July 07, 2011
People die in the wilderness. It is not a mall. Wild places are not safe and this is one of the reasons some of us love them. Some of us like to be reminded of the vibrancy of life prior to it being sanitized, fenced in and being given Big Brother's hand to hold. Grizzly bears can create grisly scenes and this just happened in Yellowstone National Park yesterday.
Humans possess one advantage that allowed us to survive over the past 300 million years. Alright, two if you count thumbs. This same adaptation made us the most prolific and adaptable species ever to wander the planet. You know what it is. It is our freakishly large cranium relative to the size of our body. This deluxe sized dome is filled with a fatty gray substance packed with neurons and sparking electricity. The idea is to fill our brains with information that will allow us to compensate for a lack of claws, decent teeth, speed, protective armor, the ability to fly, etc. If we choose to leave our cabeza on empty when we head into the wild, then guess what? We become like a three-legged elk or a toothless lion.
On Wednesday, July 6th a griz sow killed a 57-year-old man while he and his wife hiked the Wapiti Lake trail in Yellowstone. A bear warning sign was posted at the trailhead because the area is known for a high level of bear activity. The couple surprised a sow with her cubs and then they continued on up the trail. The sow attacked the second time they encountered her.
I don't understand why it's ok to criticize someone like Ryan Dunn for dying after neglecting safety precautions, but if someone gets mauled and killed by a grizzly bear we're all supposed to just politely give our condolences.
After seeing the bear warning sign the couple could have joined another hiking party, in bear country history suggests there is safety in numbers. After the first encounter with the sow they could have left the area. The National Park Service has yet to let us know if the couple had pepper spray or a firearm. I'm very interested in learning this information. Finally, the fact that the husband instructed his wife to run indicates they had not done their research. Running is discouraged because it kicks in the bear's instinct to chase. Reportedly the woman had the good sense to lay down, play dead and cover her head. She lived. The point is, there are at least three points in this scenario where the couple made decisions that led them deeper into danger. They entered an area with warning signs, the didn't join another party and they didn't turn around after the first encounter. If they lacked pepper spray or a firearm that would be the fourth failure in judgement. I spoke to an insider this morning who indicated that if the hikers had handled the situation correctly and the sow still attacked them, the sow would be dead right now.
If I go whitewater kayaking and have three safety failures and die, it's on me. For example 1) No PDF 2) Water too big for my skills 3) No helmet. The same with rallying. 1) Too fast for conditions 2) No safety restraints 3) No helmet. Adding a fourth? Well, it becomes exponential. My point is this, if you want others to care for your safety, go to an amusement park.
Watch these two television reports on the incident and you will see that even among those charged with informing, ignorance is a problem.
This first one is from KTVM in Bozeman. Bozeman, this kid should know better. There is no mention of pepper spray or carrying a firearm. No credible research based information is offered by an official. The best solution offered is to keep the car doors open? Well any more than about 25 or 30 feet and Yogi is going to win that foot race. This is your best plan? Yellowstone from a car? Yuck. Just rent a DVD and save some dough.
This next one is from St. Louis. We can expect this sort of ignorance from A) urbanites B) anyone east of the North Dakota/Montana border. But seriously? "MAMA BEAR" What the hell is this? A bedtime story? They are surprised there is this invention called "bear spray"? What? "handy to have in your bag?" yeah, have it tucked in your bag underneath your friggin' rain gear and peanut butter sandwiches. No! Have it on your belt moron. "Excuse me Mama Bear, can you hold on while I tear through my knapsack for some pepper spray?"
Examine the graphic while you're there. They claim there have been 3 attacks inside Yellowstone Park inside the last two years. There's only been one inside the park. The graphic also indicates 1000 bears inside the park. Top estimates put the number at 600. They seem so gleeful in their ignorance. Someone in St Louis please take those two dullard anchors and drop them in your zoo's griz enclosure. In fact, if you want to do your own sort of research cultural differences in our country, Google "Yellowstone Grizzly Attack" news items and as you go to news outlets further East, the language gets more dramatic and hyperbolic.And really, let's try and be reasonable about this. This is the first bear fatality in the park in 25 years. This is with as many a three million visitors annually. Calm down, smarten up, carry bear spray and/or a gun and enjoy the wild.
With my job it is highly likely you will be able to write a smug and snarky postmortem on me getting cracked like a walnut by a bruin. I've followed Boddington into the brush after brown bears in the middle of the night, stalked within yards of a 7- foot black bear with Curt Wells and spent plenty o' time on my own in bear country. So get your typer oiled up. Google "Bear Aware" or go to the Montana FWP's Bear Trail Walk.