Lacy Kowalski: Headwaters is supported by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.
Michael Faist: This summer, I came across the story of a bear nicknamed Growly. Growly was a grizzly bear who lived in Glacier National Park in the 1970s. And when he was young, he lived a normal bear life. His mom taught him how to pick huckleberries and dig up glacier lily bulbs. He swam across his first creek, caught his first animal, and—after a couple of years—struck out on his own, ready to take on the world. We also know that by age seven, Growly got into some trouble.
Music: [dramatic drums start playing]
Michael: You see, when you're a bear trying to pack on the pounds before winter, you've got to eat a lot. And if you want to eat, say, 150 calories, you could find and pick 150 huckleberries. Or you could eat one Twinkie.
Music: [quiet contemplative music starts]
Michael: Bear management records from 50 years ago are light on the details, so we don't know exactly what Growly did, but we do know he was labeled a, "problem bear." A term often used to describe bears who associate people with food. More often than not, problem bears aren't malicious or uniquely ill-tempered, they're smart. They know that they need a lot of calories to survive the winter and happen to live around humans who leave a lot of food lying around. One account stated that Growly wandered through a busy campground searching for food. Another claimed that he followed his nose to an empty cabin, "vandalizing" it to get food inside. He hadn't hurt anyone, but this habit suggested it was only a matter of time, and park managers decided to remove him. The next time Growly followed his nose, he followed it into a trap.
Music: [upbeat flute music starts playing]
Michael: For some bears, this is where the story ends. But for Growly, this is just the beginning. Growly would soon leave Glacier, and would go on to change how all of us recreate in Bear Country—and play a part in the creation of bear spray.
Music: [Headwaters theme begins playing; starting with mandolin, then a drumbeat, a flute line, and other instruments layer in before the music finishes]
News Clip: So this is what helped save our lives.
News Clip: I'm going to spray you.
Sound Effect: [spraying sound].
News Clip: She took two steps into the cloud and made a 90 degree turn and then ran out of there.
Music: [Theme music finishes]
Michael: You're listening to Headwaters, a podcast about how Glacier National Park connects to everything else. And in this episode, we're talking about bear spray. I'm Michael.
Daniel Lombardi: I'm Daniel.
Michael: For people who might not be familiar, Daniel, what is bear spray?
Daniel: Bear spray is, it's basically a self-defense spray. Like a pepper spray. A really strong pepper spray that you spray at a bear if you're being charged or attacked.
Michael: Right. And it's become a central part of the visitor experience here in Glacier, because we have one of the highest densities of grizzly bears anywhere in the lower 48 states.
Daniel: Yeah. So most people who come to the park, they're picking up bear spray at the airport on their way here or at basically any store around in the whole area.
Michael: Gift shop, grocery store, all over.
Daniel: It's an essential item around here.
Michael: And if you see a park ranger out and about, they will have a can with them. And if you go on a hike with one, they'll likely sing its praises sometimes, literally. I went on a hike with a Ranger this year who wrote a whole song to let wildlife know we were in the area.
Ranger Frank: [singing loudly to the tune of Jingle Bells] Grizzly bears, grizzly bears, grizzlies in the way. Get off the trail, cause if you charge, with pepper, you'll get sprayed.
Michael: Thanks, Ranger Frank.
Daniel: Oh, wow.
Michael: [smiling] Yeah, it was very good.
Daniel: I love it.
Michael: But while bear spray is ubiquitous now, it hasn't been around forever. So in this episode, we're diving into the origins of bear spray, and meeting some of the people behind the hottest lifesaving accessory in bear country.
Music: [dramatic drums play]
Michael: [in the car] I think it's this red roofed building.
Daniel: My first question for you then, Michael, is like, what actually is bear spray? What is it made of? And how do they how do they make it?
Michael: Right, how do they make the stuff? And that was my first question, too. And it turns out we don't have to go far to find the answer because a lot of bear spray is made locally, right outside of Glacier.
Daniel: [in the field] Where we at?
Michael: [in the field] We are at the Counter Assault Bear Spray factory in Kalispell, in the Flathead Valley. Hello, I'm Michael. I'm looking for Randy?
Randy Hunt: That's me.
Michael: [in the field] Nice to meet you.
Randy: How you doing?
Michael: [in the field] It's been nice to me, Randy. Thanks for having us.
Randy: Come on in.
Michael: And luckily for us, Randy Hunt, head of operations with the brand Counter Assault, invited us for a tour.
Michael: [in the field] And you manufacture everything right here in house?
Randy: Yes, everything. So our we bring our pepper oil in from, you know, it's brought from the other side of the United States, actually grown in India. And is brought herec and we mix the pepper oil here into different solvents...
Michael: If you're wondering how to use bear spray, you should check out our St Mary episode from our first season. There will be a link in the show notes for this episode. But with Randy, I got to learn what goes in the can. And the central ingredient, unsurprisingly, is pepper oil.
Michael: [in the field] And you said the pepper oil, you get it from the East Coast or other side the country, and it's grown in India. That's one thing I didn't really grasp, was like you're getting it from actual was like cayenne peppers? Or
Randy: They're a they're a heat chili. So if you think your jalepenos they've got heat content in Scoville heat units, there are about three to four thousand scoville heat units in a jalepeno. Your habanero is around 150 to 350,000. We're running 3.2 million.
Michael: They get the oil from peppers or chilies in the genus Capsicum, which includes everything from pepper in pepperoncinis to cayenne peppers.
Daniel: [surprised] So it's like, they're like real peppers that go in food!
Michael: And because it's all from real peppers, it's a food grade oil, which on its own would be safe for consumption. Technically.
Randy: So you can use it, it's safe to eat. You can actually fry chicken wings in it or french fries. You probably won't want to eat them because it will clear everything out of ya.
Michael: [in the field] [laughing]
Randy: But but yeah.
Michael: And this oil is in more than just pepper sprays. It's found in everything from hot sauces to pharmaceuticals, like arthritis cream.
Daniel: Okay, but that's not all that's in the can. There's something else besides peppers mushed up in there.
Michael: Yeah, the pepper oil is actually only 2% of the ingredients, because if it was just pepper oil, it would harden in the can and be useless.
Randy: When you spray it. If you think, if you cook bacon, it will solidify when it cools down and it turns white. But we've got to keep the oil in a liquid form. So we put a solvent in there instead of shooting hard pieces of like, bacon grease out of at the bear,.
Michael: [in the field] [laughing]
Randy: It keeps it in a liquid form in the air.
Michael: So so even though pepper oil is only 2% of the ingredients, bear spray's three times more potent than pepper spray for humans. And so the ingredients are: the pepper oil, a solvent to keep that oil liquid and a propellant to launch the spray.
Michael: [in the field] That's the pepper oil.
Michael: [in the field] [laughing] Oleoresin Capsicum. 3.2 MOS, 40lbs.
Michael: What would you say it looked like, Daniel?
Daniel: It looked just like hot sauce! Yeah, it looked like hot sauce.
Michael: Like a dark, thick, hot sauce. It was. [laughing] I mean, it smelled hot, too.
Michael: [in the field] And so how much of this goes into each bottle or can, like, the pepper oil?
Randy: These two containers ten gallons will make about...
Michael: They were actively filling these cans when we were there. Randy was saying like these two 10-gallon buckets of the pepper oil concoction will make over 1500 cans of bear spray. So a little bit goes a long way.
Randy: Goes a long ways, but it's still not as far as we would like it to go, because, yeah, there's some some spendy food grade oil.
Michael: [in the field] I bet.
Michael: So while there are many brands of bear spray today, Counter Assault holds the distinction of being the first. Opening back in 1986, they helped pioneer this formula of pepper, propellant, and solvent that reputable brands widely use today.
Randy: You know, across the board, all the bear sprays are using a really hot pepper oil, and all of them are going to work. And the biggest thing is: people are safe and the bears are safe. And that's what it's been refined down to, is using a product that's not going to hurt people, it's not going to hurt bears, keeps everybody safe.
Michael: Bear spray's non-lethality—the fact that bears that get sprayed with this will turn around, but ultimately be unharmed—is not only a huge selling point, but it helps explain why bear spray exists at all.
Music: [dramatic drums start playing]
Michael: Ever since Glacier was established in 1910, grizzly bears were on the decline. When the U.S. was founded, there were an estimated 50,000 grizzlies in the lower 48 states living everywhere from Canada to Mexico, between Iowa and California. But by the mid 1900s, Euro-Americans had all but exterminated them. There were less than a thousand grizzly bears left in the lower 48, largely isolated within large public lands in the west, like Glacier and Yellowstone. Something that's still true today. But while national parks are often seen as safe havens for wildlife, the relationship between glacier and grizzly bears was fraught in the mid 1900s. Grizzlies or bears in general were a huge attraction for park tourism, but not in the way they are now.
Daniel: Right. This was an era where a very typical part of the visitor experience was to feed the bears like out of their car, throwing out pieces of bread alongside the road, feeding bears.
Michael: Yeah, like this "animals as a spectacle" approach. The second director of the Park Service, Horace Albright, was actually a huge fan of feeding wildlife in parks. He encouraged the creation of bear feeding platforms in Yellowstone, and Yellowstone even opened a zoo at one point for people to come look at captive animals.
Michael: So it really was a different relationship than the one we have with wildlife today. And predictably, it had some consequences. Like, encouraging bears to seek out humans when they're hungry seems like a disaster waiting to happen. And it eventually led to tragedy. In 1967, two visitors camping in separate areas of the park were killed by grizzly bears who'd come to their campsites in search of food. These shocking deaths later came to be known as Night of the Grizzlies, and were the first grizzly fatalities in Glacier's 50-year history. In response, Glacier completely overhauled all of its bear policies. They closed some campgrounds, outlawed giving food to wildlife and installed bear proof trash cans. They also found and killed the bears responsible and faced a lot of pressure from the public and even some policymakers to kill more. The park superintendent at one point issued a memo, here daniel, can you read it?
Daniel: Okay. "When a grizzly bear appears in any area of visitor use, it will be immediately destroyed by a park ranger." Wow. That is a pretty aggressive stance for a park to take against bears.
Michael: Yeah, it was pretty intense.
Daniel: The park is taking a very aggressive stance to kill bears in order to keep people safe.
Daniel: But as a species, at this time, they're actually becoming very threatened in the 1960s and 70's.
Michael: Right, as Glacier is dealing with these events, grizzlies are identified as an endangered species by the federal government, which demands a broad recovery effort. you know, scientists started studying how many bears were left, what their habitat needs were—insight that would help them recover and hopefully help our two species coexist.
Daniel: So they need to know more. Park managers are looking for more data about bears in general. But if we zoom in on the story we're looking at here—that is the history of bear spray—you can see this emerging need for a tool that allows people and bears to de-escalate conflicts in a non-lethal way at an individual scale.
Michael: Yeah. Which brings us back to Growly, the bear who apparently didn't like grapefruit.
Janet Ellis: And he told the story that the main thing Growly hated was grapefruit,
Michael: [on the phone] [laughing]
Janet: But he liked oranges fine, he figured out how to slice an orange open. He had really long claws.
Michael: After being captured in Glacier National Park in 1976, Growly was sent to Churchill, Manitoba. A town in northern Canada known for its polar bears.
Janet: I was a research assistant.
Michael: That voice is Janet Ellis.
Janet: And I spent four months on the bears study with the Bears in 1978.
Michael: Janet is currently a Montana state senator, but she spent a few months helping zoology grad student Gary Miller conduct a study on bear behavior.
Janet: The University of Montana had a bear lab up there, way far from town.
Michael: There were four bears in this study. Two grizzlies, Growly and Snarly, and two polar bears nicknamed Magdalen and Guen. Janet helped take care of them.
Michael: [on the phone] So what does it look like to take care of a grizzly bear in a lab?
Janet: So it was cleaning the area. It was feeding them every day and making sure they had water. The Hudson Bay store was the local grocery store in Churchill. And so we would get meat scraps and vegetable, you know, whatever food that they were willing to give away. And that's what the bears lived on.
Michael: Each bear was monitored dawn to dusk, body temperature, heart rate, posture. Reading through the paper, I really liked these little drawings that showed bear body language. And it turns out Janet drew those.
Janet: I did illustrate Gary Miller's master's thesis.
Michael: [on the phone] Oh, you drew the the bear outlines of their different postures?
Janet: Yeah, I did all that stuff.
Michael: Oh those are so cute!
Michael: Finally, one by one, they'd bring the bears into a 13 foot by 20 foot cell, with a drinking well for water and a barred metal door. From outside the cell, an assistant would provoke the bear into charging, approaching the door and stomping if necessary.
Daniel: Wow. That so that's all it took to get them to charge at the gate of the cage?
Michael: Most of the time. Yeah, I mean, Janet said that every bear was different. The polar bears were pretty docile. And one of the grizzly bears, Snarly, was actually really easily provoked. She said that he'd charge whenever somebody just approached the door.
Daniel: So they approached the cage door and the bear could see them and would just charge at the door.
Michael: And when a bear charged, they would deploy a deterrent to hopefully stop them in their tracks. They tried different. Sounds like a handheld boat horn.
Sound Effect: [boat horn noise]
Michael: A referee whistle.
Sound Effect: [whistle blowing]
Michael: They played a recording of a bear growling.
Sound Effect: [sound of a bear growling]
Michael: It was actually a recording of Growly, the bear, growling—which might be how he got his name. And they tested a popular item marketed to alert bears to your presence. Bear Bells.
Sound Effect: [small bells jingling]
Michael: Here's an excerpt from their research, read for us by a voice actor.
Voice Actor: Twice when small bells were tested on growling, he slept through the test. The bells were of the type that are sold to hikers in Glacier and Yellowstone National parks to warn bears of their approach. In these tests, the assistant stood at the door of the cell and rang the bells. Growly was not more than six meters away and never woke up. The idea that small bells will warn grizzlies before approaching clearly needs reevaluation.
Daniel: I've definitely heard a lot of bear bells on the trail here in Glacier, but the problem is I don't hear them until the person's like right next to me on the trail. So yeah, they're just not loud enough to really alert a bear.
Michael: Yeah, I've heard that, you know, the thing you're bothering the most by wearing bear bells is yourself. And it wasn't just sounds. They tried strobe lights. They waved a giant piece of plywood, and they sprayed bears with chemicals or irritants like onion juice and Windex.
Daniel: Oh, wow.
Michael: And they also deployed a product called Halt, which was a pepper spray developed for postal workers who were getting bitten by a lot of dogs in the fifties.
Daniel: While they were throwing everything at these bears. But before this, there really weren't that many choices.
Michael: Yeah, I mean, it seems a little strange now that they'd be trying things like Windex, but there weren't non-lethal deterrents available at the time, so they were just seeing whatever would work.
Daniel: Hmm. So after they tried all this, what were the results?
Michael: Well, sounds like the handheld boat horn worked pretty well, but only if they were extremely loud. And the boat horn also apparently didn't work in low temperatures. The bells and whistles didn't do much. The giant piece of plywood could stop a bear, but the effect didn't last very long. However, Halt—the postal worker pepper spray—worked really well.
Voice Actor: Each time it was tested, the bear charged until it was sprayed. The bear then turned and ran to the farthest corner of the cell where it rubbed its eyes and blinked vigorously. In one case, Snarly went to the water well and washed his face with his paws.
Janet: That's the only thing that would stop a charging bear. And that was true with Grizzly bears and polar bears. I mean, they couldn't see! Even if it was for a couple of minutes, and they would just stop and it would freak them out.
Michael: [on the phone] Hmm.
Janet: And so, yes, it was the only thing—because we had again, mentioned boat horns and bells and all kinds of things. So it, it was a precursor.
Michael: Thanks to Growly, Snarly, Magdalen, and Gwen—who endured around 20 tests each—the paper that came out of this study concluded with this line:
Voice Actor: The results of Halt dog repellent in the laboratory indicate that effective repellents can be developed.
Music: [dramatic drums playing]
Daniel: So the study up in Churchill, it showed that this dog pepper spray works pretty well. I mean, was that it? Did they just then package it up and sell it as bear spray?
Michael: There were a few steps in between. So the University of Montana was funding the study Janet was a part of, and with this conclusion that a deterrent could be developed. They started funding a follow up study.
Daniel: I'm guessing that at University of Montana, they were using different bears?
Michael: Yeah. This second study had a new set of bears, including one problem Bear from Glacier that was labeled in the study as a roadside panhandler.
Daniel: Oh, wow.
Michael: And these new bears were sent down to Fort Missoula.
Daniel: Who led this follow up study?
Michael: So the student that was working on this study was named Carrie Hunt. And it's funny, newspaper articles that you read about Carrie go out of their way to highlight that she is five foot one, 115pounds, and just like the first study in Churchill, is provoking these 500 pound grizzlies into charging in order to test these deterrents.
Daniel: So this had the same premise as the first study?
Michael: Yeah, very similar. A magazine actually interviewed Carrie about the experience.
Voice Actor: Hunt step to the barred door of the bear's cell, by stomping her feet, she provoked almost all the bears into charging. More than once, concrete dust flew from the hinges as a huge bear rammed the cell door.
Voice Actor: Even though the situation was controlled and there was no way I could get hurt. It was still frightening. The power and aggression of an angry charging grizzly is overwhelming.
Voice Actor: If the bear charged it received an application of the repellent being tested.
Michael: A lot of the things they were testing were very similar to that first study, they did sounds like in this case rock music. They did Halt, that same dog spray.
Voice Actor: Everything from tear gas to rock music was tested, but only a commercial dog repellent spray had any significant effect. The spray's active ingredient was capsaicin, a derivative of red peppers.
Michael: Ironically, the study was actually funded by a competitor to what we now know as bear spray called Skunker.
Michael: Can you guess what soccer is?
Daniel: I'm guessing it smelled really bad.
Michael: Yeah, it was a synthetic skunk spray. And turned out Skunker didn't work, and it just kind of made the bears sad.
Daniel: [laughing] I'm not surprised.
Michael: They didn't leave the area. But Halt, once again, did work. The only problem was that's not how people have bear encounters in the wild.
Michael: You know, and this tiny can of pepper spray, designed for a dog that's biting a postal worker, like it doesn't shoot far enough. It's not strong enough. And so Carrie highlighted that, you know, this is a really promising thing to follow up on, but it would need some refining. It needs some iterating to turn it into an effective bear deterrent for public use.
Daniel: So now there's two studies that are both showing that some kind of pepper spray is probably going to work pretty well to stop a charging bear.
Daniel: But to work in the real world, it needs some modifications.
Michael: Right. And this result started to trickle out into, like local Montanans that either were connected to the university in some way and found its way to a guy named Bill Pounds. After hearing Carrie's results, he reached out and offered to help refine it, and eventually that collaboration turned into Counter Assault.
Randy: Over the years has been refined, has got different propellants, it's got different concentrations of the pepper.
Michael: One of the big things that they worked on was the delivery method. You know how the spray would leave the can?
Michael: [in the field] Yeah, you mentioned the spray. That was one thing I realized I hadn't mentioned, because like some of the earlier brands were shooting six feet in, like a pencil-thin stream, like Wasp killer.
Randy: Right. So that stream, you're not going to hit a bear from 30 feet away in the eyes, especially when you're in a panic yourself. I mean, I don't care who you are, you're going to be in a panic when a very charging at you. They wanted that shotgun pattern, as it's called, a fog pattern. Fog.
Daniel: Okay. So this this is part of the process we saw. They're taking a canister full of the ingredients and they're putting like a spray nozzle on the top of it that shoots the bear spray out into a fog or a cone.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. And through testing and conversations with bear biologists, you know, they refined that fog into a spray that would last 7 seconds and shoot 30 feet.
Randy: That fog is going to get in the sinuses. It's going to get in the eyes. It's they're going to inhale. It's going to get in all the mucous membranes, the lungs. That's what changes their senses, and they just stop. It's it's a shock to their system like it is ours.
Michael: There were some obstacles along the way before bear spray was widely adopted. There were fraudsters making weak knock offs, and some serious misunderstandings, like thinking you used it like bug spray, or that it was a spice rub you could buy at the grocery store.
Voice Actor: When I first heard about bare pepper spray, I rushed right down to Albertsons to see if that store stocked it. But alas, though, I looked among the spices, the cooking oils, and even in the meat department, I found no bear pepper spray.
Michael: That was from a newspaper article back in 1999. So it took a lot of education and messaging to get people to understand and carry bear spray. But what really got people on board was its track record. It was working.
Larry King: He and his family were in the sights of three bears, recently managed to get away.
Michael: This is a newscast from Larry King where he's interviewing a guy who had to use bear spray here in Glacier.
Larry King: Sounds like Jack was lucky. What happened, Jack? What happened to you and the Bears?
Jack Hanna: Well, Saturday night, Larry, just Saturday night, my wife and I went to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park. We lived here 20-something years. It's a favorite place to hike.
Michael: So the story is about this group hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail when a bear started following them, and after following them for a little while, started running at them.
Larry King: I waited to get about 30 feet and unloaded one blast. It kept coming. My wife stood about ten feet right in my face. I just went bam, right in his face and ran away again.
Michael: Bear spray stopped it in its tracks.
Larry King: So this is what helped save our lives.
Michael: A lot of stories like this come up when you Google bear spray, including this line.
Voice Actor: Thanks to God, a friend and pepper spray. I'm still here.
Michael: That quote comes from a bear attack survivo,r who would go on to found his own bear spray company called UDAP, which is based in Butte, Montana. Testimonials like these have slowly won people over, and even folks who doubted a pepper spray could work as well as a firearm.
Randy: You know, like I said, I was retired military. I'm a gun guy. It's fine. But these guys are like, Well, I need my gun. Okay, well, you're still trying to hit something, if it's a charge—that you've got a kill zone that's, you know, maybe grapefruit-sized, that you have to try to get a bullet through. Well, you may not be able to do that. And I don't care, I carry weapons, but I carry bear spray when I go in the woods.
Michael: And because of this effective track record, Glacier suggests all visitors to the park carry bear spray. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recommends all hunters carry it, too.
Michael: [in the field So how many cans do you put out from here in a year or a month?
Randy: Now, in 2021, we did 375,000 cans of bears spray. And it's just education. That's what's helped. Back in the day, a few years ago, like I talked with Pride here, he says: I remember when we did 30,000 cans in a year. I said, I'm doing that in a month. So that's how much it's picked up from those first days back in the eighties and where the word has gotten out.
Michael: Even still, bear spray is no substitute for common sense. Being safe in bear country involves storing food properly, making noise on trail, hiking in groups, not just grabbing a can of bear spray and calling it a day.
Daniel: Yeah, I've actually heard some bear experts talk about the downside of bear spray is that people think they just strap it on their back and then they're safe, and that it actually discourages the kind of awareness and mindfulness of bear safety that you need to have in mind.
Michael: You don't want to get complacent.
Daniel: No, you can't just put it in the bottom of your backpack and think it's going to help with a bear attack. I mean, you can't put on your seatbelt and drive off a cliff.
Michael: Right. And it is also worth pointing out, like I've carried bear spray on all the hikes I've done here in the last ten years. I've never had to use it, have you?
Daniel: No. My whole life I've been in bear country, and I've never used bear spray.
Michael: Right? I mean, I've taken it out a few times.
Michael: But I've never had to spray it. The only times I've actually been around it going off was when people set it off on accident.
Michael: The adoption of bear spray coincides with a shift in our relationship with bears: a shift from managing bears to managing people. That change, which we're all a part of, makes a huge difference for our wildlife. Compared to the 1960s, there are a lot more bears and humans in Glacier. Around 100 more grizzlies and literally millions more annual visitors. But that hasn't led to an equivalent rise in bear human conflicts or problem bears like Growly needing to be removed. Thanks to these tools that help us coexist, more bears get to live out their normal bear lives, even as more and more people like you and me come to visit.
Music: [dramatic drums playing]
Daniel: I think I just have one question left for you, Michael.
Daniel: Whatever happened to Growly?
Michael: Growly, you could say, was actually the first life that bear spray saved. Here's Janet Ellis again talking about the end of that first study in Churchill.
Janet: They were shutting down the bear lab after we left. And so we had two grizzly bears, the polar bears were released back into the wild, but the grizzly bears were going to be destroyed.
Music: [somber music playing]
Michael: It's not easy to release a food conditioned bear back into the wild. So it's standard practice in cases like this for the bear to be euthanized. But after taking care of Growly for months, Janet had taken a liking to him.
Janet: We could play tug of war with him, where his forearms were gigantic and so couldn't fit through the bars really very far. Just a little bit. But he put his hand out of the cage and you could grab his claws. He could give up, and he was going to win.
Michael: She fed growly, gave him water, got him exercise. Apparently he really liked playing with these giant tires they had lying around.
Janet: He'd just pounce on them, he could put them up in his mouth and shake them like a rag. I mean, he was so strong.
Michael: So when it seemed like Growly was going to be euthanized, she started writing letters to friends and family.
Janet: Well, I wrote various relatives to see if they had any ideas. And it was my dad, who was an attorney in Columbus, Ohio, that talked—there was a city councilman I think, who was in his law firm. And then he knew somebody else who was head of Parks and Recreation, and they knew Jack Hanna. You know, It was that sort of thing.
Michael: Through her dad's network, Janet reached Jack Hanna, the director of the Columbus Zoo—and coincidentally, the guy you heard Larry King interviewing earlier, because years later, he used bear spray on the Grinnell Glacier Trail. Anyway, they asked Jack, you know, if we can raise enough money to feed Growly for a year, would you take him? And he said yes.
Janet: So they raised, they raised enough money, I know, for him to be fed for a year and then also to pay for the transport down.
Michael: The only problem was, Janet had to take him there herself. He wouldn't fit on a plane and there wasn't even a road out of Churchill.
Janet: So you had to get on a train. We had a a big culvert trip. Have you seen? You know-
Michael: [on the phone] Yeah, the giant metal cylinders.
Janet: But this was for polar bears, so it was really big.
Michael: [on the phone] [laughs].
Janet: And then we rented a three-quarter-ton pickup and drove from there.
Michael: After a 30 hour train ride, Janet loaded Growly's culvert trap— this big metal cylinder—into the bed of a pickup truck, and drove another 25 hours to the Columbus Zoo. Apparently, Growly was pretty cooperative.
Janet: He was in a culvert trap with the, in the back. I could see him when I was driving and he was looking forward. And that's where the grate was so he could watch. And he hadn't been outside in two years at least. So he was really interested in what was going on. But he didn't really rock the truck.
Michael: Like anyone on a road trip. Greatly needed food and water along the way. Janet could slip him food through the grate, but she had to get help with water.
Janet: But when he stopped at a gas station, you did need to water him. We went. I had to water my bear in the pickup to explain why you needed the hose [laughs] at a gas station. That's the thing that's most entertaining.
Michael: Ultimately, Growly was a great road trip companion, and the drive went off without a hitch. So after a few days of travel, Growly was introduced to his new home at the zoo.
Janet: They had trees and boulders, and he wanted day bed, he just rearranged the whole thing, and they had to put wire around the trees so he wouldn't destroy them. Yeah. He had his own opinion on redecorating his new home.
Michael: I grew up in Columbus, and spent a lot of time as a kid at the Columbus Zoo. So there's a real chance Growly was the first bear I ever met. And I might have run into Janet there, too.
Janet: My son, he's 28 now, but he remembers Growley, cause we would go to the, every time we went to Columbus, we would go to the Columbus Zoo.
Michael: Grizzly bears are formidable neighbors. Not to be taken lightly. And in the 20th century, their future was uncertain. Some Americans argued they should be destroyed entirely, that our two species could not coexist. But tools like bear spray have proven that wrong.
Music: [music begins to build under narration]
Michael: Today, we have access to an easy and effective tool to diffuse bear encounters that doesn't harm the bear. And while no deterrent is a guarantee, Growly showed us that bear spray works. Seeing him at the zoo, I didn't know about the cabins he vandalized or the summer he spent in Canada enduring boat horns, onion juice and pepper spray. I doubt anyone there other than Janet knew the whole story. But I did know that it was special to see a grizzly bear. And thanks in part to Growly, you don't have to go to a zoo to do that.
Music: [credits music continues to build, and plays under the credits]
Peri Sasnett: That's our show. Headwaters is a production of Glacier National Park and is supported by the Glacier National Park Conservancy. We could not make the show without them. You can learn more about what they do at Glacier.org. Headwaters is made possible with help from Lacy Kowalski, Melissa Sladek, and so many people throughout the Glacier community— especially the natural and cultural resource teams. We're grateful for all of you. Our music this season is by the brilliant Frank Waln. The show's cover art is by our sweet friend Stella Nall. Check out Frank and Stella's work at the links in our show notes. Special thanks this episode to Randy Hunt and everyone at Counter Assault. Janet Ellis, Carrie Hunt, and Chuck Bartlebaugh for discussing this project with us, as well as Growly, Snarly, and all the other bears who contributed to the creation of Bear Spray. Besides sharing this episode with a friend who might appreciate it, you can help us out by leaving us a rating and review in your podcast app. Thanks for listening.
Bear spray saves lives, but where does it come from? We follow a Glacier grizzly to learn the story.
Learn how to use bear spray, in the St. Mary episode of Season One: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/confluence-st-mary/id1542669779?i=1000501502018
Headwaters is created by Daniel Lombardi, Michael Faist, Gaby Eseverri, and Peri Sasnett
Glacier Conservancy: https://glacier.org/headwaters Frank Waln music: https://www.instagram.com/frankwaln/ Stella Nall art: https://www.instagram.com/stella.nall