlier this summer - one that I was not present for, but that I followed through second-hand info - makes me wonder if that alliance really means anything in the department's eyes.

A few months ago, three orphaned brown bear cubs were found on the shores of Bristol Bay on the western coast of the Alaskan Peninsula. As per the new agreement, ADF&G notified Fortress of the Bear of the cubs and, because the Fortress did not have room for them or the funds to construct new holding areas, the department gave them a short window of time in which to find a home for the three young grizzlies. It was tight but a home was located with Mike McIntosh and his Bear With Us sanctuary in Ontario, Canada. Unfortunately Fish and Game requires that potential homes meet an extensive number of specific, and often ludicrous, requirements before cubs will be transferred. That, coupled with the ridiculously short amount of time that the department allows for sanctuaries to meet these requirements, Mike was unable to complete the upgrades and the cubs were destroyed. This prompted quite a backlash against the department, including from Mike himself, about the impossibility of accomplishing such involved demands.

An example of just how ludicrous some of these demands can be. When Les and Evy Kinnear first started the Fortress, Fish and Game officials were sent to inspect the habitats and took issue with steel bolts jutting out one inch from the insides of the abandoned clarifier tanks, fourteen feet above ground. They insisted that the bolts be removed, otherwise the bears would crazily throw themselves against the wall and be impaled. Another official, this one an actual biologist for the department, insisted that the pool areas be drained because bears did not like water and would not go in. Well, I can personally attest to the fact that not only do the bears love the water, they spend eight hours a day in the water!

Even worse, two years ago a starving cub was found right outside the gates of the Fortress. The owners of the facility planned to take the cub in but when someone called to notify Fish and Game, they promptly showed up and shot the cub. The question of why is one that is still asked today and I wish there were some sensible way to answer it. As it stands, it seems that they merely find bullets to be the easiest response, ruling out the hassle of tracking and capturing the animal, the resulting piles of paperwork, and the tedious task of finding a home, a task made all the more tedious by Fish and Game's refusal to put the word out whenever new cubs are acquired. Instead, they wait for zoos and sanctuaries to contact them and ask if orphans are available. Not a very wise-move and not a move that a supposedly conservation-minded organization should approve of, especially considering how much bears contribute to an ecosystem as an umbrella species, but again it is the easiest route requiring the least amount of effort.

Several weeks ago, I heard second-hand that there were three more orphaned cubs somewhere in Alaska and the search was underway to find a home. I have heard no new info on this story since, so I fear that the outcome may have been inevitably grim, not just because of Fish and Game's overly involved requirements but because of the lack of facilities available to take the cubs. There are so few sanctuaries - and even fewer that deal primarily with bears - that facilities with sufficient space are very difficult to find. On top of that, many facilities are either not registered with ADF&G or are unwilling to endure the hundreds of pages of paperwork and requirements in order to get new cubs. Meanwhile, for that very reason, rescue efforts in Alaska are a continuously losing battle. I'm aware of half a dozen cubs that were killed this summer alone because homes could not be found, but I wouldn't be surprised if the numbers were actually much higher. Considering the very large brown bear population on Baranof Island, where Sitka is located, this will no doubt be a recurring theme next summer and in years to come, at least as long as Fish and Game is calling the shots.

If you have a sanctuary or a license to privately own bears, I encourage you to get registered with ADF&G, get the paperwork out of the way, and let's start saving these cubs instead of losing them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Loss of Hope?

Hope (the smaller bear on the right) is missing and believed to be dead.

In early 2010, Dr. Lynn Rogers of the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota placed a webcam in the winter den of a wild black bear named Lily, a bear that had learned to trust him and who Lynn walked with as part of his ongoing research. That January, as thousands of people watched live over the internet, a cub was born and, along with her, an internet sensation. So many people gained such a radically new perspective of black bears from this event that the cub was named Hope. After tens of thousands of people followed the winter lives of mother and cub, the webcam was re-installed this year and captured the arrival of two more cubs, one of whom tragically died early in the season.

Now that it's September and the Minnesota hunting season is in full swing, Hope has suddenly disappeared and all evidence points to her death at the hands of a hunter who intentionally targeted, baited, and killed her just to spite Lynn and the legions of fans who have followed the lives of these bears.

When hunting season begins, Lynn attaches brightly colored ribbons onto the radio collars of his bears so that they stand out and can be identified as research animals, which most ethical hunters will not shoot. Unfortunately, Hope kept removing her collar and would not wear it. She disappeared on September 14th. Lily and her surviving cub, Faith, visited the hunter's bait pile where she was last seen on September 15th, 16th, and 17th and have not returned to that area since.

Lynn has recently stated that he knows the hunter who left the bait and knows that he would not shoot a research bear, but doubt is now starting to form. This same hunter left posts on a Lily Facebook page last week boasting of "Hope jerky" and "Hope cooked in a crockpot". Lynn now reluctantly wonders if the killing of Hope was deliberate and intentional. He is now waiting to hear from the DNR if a bear matching the cub's description has been registered.

Meanwhile, the reaction from those who followed the birth and growth of this cub is one of devastation. Hundreds of posts of mourning and grief have been added to Lily's Facebook page and Lynn has said that schoolteachers who were using the webcam broadcasts as an educational tool have called him in tears wondering how they were going to break the news to their students. Lynn himself is distraught and feels that with so much to learn from this family, this has been a major blow to his research.

While the hunting of radio-collared bears is perfectly legal in Minnesota, with Hope being no exception, it's the apparent deliberate aspect of this incident that makes it most infuriating. It takes a truly sick mind to intentionally set out to shatter something that has meant so much to so many just to make a name for himself - be that name good or bad - but the opposition faced by bear researchers, keepers, and advocates can be an overwhelming one and the list of travesties is ever-growing. While some are keeping their fingers crossed for a happy ending, every passing day makes a tragic one even more certain.

Update - September 27th:

It's now confirmed that Hope is dead. She was killed September 16th by a hunter at a bait pile. It's been clarified that this was not the same man who posted comments on Facebook apparently bragging about her death and that the shooting was accidental. Even so, this remains a deep loss and a difficult time for all of those who have followed these bears since the cub's birth.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Meanwhile, Back In Sitka...

After almost a year away, Killisnoo says: "Where have you been?"

I'm currently re-visiting my old stomping grounds at Fortress of the Bear in Sitka and it's been a very fulfilling and rewarding experience to observe and interact with the bears again. While Toby, Baloo, and Lucky have gotten much bigger (to the point where I have difficulty telling them apart), Chaik and Killisnoo seem to be their old selves, yet are visibly tired from the very busy summer they've just had. On top of the joy of watching them fish for salmon in their pool, I've also gained some new insights into bear intelligence and behavior, regarding the usage of tools and complex thinking to solve problems.

As related to me by Les (executive director of the Fortress), several weeks ago a whole chicken was hung from the bridge above the pool about two feet higher than the bears could reach. While Chaik and Killisnoo made their best efforts, they were unable to reach the meal. Exasperated, they sat on the shore for five whole minutes, staring at the chicken as if wondering how to get to it. Finally, with no spoken language and no visible communication between them, Chaik stood and began walking around the far end of the pool. Killisnoo stood and quietly followed him. Upon reaching the far side, Chaik rolled a stump end over end into the water until it was standing beneath the chicken. The stump was unsteady where it sat so Killisnoo put his full weight against it and held it steady while Chaik climbed to the top and retrieved the snack.

In the second account, Killisnoo inadvertently discovered how to catch fish in the pool by using the limbs of a dead Christmas tree as an impassable net or as a structure that the fish would seek to take shelter in. After attempting this a couple of times, he learned that the limbs could act as a trap and so he moved more trees into the water. One could almost see the gears turning in his head as he gained a clearer understanding of what he was constructing. Finally, after almost creating a fully functional fish weir, he seemed to lose whatever he was on the verge of grasping and abandoned the project. Still, there is one tree remaining in the water and he does frequently check it for fish.

I'm personally fascinated by these accounts, as they demonstrate a high level of complex thinking and problem solving ability. This, to me, is one of the highest values of captive bears that many opponents to the practice do not see: the opportunity to witness these behaviors, to understand that they are complex and intelligent creatures, and to gain not only insight into how to co-exist with them but to gain the desire to. I think that facilities like Fortress of the Bear are going a long way to help promote that kind of thinking.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Edge of Eden: Living With Grizzlies

Finally, after a long wait and many attempts to acquire a copy of this film, The Edge of Eden: Living With Grizzlies, a documentary showcasing the work of Charlie Russell after the events he wrote about in Grizzly Heart, has been made available online. The film is fascinating and some of what's shown onscreen will be discussed in future blog posts. You can watch the film here:

Currently I'm spending time in Fairbanks, Alaska with no internet connection aside from public wifi hotspots, resulting in a lack of blog updates. Fortunately I do have a few ideas I want to work on, so you can expect new posts and topics to be coming soon!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Horrors of Bear Bile Farming

I recently inquired about a job at Bear Country USA, a bear sanctuary and animal park in Rapid City, South Dakota. The deal was pretty well in the bag until I discovered their history of killing bears in order to harvest and sell the gall bladders. Despite this being an act of illegal poaching, somehow it was handled legally under a state permit. However that happened, it killed the job prospects for me and made me realize that I had never posted a topic about the insidious practice of bear bile farming, an issue of extreme importance.

Across China and Vietnam, an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 Asiatic black bears (also called moon bears) are kept in captivity for the purpose of harvesting the bile produced by their livers and stored in their gall bladders, due to concentrations of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is used in traditional Chinese medicine to reduce fever, improve eyesight, and break down gallstones. Others claim that it actually has no medicinal value at all and is instead sold as an aphrodisiac. Either way, the high demand for the bile has led to extensive farming of bears.

In the bile extraction process, the bears are kept in "crush cages" that are not much bigger than the animals themselves. While this allows for easier access to the abdomen, it also prevents the bears from standing and, in some cases, from moving at all, often resulting in the animal's skin growing around the bars of the cages. When the skin is pulled free, it can leave wounds up to three feet in diameter. Many of the bears spend most of their lifetimes in these cages and develop mental illnesses or physical defects. Hair loss, malnutrition, and loss of muscle mass afflict these bears, and they often have their teeth and claws either extracted or filed down. Many of the bears are inflicted with so much pain that they wail and moan, slam their heads against the bars of their cages, or even chew off their own paws. When the bears stop producing bile, they are either left to starve in their cages or are killed for their meat, fur, paws, and gall bladders.

The bile extraction process itself is extremely horrific, occurring through an implanted tube. Other methods involve pushing a hollow steel stick through the bear's abdomen. A new free drip method has since been developed that is regarded as "more humane"; however, in this procedure, a permanent hole is opened into the bear's abdomen and gall bladder, allowing the bile to drip out freely. Sometimes the hole is kept open with a perspex catheter, causing severe pain.

Because only minute amounts of the bile are used in Chinese medicine, a total of 500 kg of extracted bile is used by practitioner's every year, but more than 7,000 kg are being harvested, with the surplus being used in non-essential products such as wine, eyedrops, and other general tonics. The bottom line is that alternative medicines do exist and are just as effective, making the harvesting of bear bile unnecessary and irrelevant.

Chinese bear farmers inexplicably argue that farming reduces the demand for the harvesting of wild bears. Official reports indicate that 7,600 bears are farmed in China and that 10,000 wild bears would need to be killed each year to produce the same amount of bile. However, in some countries poachers are capturing and selling live bears to these farms anyway or are harvesting gall bladders from wild bears in hopes of making their own fortune. Charlie Russell witnessed - and was personally affected - by this kind of activity during his time in Kamchatka, Russia.

In 1993, Nottingham, England resident Jill Robinson visited a bear bile farm in China. She quietly broke away from her tour group and descended a flight of stairs to a dark basement, where she came face to face with the bear cages. She was horrified and, while most of the bears reacted fearfully to her presence, one reached out with its paw and touched her. Robinson reciprocated, holding the paw in her hand. From that moment on, there was no turning back.

For the next seven years, Robinson researched the way bile is used and negotiated a deal with the Chinese government. In 2000, the Sichuan Forestry Department signed a pledge with the China Wildlife Conservation Association to release 500 bears from the bile farms with the worst living conditions. This marked the first time an agency of the Chinese government had come to an official agreement with an animal welfare organization. To house the released bears, Robinson founded Animals Asia Foundation and established a bear rescue center in Chengdu. The foundation has since begun a similar sanctuary in Vietnam.

Incredibly, when the rescued bears began arriving at the sanctuary, workers reported that they initially reacted fearfully and aggressively to people but became friendly and warm when they began to understand that they were being cared for and were not in any danger, demonstrating a very forgiving nature.

While the formation of Animals Asia is a major victory, the horrors of bear bile farming and poaching still continue. It is a monstrous, inhuman torture that must be stopped. We've already seen in this blog how exposure of bears to such kinds of human violence can instigate aggression and attacks on people, so there could be a very dark, negative impact to all of this beyond the effects on the animals. It could very literally come back to bite us. For more information on bile farming, including ways to help, please visit

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tolerance of Grizzlies

New and interesting article from the Helena, Montana newspaper about the role public education will play in the management of grizzlies. It's about time somebody took this idea seriously.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review - The Story Of Brutus

With all the bear people I've introduced you to in this blog - from trainers to zookeepers to biologists to conservationists - it's truly criminal that I have not yet included Casey Anderson in that list, despite the fact that he is one of the top bear communicators in the world and has successfully raised a grizzly bear to be his best friend. What better way to correct that error than with a review of Casey's 2010 book The Story of Brutus.

Casey Anderson, now the host of National Geographic's Expedition Wild, met a young grizzly cub named Brutus in a wildlife preserve where Anderson had built a unique relationship with Brutus's father (which is detailed in the first chapter of the book). With the likelihood that Brutus would be euthanized due to overpopulation at the preserve, Anderson started the Montana Grizzly Encounter, a rescue and educational facility, for Brutus and other captive bears born into unfortunate situations. Seeking advice from Doug Seus, Casey learned firsthand how to interact with bears at a face-to-face level and Brutus has since become not only Casey's co-star on television but his right-hand man as well.

The book details many of Casey's childhood wildlife adventures, including early experiences with his father. The encounters related are stirring, thrilling, sometimes hair-raising, and always entertaining. Along the way, Casey refutes many misconceptions about bears, pleads a case for saving the grizzlies, and even attempts to teach Brutus to fish like a wild bear. Scattered throughout are amazing insights into his relationship with Brutus and how that relationship is maintained. Finally - and perhaps most remarkably for the bear enthusiast - Casey relates two accounts in which Brutus seems to shed actual tears of joy, an incredible look into the true emotional capability of these animals.

Overall the book is a great read and another valuable look into the heart and mind of an animal that is misunderstood by so many. Highly recommended and I can't wait for Casey's next literary outing.

For more information:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In Defense of Polar Bears

After focusing primarily on grizzlies and black bears in previous posts, I felt it was high time that the polar bears got to have their say in the matter. This is a post that I've been wanting to do for the better part of a year but it's been a long process tracking down all the source material and compiling all of the pertinent information, because - of all the bears - we seem to know the least about the polar bear. One thing that most people do seem to agree on is that the polar bear is the most predatory of the main three in North America, the only one that will frequently regard people as a food source. But is this really true? Despite a few nasty encounters, including some predatory attacks, evidence suggests that this is not the norm.

While bears are primarily classified as omnivores, the polar bear is the only one that is a true carnivore, a necessity due to the lack of vegetation in their icy environment. This is what leads to the common thought that they will usually prey on man, though polar bear attack statistics are extremely low when compared to grizzlies and black bears. While it is true that this is mostly due to the fact that man and polar bear share very little space together, it could also be an indication that the polar bear is not as aggressive as it is often thought to be.

In The World of the Polar Bear, Norwegian Thor Larsen says that he has experienced at least a dozen attacks from polar bears, but that all of them were provoked. Russian researcher Nikita Ovsyanikov, who lived and walked with the polar bears of Wrangel Island and who wrote two invaluable books about the experience - Living With The White Bear and Polar Bears - has had over fifteen hundred encounters with these animals and says that only three of those encounters were with bears that tried to kill him. Even then, he says that he made mistakes that provoked that behavior. In all three incidents, he says that he was able to stop the attacks by carrying a stick, behaving in a confident and aggressive manner, making himself look larger with his parka, and using pepper spray, which has a 100% success rate against polar bears due to the sensitivity of their extremely keen noses (they can often scent seals from up to 25 miles away).

Polar bears can often be the most curious of all bears and have been known to follow people across ice flows, wander into camps, and even poke their heads into tents. With the image of a man-eater in mind, these bears are usually killed right away, without even signs of aggression being apparent. So is the polar bear that peeks inside your tent looking for a meal, or is he simply curious about what's inside? In 1978, Naomi Uemura made the first solo trek into the North Pole and wrote about the experience in National Geographic. He tells the story of a polar bear that entered his camp and approached his tent. Tucked away in his sleeping bag, Uemura was sure he was doomed, particularly when the bear began shredding the tent. However, after one sniff of Uemura in his sleeping bag, the bear turned and padded away.

In October of 2003, the nuclear submarine USS Honolulu surfaced near the North Pole. A lookout onboard spotted three polar bears nearby, who promptly wandered over to the strange thing and began to curiously investigate it, showing no fear, despite having never seen such an object before. In 1990, Nikita Ovsyanikov was reading in his cabin on Wrangel Island one night and suddenly found that the structure was surrounded by polar bears who were peering in the windows and pawing at the walls. Ovsyanikov simply went outside, shooed the bears away, and closed the shutters. Charles Jonkel wrote of tranquilized and captured polar bears, saying that they were as docile as black bears when approached by investigators. Many other researchers who work with the bears on the ice flow have said that they are no more aggressive than the average North American black bear. The gentle side of the polar bear can even be seen in a series of remarkable photographs in which one of the white bears returned to a campsite every night for a week to play, wrestle, and cuddle with a chained-up sled dog (see photos above).

Churchill, Manitoba is considered to be the polar bear capital of the world but there have only been two recorded attacks there since 1717. The locals do face many problem bears, though, but they are easily deterred. More info and even a few amusing stories of face-to-face encounters can be found at the website for Polar Bears International:

Polar bears are also considered to be one of the most intelligent of all bears, as Else Poulsen shows in her wonderful book Smiling Bears. One of her captive polar bears pointedly demonstrated to her why frozen chickens don't make acceptable toys: they thaw out in water. The bear demonstrated this by first catching and holding Else's attention, then using her paw to slosh the bird around in the pool until it thawed, and then slapping it out of the water to show that it would fall apart.

I've shown throughout the course of this blog that there is much we don't understand about bears - all bears - but I think it's very clear that there's even more we don't understand about polar bears. We've come a long way in how we think about black bears, we're still working on changing how we think about grizzlies (though the tide is turning), but we still have a long way to go before we appropriately change our way of thinking about polar bears. That's why it's time to give them the chance to say their piece.

Interesting tidbits: Polar bears are only found near the North Pole, not Antarctica. An easy way to remember this is to keep in mind that the word "arctic" comes from the Greek word for "bear", while the word "antarctic" is from the Greek meaning "without bear".

References and recommended reading:

Smiling Bears by Else Poulsen, 2009
On Thin Ice by Richard Ellis, 2009
Polar Bears: Living With The White Bear by Nikita Ovsyanikov, 1996
Polar Bears by Nikita Ovsyanikov, 1998
Polar Bears International:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Great Bear Conundrum

In The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans, author, photographer, and biologist Matthias Breiter says that the more he learns about bears, the less sure of them he is. He says, "If someone asks me why a bear did something, I'll say I don't know. Years ago I would have known." I admit there are times when I feel the same way.

As you delve deeper into the bear world, the first and principle thing you learn is what a conundrum they are, like a jigsaw puzzle that never quite comes together, and these apparent contradictions in behavior become more unavoidable the further you go. Some people get frustrated with this, throw up their hands and walk away, while others struggle to make these contradictory pieces all fit together within the larger picture. That's not always easy to do.

Of all the bear species, the grizzly may actually be the easiest to pin down. The bears along the coastal areas of Alaska and British Columbia are generally the most docile and the most tolerant of people - as are those in areas with little to no hunting - whereas the grizzlies of interior Alaska, where food supplies are scarce, and Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, where there has been a long and dark history of confrontation between man and bear, are more aggressive and often more predatory. Of course none of this accounts for individual personality, temperament, and experience which can all dictate how a bear behaves in a particular situation.

The black bear, however, is not as clearly defined, considering how dramatically their temperaments change according to geographic location. Through the work of Lynn Rogers, Terry DeBruyn, Benjamin Kilham and others, we've clearly seen how typically docile the black bear is across the eastern half of the lower 48 states. In these areas, there have been very few black bear attacks, yet the animal is unfairly demonized. There are many examples of black bears and humans peacefully co-existing, with the bears apparent aggressiveness only manifesting as "bluff" behavior. The bears usually do whatever they can to avoid confrontations and prefer to end things peacefully. In other words, they seem to react to an encounter with us the same way we would react to an encounter with them: with the desire to get out of the situation alive and unscathed!

As we move farther west, though, the black bears aggressiveness increases slightly. While it can't be said for sure, it's possible that this is a result of the drier and more desolate conditions of the west and how that impacts potential food sources. There have been a slightly larger number of black bear attacks in the west and northwest than anywhere along the eastern seaboard. Progressing further north into Oregon and Washington, black bears are a more formidable presence than they are in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Moving even further north into British Columbia, the coastal black bears and those inhabiting the offshore islands are as docile as those in the eastern United States, obviously because of the rich abundance of food sources. Moving into northern interior B.C., though, the black bear suddenly becomes a very different animal, one that is sometimes compared to the tigers of Asia. Here the bear is much more predatory and has been responsible for a number of deaths and injuries. As an example, from 1978 to 1994, there were 27 attacks and 2 fatalities attributed to grizzlies, whereas there were 78 attacks and 9 fatalities attributed to black bears in the same time period. In the worst of these attacks, killing sprees were evident, with the bears killing multiple victims and caching the bodies. These bears have also been known to attack in defense of kill sites and cubs, something that has not been observed in the more docile eastern U.S. black bears. It's theorized that this increased aggression and predatory drive is a direct result of isolation and lack of contact with people, but some researchers point out that many black bears in Alaska live in those same conditions and are fifty times less aggressive than the inland B.C. bear. It's now speculated that there could be something genetic behind this level of viciousness. Even though grizzlies typically despise black bears, I have to wonder if perhaps some crossbreeding between the two species may have resulted in a more aggressive genetic strain, though there is no evidence to support the idea.

What makes this an even bigger conundrum is the fact that there is no one easy answer to explain this, something that I've found to be true in a number of bear-related incidents that I've heard of. Any of the above mentioned possibilities could be explanations or maybe these black bears are more aggressive as a result of their having to co-exist with grizzlies, who often prey on the smaller bears or kill them just for fun. Maybe this is what keeps them on edge and willing to attack, but these conditions also exist in Alaska and the black bears there seem more reclusive because of it. Either way, it's important information to be aware of, as many of those who have fallen victim to these abnormal black bears are visitors from the U.S. who live with their more docile cousin and who expect the same characteristics to be prominent throughout the species.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Another Strike Against Bear Research

As stated elsewhere on the blog, Lynn Rogers of Minnesota's North American Bear Center has done more to change people's attitudes about black bears than anyone else, his work often being compared to Jane Goodall's and Dian Fossey's. His efforts to put a webcam in the den of a pregnant black bear has become a worldwide sensation, a sensation that's only gaining strength now that Rogers has established two den webcams for the world to watch this winter.

For years, Rogers has been pleading with the Minnesota DNR to provide special protections for the radio-collared black bears that are the subjects of his work. Attempts to work with hunters to spare the bears has had its successes and its failures. While many hunters have agreed to cooperate and spare collared bears, others have seemingly declared war against Lynn and his work. Signs posted by Lynn politely asking hunters to spare radio-collared bears have often been torn down, leaving other hunters unaware of the request and a number of study bears have been lost as a result.

After the Lily the Black Bear phenomenon took flight last year, many fans of Lily on Facebook pushed for Lynn to ask the DNR to illegalize the hunting and killing of radio-collared bears to prevent the same fate from befalling Lily and her cub, Hope. Lynn ultimately chose not to pursue this option, hoping instead to work with hunters and educate them about the necessity of research bears. The end result did not go quite as planned. In September of 2010, a study bear was killed and the bloody radio collar mailed anonymously to the DNR by the hunter. It's an action that many feel was done for spite and one that prompted Lynn to finally move to help illegalize the hunting and killing of research bears. Despite noble efforts, however, the Minnesota DNR announced this morning that they will not offer special protection for radio-collared bears, as you can read about here:

As opposed to this decision as I am, I can't say I'm really surprised by it. After spending as much time as I have studying and researching bears, I've seen more spiteful attacks against bear advocates and researchers than I can even keep track of and this is just one more in a very long and growing list. What is it about bears that instills such a strong negative backlash, particularly from wildlife managers? Is it really just lack of education or is there something more? Considering the small number of radio-collared bears and the benefits to science that they provide, I don't see what the problem is here.

Now it seems the question is becoming not "how do we get the DNR to protect the bears", but "how do we protect the bears from the DNR?"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Bear Safety Research

Reading Bill Schneider's 2004 book Where The Grizzly Walks, my attention was drawn to a chapter on new bear safety research conducted by Stephen Herrero and biologist Tom Smith to determine what scents, sounds, and colors may attract or deter bears. With the summertime bear season approaching, I thought it wise to present this information, especially considering how surprising it might be for some people with more outdated and conventional ideas about bear safety.

Stephen Herrero is the author of the 1985 book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. He has made safety in bear country his life's work and most of what we know today about peacefully co-existing with bears comes from his research and the subsequent book. Considering that this knowledge is ever-changing, he is frequently working to stay on top of the latest research.

Herrero and Smith have been involved in an ongoing research project in Alaska's Katmai National Park to answer the questions posed in the first paragraph. Some of their findings were a bit unexpected and defied some of the standard bear safety knowledge that we hold today.

They found, for example, that grizzlies seemed to ignore dark colors or camouflage colors, whereas they were often attracted to bright colors, such as yellow or red. Some of these bears would approach brightly-colored tents and tear them down and bypass darker ones, causing Katmai park rangers to adopt the usage of only camouflage tents, which they reported had cut bear visitation to campsites by half.

While testing scents, they discovered that bears were usually attracted to perfume, fruit-scented shampoos, and citronella (an ingredient of some insect repellents). It is now also widely known that while bear spray can repel bears, the scent often attracts them. It is never a wise idea to spray bear mace on your tent, your sleeping bag, or your clothes as some people have a habit of doing. It will only get you into trouble!

The testing of sounds brought the biggest surprises of all. We are told to make lots of noise while in bear country, but how much is too much and what sounds really are effective? Herrero and Smith found that the bears took notice of the sounds of human vocalizations but did not flee from them, as we are so often told they will. Whistling is not recommended as it can be an attractant, too closely mimicking the sound of a wounded animal or a marmot. They also found bear bells to be ineffective and largely ignored. The only sounds the researchers found that caused the bears to run were clattering rocks, snapping sticks, and low deep coughs, sounds that would normally indicate the approach of another bear.

I believe these findings are very important and will one day meld into the knowledge that we now have. Bottom line is to blend in with your surroundings and be at one with your environment. While working at Fortress of the Bear last summer in Sitka, a bear sighting in the historical park prompted a group of hikers to spend their time in the park shouting and banging metal pots and pans together everywhere they went. This was overkill and unnecessary and runs the risk of angering a bear that would rather not be disturbed. In my hiking excursions, I found that an occasional low, deep cough and a kicked rock cleared the way rather nicely and gave the impression of another bear rather than an approaching human.

So be unobtrusive in bear country and don't attract the curiosity of a very curious animal. Don't wear bright clothing, don't sleep in a tent that stands out, leave sharp and sweet-smelling products behind, and move down the trails as if you yourself were a bear. Carry the bear spray over firearms but remember that it's no replacement for your brain. I think these are some of the most effective safety rules that you can practice while enjoying yourself in bear country!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Of Bears and Bureaucrats

In 1959, twin brothers John and Frank Craighead pioneered the now often-used technique of radio-collaring and tracking bears, their study focused on several generations of grizzlies in Yellowstone over a period of thirteen years. In what would become the most thorough and most definitive study of the grizzly - the standard by which all others would be measured - the Craigheads touched on every aspect of grizzly bear life: from social relations to feeding habits to denning and hibernation, etc., etc., forming the picture of the grizzly and its environment that we now know today.

The Craigheads ultimately benefited the park and its bears in other ways too, instructing and assisting park rangers and using their expertise at trapping, tracking, and releasing to perform the risky task of capturing and relocating marauding bears that threatened campgrounds. While a few employees of the Park Service viewed their help as an intrusion, most were grateful for their insights and contributions and, in 1962, the park even requested that the brothers draw up a list of management recommendations. Unfortunately, the fields of wildlife research and wildlife management are, and have always been, uneasy bedfellows...something that would become apparent to the Craigheads in the very near future.

In 1963, a system of "natural management" guidelines were proposed that essentially allowed for letting nature take care of itself. Let wildfires burn out of control, let the animals get wiped out by epidemics, let the grizzlies starve when their numbers exceed their habitat's carrying capacity. The park liked the outline and the following year, the Craigheads management ideas were rescinded and they were assigned to strictly research.

Then in 1967, Glacier National Park was rocked by the horrific and tragic deaths of Julie Helgeson and Michele Koons, teenage girls killed by two marauding grizzlies on the same night, the attack on Julie occurring only a hundred yards or so from a dump site that nightly drew a number of grizzlies to feed on human garbage. Park managers of Yellowstone were left in a panic, as several dump sites throughout the park had been attracting dozens of black and grizzly bears and the fear was that this would lead to fatalities in Yellowstone as well. (In actuality, it was unfortunate tragedy that caused Michele's death and Park Service bear safety disinformation that caused Julie's).

Having spent countless hours tracking and monitoring several grizzlies who regularly fed at the dumps, the Craigheads gathered evidence that these bears lived functional, healthy lives in the wild, did not associate the garbage with humans, and had never posed a threat to hikers or campers as a result. They advised closing the dumps gradually to slowly wean the bears off the garbage and back onto wild foods, but park managers insisted the dumps be closed quickly and immediately, despite warnings from the Craigheads that this could lead to the very tragedies they were hoping to avoid.

Later that same year, the Craigheads handed in a progress report on their study. Entitled Management of Bears in Yellowstone National Park, the report openly criticized the park's management plan, criticism that circulated to the high levels of Washington, where it was not warmly accepted. With the battle lines drawn, the dumps were suddenly closed and, just as the Craigheads predicted, the number of bear problems in the campgrounds dramatically increased. According to records kept by Frank, 84 control actions were taken against bears by the Park Service in 1968, more than double what it had been the previous year, but park managers only kept record of 24 of these actions, advising their rangers to remove the bears but keep it quiet.

Later in 1968, Frank and John found that the abandoned wooden mess hall that they had been granted permission to use as a research station and living quarters had been bulldozed and burned to the ground. The Park Service claimed that it had been done in preparation for the park's upcoming centennial celebration in 1972, but they denied the Craigheads use of any other vacant buildings and refused to allow them to participate in any further capture and relocation of bears. In 1971, when Frank asked to see complete records of all relocation and control actions taken since the dump closures, he was denied. Later the Park Service claimed that the Craigheads had not been supplying them with any recent data, but the Craigheads contend that each time they handed in reports to the managers, the reports were promptly handed back. The final death blow to the Craigheads academic freedom - not to mention their personal rights - came when the Park Service stipulated that all publications or comments made by the Craigheads pertaining to Yellowstone grizzlies be approved in advance by the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and that that man in turn get the approval of the director of the National Park Service before a mouth could be opened or a word printed. The Craigheads refused to sign the agreement. The work was over.

The trouble, on the other hand, was just beginning. Fatalities attributed to the improperly weaned bears occurred and that led to the extermination of forty to fifty grizzlies per year. By 1973, news of the Craighead/Park Service confrontation had made its rounds through the press and the National Academy of Sciences formed a committee to evaluate the mess that had been left behind. Analyzing the reports and records of both the Park Service and the Craigheads, the committee ruled in favor of the Craigheads and the wealth of data they had gathered and lambasted park managers for blatantly disregarding that information. Shockingly, two years later, the committee changed its mind and claimed the Park Service had the most accurate records on file.

And on and on this goes. A hundred page book could be written on the fallout of this study alone and how those echoes still linger in management offices today. Grizzly bear management hasn't come much further, primarily because the old ideologies about bears remain stuck in people's minds and are hard to remove. That's very disheartening, considering the dilemma facing the Yellowstone grizzly today, the loss of its food supply, and the inevitability that the species will expand its habitat boundaries. The Park Service is aware of this issue and, as I've shown in recent posts, is pushing for new management regulations to be put into affect. The problem is they don't have a very good grasp on just what effective management is. Here's a plan that might work:

1. Considering how much data and knowledge the Craigheads were able to gather, allow that kind of work to continue. Radio-collaring and tracking bears can only be instrumental in expanding our knowledge of their patterns, their range, and their needs. Only with a full understanding - and acceptance - of this issue can the necessary steps be taken to meet those needs.

2. No more killing problem bears. Relocation is good, but they will find their way back. When they do, they are almost always met with a hail of bullets. Zoos and sanctuaries - at least those that can be trusted to properly care for and maintain these animals - are a much better solution than death. That's the reason why many of these places exist in the first place. Establish lines of communication between park managers and these facilities and arrange for persistent problem bears to be moved to the sanctuaries.

3. With farmers and ranchers concerned that the expanding range of the grizzlies will result in heavy sheep and cattle losses, put supplemental feeding programs into effect. Again, this has been used to great success with other bears so there is no reason for it not to work in this situation. The bears do not associate this food with humans so the old "a fed bear is a dead bear" ideologies need to be left behind. This will result not only in the preservation of cattle, but in helping save the lives of both bears and people.

4. Establish good bear safety regulations. While there is some good info in the pamphlets you can pick up at any National Park, it is not entirely accurate. Different methods work for different species of bear and these pamphlets don't specify that information. Establish extensive crash courses for visitors with an emphasis on bear body language. This will greatly increase safety in bear country.

This isn't a full management outline obviously, but just a few basic and important points that should be taken to heart. It almost seems too simple, but the trick is that it really is this simple. We've come a long way in the last decade in our understanding of bears, far enough to safely say that it's time to open our minds to a new way of thinking, a more sensible plan of management. While it will be like throwing pebbles at a brick wall, our voices should be heard on this issue. Contact any park managers you can and push the supplemental feeding issue as an option plan for this summer. It could work. It would just take imagination and effort, otherwise not just bears will die but people will die and those are losses that we cannot afford.

Sources for further reading:
The Grizzly Bear by Thomas McNamee, 1984
Track of the Grizzly by Frank Craighead, 1979
Where the Grizzly Walks by Bill Schneider, 2004
Grizzly Wars by David Knibb, 2008
The Grizzly Manifesto by Jeff Gailus, 2010

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Montana Senate Bill 143 Follow-Up

Trying to dig up more information on this bill, I sent e-mails to Montana Senator Debby Barrett, who is pushing the bill, Montana FWP, who is opposing the bill, and Doug Peacock, who is a Montana native and who knows more about the battle over the grizzly than anyone else. In my e-mails to Barrett and the FWP, I suggested using supplemental feeding as an alternative to bullets in order to solve the problem bear issue, despite the insistence of wildlife managers that "a fed bear is a dead bear". Not surprisingly, I received no repsonse from either party.

Doug Peacock, on the other hand, did reply and I'm pleased to say that his response was encouraging. He said that the state has no authority to act unless the feds first de-list the grizzly and it stands up to several court challenges. He's pretty confident that it's just hot air. While I agree that it won't happen overnight, I'm not sure that I'm as confident as he is. With bears expanding their home ranges in search of food, the clash with a misinformed and uneducated public could have grim consequences. It's a situation that's going to be hard to predict. Now more news info is coming out about what the situation will be the summer and the push to remove the grizzly's protection. This recent article from The Missoulian expands on that a bit more:

I get the feeling that this summer is going to be quite a ride.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Montana Rules Against the Grizzly

In a stunning move, a Montana Senate committee heard a proposal last week to change state policy and say that the grizzly population is sufficiently healthy in order to allow trapping and killing of the bears to limit conflicts with people and livestock. With public pressure due to the increased loss of sheep and farm animals to the bears, Republican Senator Debby Barrett is calling for the removal of federal protections for the grizzly so that a certain number of the bears can be killed as part of new management practices. She says that due to the growing number of grizzlies in the state, such policy is necessary. At the recent proposal hearing, none of the bill's opponents even bothered to speak against it.

Is this really necessary? With the great number of animal sanctuaries around the world, can't so-called problem bears be sent to some of those places rather than trapped and destroyed? Several states have had near 100% success rates in using supplemental feeding to deter rogue black bears from neighborhoods, so why can't the same be done for hungry grizzlies? Charlie Russell tried it on his ranch in Alberta to keep grizzlies away from his livestock and his attempts were successful! But, hey, why put some actual thought and creativity into wildlife management practices - and dare to defy the old ideologies - when the standard boneheaded techniques are such crowd-pleasers? Then again, maybe I just don't know what I'm talking about.

Either way, I'm compiling some of this information and alternate solutions and will be mass e-mailing it soon. I'm also going to see if I can get some thoughts from Doug Peacock on this situation, since Montana is his home state. I'll post any responses as soon as I receive them. Meantime, you can read the full article here:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Two Black Bear Cubs Born Online

After last winter's phenomenon of Lily the Black Bear - in which a webcam in her den broadcast the birth of her cub Hope to thousands of viewers across the internet - Dr. Lynn Rogers and his team at Ely, Minnesota's North American Bear Center were determined to capture lightning in a bottle again this year, especially when it became apparent that Lily would likely be giving birth again.

Once Lily and Hope settled on their new den, Lynn and his researchers set up the new dencam, and today - with almost 10,000 viewers watching - Lily gave birth to two new cubs, one at 1:51 P.M. and the other at 3:03 P.M Central Time. Her back was turned to the camera to keep the cubs sheltered from the cold at the den entrance so there wasn't much to be seen and there still isn't. It could, in fact, be another month before the cubs are even seen on the camera.

In the last year, Lily has amassed over 100,000 fans on Facebook and that number will likely increase now that the birth of the new cubs is receiving so much media attention. The opportunity to watch Lily behaving like an animal and not like a monster has done a lot to help to tear down misconceptions about black bears and build public support for them. So many donations have poured in to the NABC as a result that it's almost eliminated their $700,000 debt!

Activity in the den seems to have settled down now, so two cubs may be the limit this year. The only way to know for sure is to keep watching. They can be seen at

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Doug Peacock Interview

A new interview with Doug Peacock in which he elaborates on the current crisis facing the grizzly bear, as discussed in my post "The Fall of the Grizzly" (Saturday November 6, 2010), and tells a bit of his own story. This is a grim situation, doubly so because so far the winter temperatures in Yellowstone this year have continued to be above average. It's hard to say how things will play out this summer but a greater public tolerance of the grizzly and its needs will be necessary to see it through.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One-Year Anniversary

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Where the Bear Walks blog and I can't help but sit back and reflect on what a remarkable year it's been. What began as a simple hobby - a place to keep track of all of the fascinating things I had been discovering about bears - quickly became my life's work. It led me back to my old stomping grounds in Alaska for an opportunity to work up close with captive bears, an opportunity that took my understanding of them to a completely different level and showed me things I had previously only imagined. It also put me in touch with several bear people who I greatly admire, such as Doug Peacock, Casey Anderson, Stephen Stringham, Charlie Russell, and Else Poulsen....some of whom have invited me to attend the annual Bear Care Conference which will be held in Canada this October. That was an invitation that I wasn't expecting to get but I can't say that I should really be surprised at this point.

Yes, a lot has happened and yet some things almost feel the same. When I started last year, the whole world was watching a black bear named Lily give birth to a cub live on the internet via webcam, launching a phenomenon that would help do more for bears than anything else in recent years. Now as I sit here writing this anniversary post, I'm watching Lily asleep in her new den with her cub while the world holds its breath, waiting to see if any new arrivals will be joining them this winter.

So what does the future hold? Obviously my work with bears will continue in some form or another. This whole experience has come together so perfectly and so easily that I honestly can't believe that any of it has been coincidence....and the pieces are still coming together. I won't go into specifics right now. Instead I'll just say that there are several possibilities on the horizon, any and all of which would be great for my "bear resume". Pondering these, I can't help but think about the second anniversary of this blog....and wonder where I'll be and what I'll have done by then.