Tuesday, May 31, 2016


The computer and internet have transformed governance into something more like an international corporation than it has ever been.  But we don’t LIKE that.  Not even when the corporations do it.  Here’s a short list:

1.  Counting people and sorting them according to secret algorithms determined by the government so that no one is ever an individual and no voice is heard without enough people agreeing to affect major votes.

2.  No matter how carefully people’s incomes are monitored for taxes, there are always loopholes and secret exemptions that can be controlled by the simple change of codes and algorithms, but only certain people (rich) know what they are.

3.  People can no longer “move away.”  No travel by mass transit goes unmonitored, not just with passports and tickets, but also with no-fly lists so coarse they can’t really pick up the “bad” people who are the justification.  Constant video monitoring only works with densely populated places and always has blind spots.

4.  People are no longer anonymous.  Fingerprints, genome (not just one’s own but those of the whole family as well as your pets), dental records, serial numbers on implants from boobs to hips, face-matches, on-line public records of relationships, birth dates, and social security numbers (which were NEVER supposed to be used for identification), are only a few ways of tracking individuals.  It’s a constant preoccupation of CSI shows.

Every boundary from the 49th parallel to highway checkpoints and enrollment in kindergarten is recorded in giant databases that can be “cracked” by hackers, not necessarily for admirable purposes.  

Every order for books or cat food is noted.  I looked for new house slippers and was deluged with ads for slippers — along with porn (the traditional sex kind) of people doing the nasty while wearing slippers.  People note strange lit sky-fliers in Montana:  the drones are here.  Not the gun-ships but the snoops, too small to shoot.  The defense?  Trained eagles that knock them out of the sky.  Of course, you need government permission to train or even own an eagle.  (There are a few wild eagles that simply don’t like drones.)

No one tracks virtues.  As far as I know, no church turns in lists of their members, even the denominations that have boundaries.  (UU’s and Mormons claim everyone they think reflects well on them, even if they’re dead, and dissenters may not share the opinions.)  Most churches are semi-public so anyone can attend.  Fuzzy edges are dangerous.  This paragraph assumes there IS such a thing as virtue.  I find it even more difficult to define than Sin or Evil.

Neoliberals are self-defined as people who want to get rid of laws and regulations.  It cramps their style and reveals their marketing secret strategies.  They feel that the money for all those ports of entry, inspectors, monitors, enforcers, paper pushers is just wasted.  Of course, anyone who offers to reduce taxes is going to be popular.  At least among those who haven’t found a way to escape paying them in the first place.  (I escape by being too poor.)

The effective collaborator and enabler of all the control freaks is print:  the writing and interpreting of written laws, regulations, standards, and contracts.  I used to have the task of maintaining the Standard Code for the City of Portland for one department of the Bureau of Buildings.  Weekly I took a handful of pre-punched thin paper with fine print on it, looked for the code it was replacing, and inserted the new pages, usually more of them going in than coming out.  There were four BIG binders of this stuff, all numbered and so on.  No one had time to sit around reading the whole thing, much less keep up with the new inserts even if they knew which ones they were.

One of the crucial elements of this stuff was definitions:  what IS a citizen?  What IS a juvenile?  What IS grievous harm?  What IS insanity?  Isn’t it code so intricate and variable that no one knows it?

No matter how carefully written and interpreted, there were always clusters of lawyers challenging laws on behalf of their clients who couldn’t seem to get their ability to go underground to work.  Or had to pay an even higher tax to extortionists who guarded that strategy.

One of the smart insights into writing a law is to never write a law that can’t be enforced.  That means write it so you can tell what’s in and what’s out of the intention of the law.  (Big problem when it comes to militia and the right to bear arms.  Or even when defining religion.)  

You can’t enforce a law that interferes with with a lot of people’s desires:  That includes alcohol, hard drugs, smoking, and trafficking, whether children and women for sexual use or anyone for labor, whether in a mine, a field or a carpet factory.  They’ll find a way — probably bribery or secrecy.

BUT you can outlaw behavior by culture pressure.  When my family used to drive cross-country, the highways were white with trash.  My mother’s rule-of thumb was that anything organic could be thrown out the window, but nothing that could set a fire or puncture a tire.  Later she concluded that NOTHING could go out the window.  The change came from public notices and opinions.

For a while you were more likely to be chided for littering than for sleeping on the sidewalk.  Not anymore.  The culture shifted to resist scary signs of a failed economy, failed families, failed support for children, because the culture shifted to value greed.  In the Fifties a family was thriving if they owned a TV set.  Now it takes a huge surround-sound screen and a computer in every bedroom.  (Which presents a new monitoring and enforcing problem.)

We have not gone deep enough or wisely enough into the values that can guide us through our widening and multiple world.  Even people who have valuable things to say rarely think about any circle except their own, and that ignoring non-human living beings and even landscapes.  

One of the nastiest schisms is between the governing classes in cities and on the coasts, creating laws and practices that do not at all fit the rest of us.  The biggest trouble with their assumptions is that they don’t know they ARE assumptions.  When I write about Blackfeet, the automatic tags I get are travel and history, even though I’m writing about a real and dynamic population, my neighbors, whose history I have shared for half a century.

Monday, May 30, 2016


Grizzly bears do not read.  They know nothing about laws.  What they know about boundaries is not on our maps.

Grizzly bears are individuals.  We write laws and draw boundaries for the “aggregate.”  Bob used to make jokes about the waterfowl laws that said, “no more than X number of ducks may be shot in the aggregate.”  He’d ask,  “Where is the aggregate on a duck?”  It’s the bear biologists and wardens who learn individual bears and try to figure out what specifically needs to be done.

Grizzly bears are omnivorous, opportunistic, seasonal, and habitat-controlled.  The map of the interior of a grizz body and brain is about these things and requires those who study them to think in other ways than print, mostly using their own similar but not-the-same senses.  But we are becoming technically clever:  radio collars, ear tags, hair and feces analysis.  Maybe not so clever when studying the economic, political, and legendary terrain of bear knowledge, which is generally recorded in print.

Formal enforceable laws about bears suffer from the same layered complexification as about humans in the West.  The first consideration is keeping bears out of dense human populations where they could create havoc.  That’s part of the second desiderata, which is keeping them away from scattered human households and domestic animals.  Politically, one must observe at least eight layers of laws: land ownership, private rights and the jurisdictions of towns, counties, states, federal, international treaties, and tribe.  And we're close to the Canadian border, which means Alberta law.

Psychologically, there are also layers to consider.  One is the individual belief that people are living in an earlier century and decade when bears were not regulated, because people come to the West to escape modern life.  Another is the Western belief that landowners are the kings of their land, going back to early European concepts.  Some go to the realm of myth and legend, transcending reality in order to merge with the juju of kissing bears, claiming privileged virtual worlds.  (The bears know nothing about this level of existence.)  Domestic bears are an oxymoron, because though individuals can with great effort be shaped and forced into templates of pet-dom and money-making stunts, in time their feral nature will break through.    An animal without the environment that created it is no longer an animal, but a kind of meat robot full of brain-wired workarounds.

Many people understand ecology very little, because we are still thinking in terms of individual standalone objects.  Little kids learn to read by using booklets that ask,  “What does a pig say?  What does a duck say?”  In my academic ag family, I had little booklets that taught the species of sheep, goats, pigs, horses, goats, cows.  Most are named according to the places they were developed: Dorset, Suffolk, Belgian, Hampshire, because they adapted to the conditions in that place and to the uses that justified their economic costs.

There are sub-categories of grizz according to their places, mostly big federally defined reserves: national parks, national forests.  Yellowstone bears, Glacier bears, and now beginning to be “prairie bears.”  What are the uses, the ecological relationships, that justify the cost and effort of protecting bear populations in these places?  I would propose that a major one is the control of hubris in human beings.  This is closely related to the indigenous (“Indian”) claim of spiritual resources.  In our greed society these kinds of wealth count for very little unless we can hunt, photograph, and otherwise market them.

Bob Marshall Wilderness: the Chinese Wall

But there are other economic and political forces in play.  Greed for resources.  Ranches and mining that depend on advantages gained by cheap fees for federal land use that were meant to encourage the settlement of the West for the sake of their tax income.  These areas are where state and federal most often conflict.

In the beginning of the protected species idea and first laws addressing it, there was a memorable cartoon in the New Yorker.  One little fish says to the other, “I’m not surprised that I could put an entire dam on hold — I’m just surprised to find out I’m a snail darter.”  Often little remnant or evolving creatures become the concern of people who could be described as “stopping progress.”  Now the law includes the concept of “takings,” in which one sues on the basis of governments preventing one from profiting by development.  It’s more common in the cities but it’s not about anything that actually exists — only about what COULD presumably result in profit.

Thinkers are beginning to propose that the historically happenstance “states” or even reservations are so arbitrary — think of the boundaries that are straight lines — that they need to be redrawn according to the ecology of the continent but also the phenomenon of the scattered population now piling up along the coasts and thickening into cities dependent on huge amounts of power, water, and proper sewage treatment.  I personally believe this is an excellent idea, but suggesting that gets a reaction sort of like eliminating all football teams:  very emotional, a kind of patriotism.  

The argument of the thinkers is that it has mostly already happened along the major commercial and travel corridors, so that we have megacities on the coasts and through the valleys.  As the ocean rises (which is not just theoretical since island nations are now submerged and arctic coastal natives are having to move inland), this will also force realignment and allocation.  New York City has already had to devise ways to close entrances to the subway in case of floods, which have already happened.

I expect major population collapses in the coming years, hopefully after I’m gone, most likely in Asian cities first.  Mosquitoes are not the only vectors.  The accumulation of unnatural molecules and garbage gyres may cause the scales to tip subtly, quietly, until we realize that responses like diabetes or HIV or autism are shortening lives drastically, maybe catastrophically.

Even now efforts to protect charismatic megamammals, and bugs as small and charming as the mission blue butterflies in the hills of Berkeley, remaps the insides of our heads.  The secret to managing animals is always managing the habitat, and all habitats are connected to what is around them and woven into them, like the habitats of humans.

Those who are pushing back against regulations often have good reasons.  They must state their positions strongly and emotionally in order to preserve their own space and terms of survival.  Demonizing them won’t do any good nor will despair.  Close cooperation and understanding are what will create an ecology of the mind that preserves what we love.


This brave man shows courage in several dimensions:  first in becoming a military warrior, second in surviving grievous damage, and third in allowing himself to be frankly and clearly seen.  Most of us think that our bodies “are” us and discount the presence of anything else, but in this man something is shining through, something almost like compassion — even for himself — and, more than that, a kind of proud transcendence.  Awareness of the price idealism can demand.  

He still has a strong man’s chest and, I hope, his right arm.  He can still hold a lover against his chest and carry a baby in the crook of his arm.  His whole stance is one of intelligence, even wisdom.  And yet, he is like Darth Vader unpeeled: standing after terrible suffering.

Patrick Burns used this photo on his blog.   http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com  .  Patrick is an iconoclastic demographer and hunter of burrowing animals with the help of terriers.  He’s dedicated against stupidity and Puritanical, conventional, non-thinking proliferations.  His work is in Washington, D.C., and his experience is world-wide.  He’s a confronter.

Every Memorial Day we say, “Yes, yes, isn’t it terrible?  Don’t soldiers suffer as well as triumph?”  And we love those movies that show how they take care of each other and always prevail in the end.  But some look deeper.

“Famed author, critic and professor Camille Paglia has unexpectedly called George Lucas the world's "greatest living artist" saying the finale of 'Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith' as having more "inherent artistic value, emotional power, and global impact" than any other work of art in the last 30 years. . . .

“It's because the art world has flat-lined and become an echo chamber of received opinion and toxic over-praise. It's like the emperor's new clothes—people are too intimidated to admit what they secretly think or what they might think with their blinders off.”

You might remember the young handsome Vader rolling in lava next to a molten river, screaming it agony.  It was Hell.  I didn’t like the scene much, but I take her point — both about the disastrous consequences of such an ordeal, not just the burns but the malevolent trauma; and the banal stupidity of art based on profit, afraid to be dramatic or truthful.

Of course, art is drawn from life.  But it often misses true heroism.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Looking Glass Pass

In the days when snomobiles were new, everyone looked for places to go in the snow.  One of them was the closed pass called “Looking Glass” between Kiowa Kamp and East Glacier.  At the top was a bear den for hibernation so we went up to see.  There WAS nothing to see, since the den was covered by feet of snow, but there was a little air hole with a trickle of steam coming out, bear breath.  We each leaned over to sniff, sharing molecules with an animal usually unapproachable, in hibernation — not quite alive and not quite dead.

At the Scriver Taxidermy Studio we did a lot of bear-hugging, but they were all dead.  Since they weighed hundreds of pounds, we embraced them to move them across the room so we could skin them out.  It was not a bloody task because mammal body tissues are organized into sheaves, each enclosed with thin pearly tissue.  To cool the bear right after killing it, the viscera would have been removed along with most of the blood.  A mold for the papier maché form made directly from that individual bear was much better than buying a commercial standard form, which one can begin to recognize after a while.  Jonas Brothers’ rearing grizzly shows up everywhere zombie taxidermy gives the skill a bad name.

Emotion is what makes a mounted animal come alive, the same as any art.  Bob was emotionally entangled with bears early in life but the incident that seemed to be his indicator was about a human drunk who slammed his head with a gunstock when Bob (as a child) and his dog were out shooting gophers with a .22 -- considered a beginner’s long gun in the years before Red Ryder Daisy BB guns.   The boy lay unconscious with his dog guarding him until he was found.  On his left temple a mark remained lifelong.  

He identified with bears.  By the time he was late in his teens, he was stalking them.  He studied a bear skull carefully to see where the point of most vulnerability was and found it on the left temple.  Then he went out to kill a grizzly with his .22, a totally irresponsible thing to do from any point of view.  But he did it.  Bears in those days were predators, unprotected.  Maybe not even requiring a license to hunt.  

I only did one polar bear.  It was too big for the bear table.

Alonzo Skunk Cap, our neighbor and friend, was said to be the only Blackfeet brave enough to hunt bears.  In fact, he was breaking the taboo.  As the politics of going back to the past heated up, our bear rug edger and liner quit us, which is how I ended up doing it, sitting on the bear table where tanned hides dried flat, like a sweater stabilizing after washing, and using a big three-edged buckskin needle to put the felt ruffle around the edge.  The bear was in my lap, spread out over my legs.

When I first came (1961), there were three mounted bears in the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife:  the iconic grizzly; a very handsome standing black bear, glossy as a raven’s wing; and a sort of fuzzy young cinnamon bear that was out in the entrance where it was often dressed up in human clothes as a joke.  That’s what they thought.   "Smoky the Bear."

In a little more hidden way, it was reducing bears to toys, taking the fear out of them by claiming them as one of us.  As Bob began to be more upscale than a tourist attraction and his work progressed from trinkets to highbrow gallery art, he removed the little bear, along with the two-headed calf and the albino skunk.  Animals are cultural indicators even within white contexts.  Rich people can see them one way, while people scrambling to make a living see them in quite another.

By the time the art was carrying the studio, displacing the taxidermy, and then showing enough profit to buy the Flatiron Ranch (previously owned by the Doane family and across the road from Skunkcap’s) which was on a creek that came down out of the mountains, forming a roadway for bears, he was a little bit brain-damaged from strokes and heart attacks,  more recklessly defiant than he had ever been.  In spite of protests from the neighbors, he collected carcasses and dumped them on a ridge he could see with binoculars from the ranch house.  

Coyotes and cougars also found this little feeding ground, but the wardens were wary enough to just fly over low now and then, knowing Bob might shoot at an airplane but they could get out of range.  From the plane they could use their telemetry to see what bears were there.  I’d been gone for decades by then and was relieved that I didn’t have to confront the moral dilemmas of Bob's defiance, because my sympathies were always on every side, including that of the bear.  It is a painful quality but serves me well.

One day he could see the five horses lined up on a nearby hill top, gazing at something down in the willow brush along the creek.  It was May, the mating season.  Bears entangle violence and death with sex as much as humans do, so he decided not to walk up to see what was happening.  From the pickup he could see bear rumps, rhythmically pumping.  

John Clarke, grandson of Malcolm Clark whose murder triggered the Baker Massacre, was an aged deaf-and-mute famous woodcarver in East Glacier.  On the wall of his tumble-down studio, he had saved photos.  One was out of Life magazine, a rather famous photo of bears mating, the male behind in both senses.  In those days it was shocking.  These days it’s usual in R-movies.  John thought it was very funny.  Bob always examined it carefully.

One day in the Sixties when I walked into the shop suddenly Bob plopped a bear cub into my arms.  It was dead, about the size of a human baby just before it begins to walk.  It had somehow gotten into town, gone up a telephone pole and been shot down.  Naturally it was brought to Bob the same as every other problematic little curious or emotionally charged thing.  He was a maternal man, but often displaced it off onto me.  I’m am NOT a maternal woman, but anyone would have felt the surge of response to that little body.  I rocked it without knowing that I was.  I didn’t think of it as a teddy bear.  Bob smiled, but there were tears just behind.

This is why I’m telling these stories on Memorial Day, for the mixture of war and birth, the need to dominate mixed with the need to protect, and the simple fact that grief drives into our bodies far deeper than graves, because it is not in earth, but in time, reaching back to first awareness, reaching back to first human arts.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


The first year (1989) of the new high school in remote Heart Butte revealed a lot of kids who were returning to school after years of confusion, transferring, non-attendance and not passing.  Some of them had enrolled in but had not passed two or three “years” of English, which is meant to be a cumulative skill subject as well as teaching the canon of literature.  Students always distribute over a continuum of mastery, but the problem was complicated because they DID pass or at least attend parts of the normal curriculum, which added boredom from repetition to the lack of motivation in the first place.  Some kids were taking freshman, sophomore, and junior English in the same day, but I was the only English teacher.

In order to keep us all from going crazy, I decided to “theme” the four high school years.  Juniors conventionally do American lit; Seniors do world and British lit.  That was fine.  Then, Freshman would do "Lovers", and Sophomores would do "Bears".

I built a bear bibliography, buying as many as I could afford myself since the school had no high school library books and no budget for such a “frill.”  I read “When the Legends Die” aloud, a little bit daily.  (It’s about an orphaned boy barely surviving, mostly through rage, who partners with a bear.  There’s a lot of rodeo in it and there was a movie version.)  I looked for photos of bears to post — calendars were good.  We told each other true bear stories, some of them about the bears around the place that very day.  I told Chuck Jonkel, the bear researcher in Missoula, about all this and he sent a box of videos, including one about meerkats that was so seductive that everyone forgot all about bears for a while.  

Humans tend to take for granted anything common.  This was complicated by being a small reservation town whose culture was sneered at by the larger “civilization.”  There was no decent TV reception except for the few who could afford the big parabolic dishes and the movies presented either prosperous middle-class places, much intensified and glamorous, or the most sordid and decayed side of cities, equally distorted and glamorous.  

To the kids, their home village was a “nothing town.”  To them, being late to school because there was a bear in the yard (such as the yard was) was nothing — even a welcome excuse — but it interfered with the friendships that interacted before school and it kept them away from the school-provided breakfast.  They knew the difference between black bears and grizzlies but they didn’t give a rip.

They knew very little about the biology of bears but that Feds were best avoided by hiding bear shootings, which weren’t that rare.  They knew nothing at all about the world’s bear mythology or even what a symbol might be, except that they knew Napi stories about bears.  What they shared with the rest of the world was that they split bears in that either/or way that humans do: bears were looming shadows of destruction that carried enormous power as in a Blackfeet Bear Knife Bundle or a ripped apart carcass of a horse.  Or else bears were teddy bears, soft, pastel, nurture-fragments of plush and stuffing, child-substitutes.  But you had to buy them, they were white merchanizing culture, and somehow they were connected with death in the same way as flowers in white culture.

I made a silhouette with the dimensions of the biggest grizzly and fastened it to the wall alongside the door.  The boys, all basketball-obsessed, leapt to slap the top of every doorway they passed through, but the bear was bigger than the doorway so they slid their eyes sideways at my bear when they went by.  

One of the boys stood considering me one day.  “I sure don’t know where you got this thing about bears, Mrs. Scriver.”  Some of the constant criticism from the community included an accusation that I was white and therefore had no right to tell Blackfeet things about bears.  I was revealing proprietary knowledge.  I should observe their taboos.

The Bear Knife Bundle was something I had held, part of the Scriver artifact collection.  It is a large wide metal blade decorated with a cluster of brass falconry bells and other signifying small objects as pendants.  Scary enough in itself, the way of “transferring” it to a new keeper was to throw it at his head.  If he caught it, then he was legitimate.  If he didn’t, well . . .   I wrote a story about it for “Twelve Blackfeet Stories.” 

A person has to get pretty deep into anthro lit to find out about this Bundle because the community resisted telling about it and the anthros tried to respect taboos, but collectors had no such qualms, which meant that the value of such a thing was high, and indigenous people would sell them in an emergency.  Or, rendered defiant by missionaries who defied taboos, some stole the Sacred objects from their ancient relatives and sold them for whatever they could get.  Possibly thousands of dollars if you met the right German.

The actual parts of grizzly bears carry enough of an aura that their skulls are worth hundreds of dollars.  And yet the hobby hunters who brought in their kill to be made into a rug never grasped that the hide was glued onto a papier maché form with plastic teeth and a rubber tongue.  The skull would have made the rug impossibly heavy and the actual teeth were not attractive.  Bears have terrible teeth: worn, stained, broken, abscessed.  They are more designed for crushing than penetration.  Bob had a laundry basket of skulls sitting in a dark corner of the basement.  I’d bet they didn’t show up on the inventory of his estate.  

If you go looking online for a source of bear skulls, claws, hides and so on, you will find the search complicated by the popularity of “grizzly” or “bear” as brand names for everything from foods to machinery parts.  If one buys from an underground source, which is much more exciting, the problem will be the legality of such objects in terms of Federal, State, and Tribal laws.  If you try to take them through customs, they may be impounded.  Of course, underground folks are not sticklers for authenticity, so you may not get what you pay for.

A country road connects Heart Butte to East Glacier if the spring rains didn’t wash it out.  At the East Glacier end many small cabins have been built for recreation.  When the epic movie “Heaven’s Gate“  was filmed nearby, many of the crew rented the little cabins for the duration of the shoot.  When one production staff guy didn’t show up for work one morning, he was called:  “Gitcher butt down here!”  

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“There’s a bear on the front porch!”

“Well, go out the window and just get in your pickup.  It won’t bother you.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“There’s another bear in the pickup.”  No bears hurt anyone during the making of this movie.

I bought a class-sized supply of McClintock’s “The Old North Trail” and made every kid read it or at least look at the many  old photos.  They covertly endowed every horse with a giant phallus.  One of the bear stories was about a guardian warrior who went with a raiding party across the Rockies on a war trail that began up by Looking Glass Pass and went across to the Flathead.  It was a high and narrow trail.  A party of Flathead Indians made a counter-attack and pushed the Blackfeet hard.  The heroic warrior took a stand in a narrow place to let the rest of his party escape.  Single-handedly he turned the enemy back, but in the end he was killed.

At that point he morphed into a giant grizzly boar and reared onto his full height, still guarding the pass.  The enemy fled.  When that bear finally died, it transformed into a giant dead tree.  In the Sixties people pointed out the very tree, but Bob said that in his lifetime there had been several of those big stark bear-trees because of a forest fire going through.   The reaching branches that were left did indeed look like a rearing bear.  Even so does reality become mantled by story.

When I told the story in class, I did my best bear imitation.  The kids didn’t do that very much.  Old people cautioned them that it might actually CALL a grizzly.  But, anyway, to them basketball mattered more.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Chuck Bartlebaugh

Chuck Bartlebaugh prefers to be known as a "communication specialist in bears" though he was once a wildlife photographer.  He wants to educate people about safety when near bears.  Contact him at www.BeBearAware.org.  He produces VERY useful pamphlets and they're free.  He called last night, loaded for journalists, and we had a high-pressure many-laughed exchange studded with the names of bear people.  Then he called today with a dozen small corrections and additions, but I over-ruled him by being older than he is, which saved a lot of effort on my part.

This post will be about one issue: bear spray.  In the Seventies when I was at Animal Control, the cops were using MACE and sometimes used it on vicious charging dogs.  It seemed mostly to befuddle the dogs.  Today the cops use tasers, though the stories begin to be pile up about deaths.

Over the years there have been stories about pressurized bear spray cans exploding in school lockers or airplanes, forcing evacuation, and on the other hand stories about bears licking tents that have capsiacin on them because they like hot sauce as much as a Mexican cowboy.  Rumor, exaggeration, danger, hilarity — it all piles up the confusion.  But the claim is that proper bear spray, properly used, is the most effective tool that a hiker or fly fisherman can have if there are bears around.

Co-driver trained by a taxidermist.

Define “proper” and “effective.”  That’s what Bartlebaugh is about, backed up with the research done by Chuck Jonkel in Missoula and now by his son, Jamie.  They have done a lot of research over a lot of years.  When the EPA, which has jurisdiction over stuff like quality control for bear spray, tested 15 aerosol sprays on the market collected at random, only five were effective and only one was really research based.  Telling the public about it has been a little “hairy” because so much of marketing these days is about legalities: restraint of trade, unverified claims, endorsements, deals with authorities, and so on.

Bear spray that's too weak (and only the stuff strong enough to work on an angry bear can and must legally be labeled BEAR spray) won't work and strong bear spray is forbidden for use on humans.  I remember in the Sixties a game warden getting into a fight with his wife.  He used his spray (I have no idea what potency) intending to spray her face, but she turned her head just in time.  It caused all the skin to peel off her ear.  Chuck doesn't want me to tell you that, because it might make you afraid to use the stuff.   But on the other hand, you want it to be potent.

Basically, the variation is not just in the amount or intensity of the actual chemical Capsaicin and capsaicinoids, but also in the delivery system and container.  EPA registered bear sprays are the only ones who can legally use the word BEAR, indicating that it is for deterrent use only and NOT for humans.  (Though some humans are more dangerous than bears.)  Minimum net content for BEAR spray is 7.9 ounces or 225 grams.  The EPA Reg.No. is a way to monitor the manufacturer and distributor without stigmatizing them by using a code to keep them anonymous.  Imagine the lawsuits if they were known companies and a toddler got hold of the BEAR spray.

Other variables — besides the obvious need for competent operators — are that the spray needs to be thoroughly homogenized or the first fluids out of the spray may not contain capsiacin — just propellant.  The spray should create a cloud of the red stuff that the bear will walk into if it comes towards you.  Keep it down low, since bears — like stallions — will put their heads down when they charge.  Keep spraying until the can is empty.  There should be enough to last at least six seconds.  Counterassault, the brand the professionals recommend, contains ten ounces and deploys for more than nine seconds.

For the person who wants to know how close is too close, 25 feet is suggested for the distance the spray should reach.  It should NOT make a thin forceful stream like wasp spray, but create a big cloud more like a squid deploying ink.  If there are a lot of bears around, carrying two cans is a good idea.

As always, the best protection is prevention and preparation.  High alert and an excellent sense of how to read bear body language are crucial outdoor skills in bear country.  Bears do not observe boundaries, so that individual animals could be anywhere at any time, even in winter if their hibernation is interrupted somehow, maybe by a snow slide.

Bartlebaugh has accumulated many educational jokes for his speeches.  He asks the kids which hand they should use if they want to feed a bear.  They make guesses and then he advises, “Use the hand you don’t write with.”  One of his obsessions is the entertainment industry of making bears seem harmless, like Gentle Ben, so that one ends up like Timothy Treadwell and his girl friend — in the gut of the bear.  “Teddy bears” don’t help.  There are no pink plush grizzlies.  Grizzlies have individual temperaments and experiences — they cannot be generalized except along a species-characteristic continuum.

We ran into controversy right away when Bartlebaugh pointed out that General H. Norman Schwartzkopf was the official spokesman for Be Bear Aware and Wildlife Stewardship Campaign.  But when I did my little liberal tirade about big authoritarian military men, Bartlebaugh did not panic — he explained his admiration in terms of specifics.  That put me on the side of both activist and general.

But it was the connection to Jonkel that really resonated.  He was not a pink plush kinda guy, and questions pulled him in even when the politically wary warned him off.  Both Jonkel and Bartlebaugh are good at involving women and students in their projects.  Jamie Jonkel carries on the work in Missoula.

Here’s a story that is connected and yet completely separated from bears in the Rockies as well as sentimental exploitation of bears. 

http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk/horatio/   Horatio was the nephew of a friend of mine.  His grandfather, ” Field Marshal Sir John Lyon Chapple GCB, CBE (born 27 May 1931) was a career British Army officer in the second half of the 20th century. He served as Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, from 1988 to 1992. Early in his early military career he saw action during the Malayan Emergency and again during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation and later in his career he provided advice to the British Government during the Gulf War.”  I expect that General Schwartzkopf would appreciate that.”

This is a very British upper class story.  Horatio, a 17-year-old, went on an adventure tour with other kids his age to the far north, polar bear country.  They slept in tents put up on stony shingle that didn’t hold pegs very well.  The tents were surrounded by a warning trip fence but it didn’t stay up very well either.  The guides had rifles but they hadn’t been tested recently. 
Horatio Chapple

The area was roamed by a bear noted to be exceptionally gaunt and agitated.  In the night that bear came to Horatio’s tent, grabbed him by the head and hauled him out, despite the boy next to Horatio pounding on the bear’s face.  The guides' rifles failed for crucial moments until one fired and killed the bear.  It was too late.  The story went worldwide.  

I don’t know what the legal fallout has been.  Emotionally, the family decided on the creation of “Horatio’s Garden,” building on the boy’s intention to follow his father, David Chapple, MD, who is a physician treating spinal injuries.  Horatio had already been exploring the idea of healing gardens attached to hospitals.  Prince Harry is a patron. Their website (above) is lovely.

The whole time I heard about this tragedy, I thought, “If only they had had effective bear spray.”  Clearly the whole incident was rooted in incompetence on the part of the adventure company.  

Horatio was asleep, unsuspecting and unable to react fast enough even if he had had a can of “Counterassault”, the recommended brand of spray.  But the boy next to him could have used the spray.  It might have been unpleasant, but they would have lived.  I don't know whether Jonkel tested bear spray on the Canadian polar bears he studied, but they are close enough to grizzlies that the pressure of climate change starvation is evidently exposing their ability to interbreed, so that their color goes back to brown and their skulls go wide again. Hybrids are turning up. My bet is that spray would work.

Of course, the American attitude is often that one should be able to do hand-to-paw combat with bears, or else seduce them, but this tragic tale points to the folly of that mythology.  Reality is that bear spray can, well-used.

So at the Valier bear meeting, I asked the information people where we could buy bear spray locally, like on the way into Glacier Park.  They didn’t know.  The store in Choteau that used to sell it went broke and now sells used cars and flowers.  How American.