Friday, November 15, 2013

A Busy Week

Wow, what a week it's been! Headlines are exploding and I've been doing a lot of writing in response. I had been planning a large campaign to build public opposition against the push to delist the Yellowstone grizzly next year and intended to kick it off with an article about the issue. While that was in the works, this headline from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle set things in motion for me:  

A couple of days later, The Earth Times, an online environmental newspaper, published my latest (and most in-depth) article about this issue. You can read it here: 

The piece has been spreading like a wildfire across social media and with its publication, I sent a letter to the editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle highlighting the basic points I covered in the article but it so far hasn't seen the light of day. I followed that with a personal letter to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, again highlighting the points of the issue and trying specifically to persuade him to reconsider the trophy hunting regulations he wants to establish. Not surprisingly, it too has so far been ignored.

Just yesterday afternoon, I finished an op-ed article that I'm now shopping around. More of these are to come, including letters to Wyoming and Montana area papers where they will probably have the most affect.

Then, yesterday evening, I received quite a surprise. Someone slipped me a link to this article, which may be a ray of light in this gathering storm:  Scroll down to the comments. The one by Cody Coyote revealing Gov. Mead's anti-predator stance is very interesting and likely explains why my letter to him was ignored. I'll be keeping a close eye on this as it develops.

You can get involved in this campaign also. You can contact both Gov. Mead and Wyoming Game and Fish online and write letters to your local papers highlighting this issue. Many people morally oppose what's happening but are not vocally opposing it; we have to be vocal and let it be known that we stand against the delisting and trophy hunting. If hunters, the NRA, scouts and wildlife groups came together in partnership with the government and conservation groups, it would finally prove that there is public support for the grizzly bear and funds and manpower could be combined to establish travel corridors across Montana, getting bears over and under highways and linking the isolated Yellowstone population with Glacier where they would have easy access to Canada and B.C. It would take work but would be much more noble than drafting a potential extinction plan.

There have also been a couple of interesting articles involving polar bears, who are themselves in a bad way right now. Due to decreased ice floes in the arctic and shorter hunting seasons, polar bears are starving and this is leading to increased risk of attacks on humans in areas where such things have rarely ever occurred. This has lead to wildlife officers in Arviat, Nunavut to establish feeding stations to keep the bears out of the community, an option that was proposed last winter by several polar bear experts in Hudson Bay. Once I've completed my writing campaign for the delisting issue, I'll be working on another op-ed for the polar bear crisis. Until then, you can read about what's happening here:

Friday, November 8, 2013

New Article

As a bonus post today, here is a new article of mine that will be published in the Glacier Park Foundation's The Inside Trail magazine in February or March 2014.



When I came to Glacier National Park to work seasonally in the summer of 2012, I was already something of a self-taught bear expert. I had read dozens of books on the subject and even worked with captive grizzlies in Alaska, so I reacted with less dread than some of my colleagues at the news that a 400 pound black bear had taken up residence in town two years prior and was especially enjoying the cornucopia of huckleberries and dandelions that were growing around the employee cabins where I would be living. “He’s a sweet bear,” I had been assured by some who had already been face to face with him on more than one occasion.

Despite all the stories I had been told, the bear – who had been described to me as “enormous” – remained elusive. I can recall lying in the bed at night and listening to a large animal moving around outside, snapping sticks as he foraged. Then one evening, while watching a movie in the dark, the bright flickering light of the screen on the window drew him to the cabin and he stood up, placing his paws on the glass, peering in at the light. Whereas others may have reacted with fear and panic, the exhaustive research I had done helped me to understand a bear’s curious nature and I knew he would not be able to resist investigating this new phenomenon. After a few moments at the window, I heard his claws slide off the glass and he resumed about his business.

We finally met only a week or so later. It was a late mid-August evening and thunderstorms were threatening in the thick summer heat. A friend and I were returning to the cabins from our favorite hangout spot along the river and were greeted by a large black shape coming up the road toward us.

My friend was excited but nervous and asked me what we should do. Considering the drive to the cabins was very narrow, I advised we should move back and allow the bear plenty of space and a way out lest he feel cornered.

We backed away near a street light (it was dusk at this time) and watched in awe as the silhouette of one of the largest animals I had ever seen casually passed in front of us, taking the exit we had given him and simultaneously giving us a clear path back home. The stories I had heard were all true: this bear was huge! With a heavily muscled, trim body and thick tree trunk legs, this guy could give just about any grizzly in the park a run for its money in the size department. Needless to say, my friend and I spent a very late night excitedly chatting up the encounter.

Some days later, I was walking alone down the drive to the cabins in early afternoon and had almost arrived home when suddenly from what seemed out of nowhere there was a large animal moving through the thick brush off trail, just about to emerge onto the path right in front of me. I calmly and firmly called “Hey, bear!” I couldn’t see him in the brush but he instantly stopped moving, clearly startled. “It’s just me, bear!” I announced, by now assured that my voice was well known in these parts due to the many late nights I had spent walking this trail in the dark after work, calling out the whole way. At that, the bear made a slight course correction and instead of popping out on the trail, he followed it until he was behind me, then crossed, giving me only one casual glance in the process.

I only saw him once more that first year. He returned to the cabins in September with a mysterious foot injury and spent several days bedded down in the woods nearby while he healed. In all the time he had been down there, we had never been aggressive towards him or tried to haze and frighten him away, so he clearly felt this was a safe place and that he was welcome.

Truth is, he was welcome all over town. Each morning it was not hard to find excited talk about where the bear had been seen the previous evening and what he had been doing and if he failed to appear for a few days, concern for his well-being spread throughout the little community. Never once did he damage property, raid garbage, or ever attempt to gain access to anything other than natural foods. Never once was he exposed to human violence or aggression and he returned that respect to everyone he met, even during unexpected close encounters. Perhaps there’s a valuable lesson there that should be taken to heart in our dealings with bears elsewhere.

When I returned to Glacier in the summer of 2013, the issue of his whereabouts was the first and most burning question on my mind. By this point I had used my experiences with Glacier’s bears the previous summer to deepen my knowledge, had written two articles and a book on the subject, and considered the black bear of West Glacier to be a rare enigma, a fascinating and complex creature, and I wanted to know more about him.

Apparently he felt the same way about me because, inexplicably, he began seeking me out.
It was late June/early July before we met again. I was sitting on the porch of my cabin after a long day when I looked up to my left and saw him fifty feet away watching me with a gently curious expression framed below his Mickey Mouse ears. He reacted almost apologetically, as if he were saying “Oh, sorry to bother you”, and moved on with his usual calm demeanor, disappearing somewhere behind my cabin. “I bet he bedded down back there,” I remarked later to my friend from the previous year. To this day, I don’t know why I said that and I don’t even know if I was serious but I certainly couldn’t have predicted how ironic that statement would become.

I was catching up on email late one night when I heard the familiar cracking and snapping of sticks that marked the bear’s approach. I listened as he sat with a whuff outside my bedroom’s back exit. He leaned his massive frame against the door, the wood creaking and groaning, then slid onto the ground. After several minutes I heard deep breathing and then light snoring as the bear slept. I was amazed, overjoyed, and more than a little bit mindblown. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me! Once in a while, I would hear him shift positions, swat at bugs, and even moan in his sleep before the soft snoring resumed. A not unpleasant animal odor was present throughout and when I awoke sometime later after dozing off, the smell was gone. So too, I knew, was the bear.

When I related this experience to my colleagues, they didn’t seem too surprised. “Of course he came to you,” they said. “You’re the bear man. He likes you.” Initially I laughed this off but I had heard more than one bear researcher say that even wild bears seem to be like cats, able to identify their benefactors and that they even sometimes gravitate to these people. Could that be the case with this black bear? Was it just coincidence he ended up at my door or was he picking up on something?

I’m only aware of two or three other occasions in which he slept outside my door, but I often awoke in the middle of the night to thumps, bumps, and scrapes on my side of the cabin. I checked the area for a daybed or any natural foods that may be growing there and found nothing that would hold his interest. His choice to sleep there seemed completely random.

Because of the unusually dry summer, the huckleberry crop was very meager and with its failure, the bear abandoned the cabin area and moved on to greener pastures. I spent one evening around dark standing on the beach at the river watching his enormous silhouette patrolling the high bank of the far shore. Otherwise, he seemed to have disappeared.

The last time we met in broad daylight was in late September. The summer season was ending, fall was coming, and I was getting ready to move on to another job. I was walking along the road and, to my surprise, found the bear sitting upright alongside a small pine tree next to the road, watching me as I approached. 

I stopped some distance away and let him see me, then I slowly pulled out my camera. When he saw the strange object pointed at him, he jumped into the road and started running.

“It’s okay, bear,” I called out to him. “It’s just me, bear!” At the sound of my voice, he stopped and turned to look at me, cartoon ears raised high. “It’s okay, buddy,” I implored, kneeling down in what I hoped would be a peaceful gesture. “Don’t be afraid.”

He visibly calmed, mouth dropping open, a body language sign of total relaxation. I snapped a couple of bad, blurry photos and then we watched each other for a few minutes. He made full eye contact with me for a long moment, with an expression that I can’t quite define, then walked away, coolly as ever, and followed the railroad tracks out of town. I watched until he rounded the corner and disappeared from view.

It was not long thereafter that I moved across town to take a new job. All my things had been transferred to an apartment on the roof above my place of work and the old cabin was empty. Near closing time on my second night of work, one of my fellow employees came in to tell me that a very large black bear, “the size of a small car” was hanging out near my apartment.

It can’t be, I thought and I followed him out to take a look. There, in the dark, was the familiar silhouette of a large healthy bear with thick tree trunk legs and a white patch on his chest. I couldn’t help but smile. “Don’t worry about it,” I said to my slightly shaken colleague. “I know this guy.”

With winter just around the corner, I expected the bear would move on to a den soon, though probably one not too far away. Going to bed late one night, I switched off all the lights in my apartment and looked out the door. There, to my astonishment, on the roof of the building, was the bear following the wooden walkway up to my door. He came straight to the glass and we made eye contact through it. He put his nose to my face and curled up right there for a nap. My jaw was on the floor and I was too blown away to sleep. He was actually on the roof! Why would he come up here? Perhaps he really did know I was his benefactor and felt that he should stay close. Maybe he was just saying hello or goodbye for the winter. Either way, I could no longer use the word “coincidence” to explain away these encounters.

With a big grin on my face, I raised a toast to this remarkable animal. “Have a good winter’s sleep, bear,” I told him. “I’ll see you next year.”

Copyright 2013 Chris Nunnally

Book Review - Bears Without Fear

In 2002, Charlie Russell made waves when his book Grizzly Heart postulated that bear aggression toward humans was often linked to human aggression toward bears...and presented solid evidence in support. In the decade since, a few others have picked up on the same connection but typically one would have to go outside the world of scientists and biologists (who often have their own interests to protect considering that many of them work for agencies who have adopted the "shoot 'em all and let God sort 'em out" mentality of wildlife management) to hear the idea expressed. With more and more researchers now risking careers to promote more and more "unorthodox" views about bears, this way of thinking may no longer be relegated to obscurity.

Biologist Kevin Van Tighem spent 40 years studying wild bears in western Canada and serving as the superintendent of Banff National Park in Alberta. In 1983, his sister was severely mauled by a grizzly and suffered debilitating PTSD until she committed suicide in 2005. Van Tighem barely even makes mention of this in the book, except to note that it set him on a path to better understand what makes bears tick rather than on a path of hatred and negativity. His findings are among the most common sense ever presented.

Throughout the book's roughly 300 page length, Van Tigham tears down the myths, legends, and monster imagery surrounding bears and shows the animal underneath. He goes into great detail about the lives, social structures, habits, and behaviors of black bears, polar bears, and grizzlies (along with stunning photos). In doing this he shows bears for what they really are, what they do, how they think, how they act, and systematically removes the paranoia that over-exaggerated danger warnings promote. He has been face-to-face with bears of many different temperaments and drew upon those experiences to conclude that trust is the critical piece missing in the puzzle of coexistence. In closing he states that "the most dangerous thing about a bear is not its claws, teeth, or disposition; it's how we react to it."

To see this coming from someone active in the scientific community, in defiance of the more accepted way of thinking, is refreshing and will hopefully bring the possibility of what a bear without fear can truly be into the mainstream consciousness. As far as I know, the book is only widely available in Canada so opt for Amazon rather than your local bookstore.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A ReturnTrip to Glacier Offers New Insights and Experiences

Apologies for my neglecting this blog of late. I've just returned from my second summer in Glacier National Park and even though there has been plenty of news to report, I've been so overwhelmed with things the last few months that I haven't been able to keep all of this info current.

First, some details. Where the Bear Walks has been selling very well, around 200 copies since May. Thanks to all of you who bought a copy and thanks also to Linda Jo Hunter, author of Lonesome For Bears, who wrote a very thoughtful review on Amazon. My retrospective on the 45th anniversary of the night of the grizzlies was published this past spring by The Inside Trail, publication of the Glacier Park Foundation. That actually led me into contact with the family of Michele Koons, which has been delightful; very genuine, real, down to earth people. For those interested, a short piece I wrote on Fortress of the Bear was also printed in the July/August issue of Alaska Magazine.

Now on to the bears, and there were plenty of them in Glacier this summer! I can hardly recall any hike I undertook the entire time that did not have one of those "Bear Frequenting Area" signs posted at the trailhead. A couple of encounters in particular have given me much to think about in relation to my earlier writing. A friend and I were hiking early on a steamy August day when we rounded a blind corner and came literally within feet of a very large grizzly coming straight towards us...a textbook mauling scenario. The bear was clearly as startled as we were, jumped away, retreated a few feet back, and then turned to assess the situation. He seemed to identify us as human (he fled so quickly that I can't be sure he knew what we were at first), relaxed a little, then ambled off into the woods. Some days later, on the Highline trail, we encountered another large grizzly foraging at close range on the hillside just above the trail. We watched him as he munched on wildflowers, throwing us the occasional disinterested glance, then he walked into the trail and actually followed us for several feet until the brush on the opposite side of the path opened up enough to allow him to turn off and continue on down the hill. His behavior towards us, even from a distance no greater than ten feet, was completely passive and docile; we were clearly just part of the scenery, not something to be feared and reviled.

When a co-worker told me that he mostly hikes outside of the park in a high-hunting area and that every bear he encountered aggressively charged him, I couldn't help but think of those two grizzlies coming so close and yet behaving so passively. While I have no doubt that there are aggressive bears in the park, the fact that those animals are protected, are not hunted, and are not exposed to human violence definitely influenced how they reacted to our presence. Grizzlies tend to be volatile, more naturally confrontational than black bears, so their tolerance was extraordinary and to be calmly followed only a few feet away by one down a trail was a once in a lifetime experience. As for the bear that we surprised so closely that we probably could have reached out and touched the tip of his nose? Come that close from out of nowhere in a place like Alaska and you will likely get your head bashed in. Some very good food for thought in these encounters!

Some of you may recall reading - either from my book or from posts last fall - about the West Glacier black bear, a large 400 pounder who has been a local resident in the area for a few years and who clearly enjoyed the close company of people. Well, this bear made his return appearance in July of this year and spent more than one night sleeping outside the back door of my cabin...right outside my bedroom. While I admittedly find it strange that, of all the cabins in that area, he decided to spend his time curled up at the door of the bear man, I nonetheless wrote it off as coincidence. My co-workers, however, saw something deeper in it and insisted he could sense something and was drawn to me. When I took an extra job in the fall, moved to a different location, and found out he had followed me, I was perplexed but still wrote it off as coincidence. When I looked out the window of my apartment - located on the roof of the establishment in which I worked - late one night and watched him actually walk up onto the roof and curl up for a nap outside my door, my jaw hit the floor. I was officially mindblown! Yes, I knew this bear felt safe being around people because he knew no other bears would come near him, but I had to concede at this point that maybe he was drawn to me, that maybe he did see me as a benefactor and wanted to keep such company. It's a mind-boggling story and my fascination and interest in him has definitely piqued due to this unusual behavior. I can't wait to meet him again next year and see if this persists.

So now I'm back in action and working on new articles and some op-ed pieces. I almost wish I hadn't written the book due to these new discoveries this year, but there are other outlets for them and so much more to learn.

In closing, here is a link to a wonderful new article by Gay Bradshaw and Charlie Russell, who are also working on a new book, The Buddha and the Bear. More to come soon!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Grizzly Bear's Plea

A fantastic article in Montana's Daily Inter Lake, detailing the plight of grizzlies as they suffer the continual encroachments of human habitations, all written from the perspective of a grizzly bear. This is great to see and likely a sign that the tide is turning in favor of a greater understanding about bears and a larger tolerance for what they need. I hope to see more work like this coming out in the future.

"Where the Bear Walks" book now available

Despite a slight delay due to the process of settling on and creating a cover, the book version of the blog, entitled Where the Bear Walks: From Fear to Understanding, is now available for sale through Createspace. It will be listed on and Kindle later this week. I'll post those links when they are listed and ready to go. Until then, here is a link to the Createspace store: 
Thank you all for reading and I hope you enjoy the book! It could not have been done without all of you! Now that it's completed, I fully expect to be more active on this site again with new posts.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Where the Bear Walks" Book April Release

Today I officially put the finishing touches on the primary text for the "Where the Bear Walks" book. Now I'll have to go back and tweak some things in the early chapters so that they read more like the latter chapters. I will also be sending individual chapters to the people profiled in the book for content review. Doug Peacock is among these and he will be out of commission for three weeks after hip replacement surgery on March 8th and cannot review the material until April. You can expect the book to be released sometime that month.

In some recent bear news, President Obama has finalized a special ruling that denies polar bears direct protection from greenhouse gases under the Endangered Species Act, in what the media is dubbing a "Polar Bear Extinction Plan." Despite the Administration's vocal concerns about the impact of global warming on polar bear populations, this new regulation is modeled after a previous Bush Administration ruling that also failed to take measures to prevent polar bear extinction. You can find more info here:
With the loss of sea ice becoming more extreme every year, more and more emaciated polar bears are turning up and some are starving to death. This has prompted a number of polar bear scientists to convene in Churchill to discuss possible options. One of those is using supplemental feeding to help stabilize the bear population should a critical point be reached. Obviously that's raised the ire of the Ministry of the Environment who are still spouting out the "fed bear is a dead bear" line but I'm pleased to hear these scientists admit that feeding wild animals during times of food shortage is not unheard of and is perfectly acceptable in these types of extreme cases. Sounds like a good step in the right direction. More info:
Stay tuned for more updates as the book comes together. When it's finished, I'll have a link to it posted here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Third Anniversary!

I'm two days late but no matter. This weekend marks the three year anniversary of the beginning of this blog and, as usual, it's time to reflect on how far things have come in the past year. It seems this will finally be the year when my writing efforts will be reaching a much larger audience. After the success of the Kindle publishing of my article Night of the Grizzlies, 45 Years Later (see post below), the piece has been picked up by The Inside Trial, the publication of the Glacier Park Foundation, and will appear in this winter's issue. I'm excited that something with such personal meaning for me will be getting out there in such a way.

Work on the book version of Where the Bear Walks is still chugging along. I'm around halfway through, maybe a little over, but some of the hardest sections to tackle information-wise are yet to come. I hope that my projected release date of late spring/early summer will hold true but I can't be sure; a delay is a very real possibility.
As challenging as the book is, recent headlines are spurring me along and keeping me working. It appears that next year, barring some miracle, grizzlies will be removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act, making them fair game for anyone with a gun and a score to settle. Already the comments sections of related news reports are overflowing with those frothing at the mouth to take a shot at a grizzly. The truly sad thing is that many of these people have no interest in population control; they simply want the animals gone because of the reputation they've been given. I try to stay focused on this during the dark moments when I'm lost in the turmoil of writing hell. I don't honestly believe that anything I or anyone else writes will change things at this point but I know I have to do my part for the conservation of these animals and I truly hope that the book, the articles, and the posts on this blog will be sufficient enough to do even a tiny sliver of good.
But I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Two Articles Available on Amazon Kindle

After spending a few months submitting some of my writing to magazines for publication, I decided instead to publish two of them independently as edocs on Amazon kindle. Night of the Grizzlies, 45 Years Later is the one I most sought to publish but the finished version is too outsized for magazine publication and the subject has too much personal meaning for me to just cut it down to a manageable length. I felt this was the best way to get it out there; continuing to pursue magazine publication could well take until the 50th anniversary! The essay is much more in-depth than my posting about it here and, of all my pieces, it's the one I feel the most pride in.
As a bonus to all of you, I've included an additional essay entitled Brown Bears World: Fortress of the Bear that details the triumphs, tragedies, pitfalls, and hardships of saving orphaned cubs in Alaska. The piece is critical of actions taken by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which many publications are unwilling to run. For $0.99 you can get them both and the funds will go into the writing and publication of my book Where the Bear Walks: From Fear to Understanding which will be available later in 2013. I also have a short article, A Summer With The Bears, that will run in the July/August issue of Alaska Magazine.
Here is the link for the kindle essays:
I greatly appreciate your readership and your support! Thank you!