The Grizzlies of Mount McKinley
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Keeping Grizzlies Wild

This section could be entitled Bear Management in National Parks, but I shy away from the word "management" because it has been misused and the less we have of it in national parks, the better. Wildlife managers want to manage everything, just as a forester wants to practice forestry in parks, and engineers want to build more and wider roads.

Whatever management activities we approve should be thought of and undertaken as exceptions. There are, unfortunately, some striking exceptions. Where a fauna is endangered by man's interference, such as in the Everglades, remedial measures are justified. Or when an animal, due to man's activity, is destroying a habitat, as in the case of elk in Yellowstone, control is justified. But again, these adjustments should be regarded as exceptions. The goal is to have minimum manipulation in our parks, to allow, where at all possible, the existing ecological factors to operate naturally. To artificially maintain the picture as first found by Europeans, assuming we know what it was, destroys the significance of the landscape. As an editorial on this point in Living Wilderness concluded, "Let us be guardians rather than gardeners."

The report on national parks by the National Academy of Sciences in 1963 summed up what I believe the true objective of national parks should be:

The Committee recognizes that national parks are not pictures on the wall; they are not museum exhibits in glass cases. They are dynamic biological complexes with self generating changes. To attempt to maintain them in any fixed condition, past, present, or future, would not only be futile but contrary to nature. Each park should be regarded as a system of interrelated plants, animals, and habitat (an ecosystem) in which evolutionary processes will occur under such human control and guidance as seems necessary to preserve its unique features. Naturalness, the avoidance of artificiality, should be the rule.

This philosophy on parks was often expressed by my highly respected lumberjack and conservationist friend who has spent many summers in McKinley National Park, often in succinct but meaningful "logger language." When a tourist asked him "Where are all the animals?", he replied, "This ain't no zoo, lady." She was given true park service policy in five words. No apologetic hedging or a promise that we would bring animals to the roadside soon. Take Nature as she is, for only then can there be quality experience. McKinley National Park is one of the few places where a sizeable natural population of bears is protected, a unique area where grizzlies and other animals can share a relatively unspoiled land and where people can see them as they ought to be, wild and free. In parks such as Glacier and Yellowstone, grizzlies are more difficult to see in rugged and wooded country, and bears there have been corrupted by exposure to man's refuse. Only recently have steps been taken to return grizzlies to a more natural state. In McKinley National Park we have the chance to avoid some of the serious problems that have led to an association with man that is much too close.

Grizzlies have an uncommon predilection for human foods, whether in the form of garbage or groceries in a cabin. Accessible garbage is a chief cause of bear trouble. Not only does it attract but it continues to hold bears in an area so that they become unafraid and are soon breaking into tents, trailers, or cabins in search of more food. Human contacts follow, and incidents occur where people are harmed, sometimes seriously. The bears become pests instead of remaining interesting wild creatures with natural habits. The usual ending to the story is injury and damage to property, and death to the bear.

When camping in bear country, I have always burned all garbage, including cans to destroy the odors. Taking these precautions has resulted in very little trouble with bears.

If food is stored in cabins, strong, bear-proof shutters should be used to protect the doors and windows. An alternative might be food placed in a cache built on top of four poles. I believe it would be desirable to build a picturesque cache at each of the outlying cabins in the park and store provisions in them instead of in cabins.

In some areas, trouble with bears has been reduced by live-trapping and transporting the animals to distant areas if such are available. To minimize trouble with bears, a combination of all precautions and remedies is needed. In national parks it is undesirable to have any garbage available so that bears will not be attracted to habitations and will not eat such fare, but live in their normal, primitive way.

In the past some researchers have proposed marking grizzly bears and other animals in McKinley National Park to aid in proposed ecological studies. In some studies elsewhere in recent years, grizzlies and other species have been marked with ear tassels for ready identification and have also had radio transmitters attached to them. Some elk in Jackson Hole carry collars of varied hues, moose are ear-tagged, and I have seen trumpeter swans wearing plastic collars. Sensitive people who are sincerely interested in preserving wilderness are opposed to the use of such techniques in an area devoted to esthetics and spiritual values. The observation of tassels in the ears, and the knowledge that the bears have been manhandled systematically, would destroy for many people the wilderness esthetics for an entire region. We might, of course, imagine a conservation situation so critical that such intrusive, harmful techniques would seem necessary. But in the case of the grizzly in McKinley National Park the added information obtainable would not merit the sacrifice of the intangible values for which parks are cherished. In our wilderness parks, research technique should be in harmony with the spirit of wilderness, even though efficiency and convenience may at times be diminished.

It is true that in a highly publicized study in Yellowstone National Park grizzlies carry tassels and radio transmitters. It is also true that when we think of Yellowstone grizzlies, we do not think of wilderness animals, but rather of radios, anesthetized bears, and general manhandling. Surely that study should not set a precedent for McKinley National Park where the grizzly is an outstanding wildlife attraction and the blemish of tagging would be especially disastrous to park esthetics. Although a marking study would make our understanding of grizzly ecology more complete, it is not needed for a sufficiently thorough understanding of the ecology of McKinley grizzlies to enable us to know what is needed for their preservation.

The national park idea is one of the bright spots in our culture. The idealism in the park concept has made every American visiting the national parks feel just a little more worthy. Our generosity to all creatures in the national parks, this reverence for life, is a basic tradition, fundamental to the survival of park idealism. Perpetuation of truly wild grizzlies in McKinley National Park is essential to maintain this tradition (Fig. 62).

Fig. 62. "It would be fitting, I think, if among the last manmade tracks on earth could be found the huge footprints of the great brown bear." (Earl Fleming, 1958).

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Last Updated: 06-Dec-2007