Right Manners

More lessons from Grizzly Bears.

Posted Oct 14, 2013

Grizzly bear face.

Fisherman, at rest.

And that truth is: Bears are not aggressive. Bears are not a problem. There is no bear-human conflict. The only conflict comes from practices and perceptions that don’t conform to science and the reality about bears. Today’s bear management is not based on science, or rather, it is based on the selective use of science.

When science is looked at in its entirety - and we are talking about standing, widely accepted theory and data - it mirrors my personal experience over the past 50 years. Bears are social and friendly. John Muir knew this a century ago. He lived in grizzly country for forty years without a gun and had no fear of bears. Here is what he wrote about his first encounter with California Bears:

In my first interview with a Sierra bear we were frightened and embarrassed, both of us, but the bear's behavior was better than mine. When I discovered him, he was standing in a narrow strip of meadow, and I was concealed behind a tree on the side of it. After studying his appearance as he stood at rest, I rushed toward him to frighten him, that I might study his gait in running. But, contrary to all I had heard about the shyness of bears, he did not run at all; and when I stopped short within a few steps of him, as he held his ground in a fighting attitude, my mistake was monstrously plain: I was then put on my good behavior, and never afterward forgot the right manners of the wilderness.

John Muir.

John Muir.

This story relates to another scientific discovery. Bears experience post-traumatic stress – like soldiers in war. Bears have learned fear and suspicion. They are under siege from humans. Grizzlies are denied access and excluded from the majority of their natural habitat and hunted to the point of near extinction. The same thing is happening around the world with other wildlife as in the case of Africa where post-traumatic stress is now epidemic among elephants.

Humans, in particular the people who are in charge of making laws and implementing them, are driving wildlife to madness and violence. Given what bears have had to endure for centuries, it is remarkable that there are not more incidents. This speaks to the intrinsic respect and restraint of bears.

Charlie Russell with friends in Kamchatka.

Charlie Russell with friends, in Kamchatka.

G.A. Bradshaw & Charlie Russell