Posts Tagged With: Montana

Casey Anderson

Casey Anderson is a Montana-born naturalist and bear expert, who has spent the past 7 years raising a bear named Brutus from birth. Brutus was born in an overpopulated wildlife park and was subject to euthanasia when Casey rescued him. Casey built a sanctuary to house Brutus in Bozeman, Montana, that has since taken in 5 more bears from harmful captivity situations. The sanctuary, called Montana Grizzly Encounter, is used by Casey to promote bear conservation and public education. He seeks to instill bear appreciation among visitors as well as teach them about bear safety.

Casey believes that public involvement is a necessary part of bear conservation. Bears are now found in only 2% of their former territory in the continental U.S. and are threatened by climate change, which has killed off 50% of one of their main food sources, white bark pine. Casey says:

More and more each year, the island that this population lives on shrinks. Along with this shrinking habitat, global warming is eliminating some of the grizzly bears’ important food sources at a drastic rate. White bark pine, cut worm moths, and other populations that grizzly bears depend on are greatly affected. Without a stop to these events, it could lead to extinction; but most certainly to hardship, that in time will only lead to more bear/human conflict. I feel that education and awareness toward these issues is a major front on combating these issues. Most people don’t even realize it is happening, so we need to spread the word, develop an understanding, and ultimately generate a passion to do something to help the grizzly bear.

Misconceptions about bears and improper approach is another threat that Casey is combating:

There are a few bad bears like there are bad humans, but 99 percent of these animals have no interest in harming humans. Over 85 percent of attacks are when a mother feels threatened and is trying to protect her cubs. They are not much different than us…In its flight or flight response at close proximity, it often chooses fight. But the intention is not to kill and eat, but to beat up and try to make the threat go away…These conflicts can be avoided; the bear does not want to not have these interactions as much as the people don’t. Proper etiquette and behavior in grizzly country can lead to a very enjoyable experience for both species.

One of Casey’s suggestions is the use of bear pepper spray, which is designed to confuse the bear and inflict temporary pain so it will change course. Casey believes that if everyone hiking in bear areas carried such spray and used it on sight of a bear, it would condition bears to avoid humans, especially as female bears passed on such knowledge to their cubs. After all, he says, “firearms don’t work… A dead bear can not pass on this learned behavior”.

Casey feels that it is very important for people to understand the value of protecting bears:

Grizzly bears are very similar to humans. They posses a great amount of emotion and thought…They are each as individual as people in their personalities. This combination of intelligence, emotion, power, and speed is simply awe inspiring.

Twice Casey has seen Brutus cry tears of appreciation and he gives Brutus credit for saving his life: “He gave me purpose, and the inspiration to try and make a difference in the world.  He has always been the symbol of what we are fighting for.” Casey decries the United States’ general treatment of wildlife and the environment, which has an overall focus on possession and a lack of respect for animal species:

The United States has always stood for democracy and fairness across the world. Our country has helped millions across the planet liberate themselves and live a life of freedom. Yet, we will not do that very thing for the All-American animals that we share this wonderful place with. We as humans have the ability to adapt and change better than any other species on earth. We can coexist with the wildlife we love…

We have forced most animals in the world to adapt to their threshold. Now it is our turn to do our part. Through simple thought and innovation, education and application, we can save the lives of bears and humans alike. If we want to share this earth with the wild things we love, we must change. It is time to coexist, and hold up our side of that bargain.

Photo: one of the sanctuary’s bears, courtesy of Montana Grizzly Encounter

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Doug Smith

Doug Smith is a wolf biologist who has studied wolves for over 20 years. He was an instrumental part of wolf reintroduction to the Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and became the head of the Yellowstone Grey Wolf Restoration Project in 1996. The project started by releasing 14 Canadian wild wolves to the park, which has since grown to about 170 (with 1500 total in the greater region). This is a remarkable occurrence since the National Park Service had systematically killed almost every wolf in the U.S. by 1933.

Wolves were literally eradicated and they roamed all of the U.S., except a few places in deserts, and the tip of Florida. They were eradicated from everywhere except the extreme northern portion of northern Minnesota. The population went from millions to 500. -Doug Smith

With growing ecological understanding in the 20th century, biologists realized that the lack of predators was having a negative effect on the landscape, as herbivorous species such as elk overgrazed vegetation. Though Yellowstone was decidedly the best possible location to reintroduce a top-level predator such as the wolf, wolves have long been a source of contention and a war on their recovery has raged.

With the expansion of the frontier and an increase in ranching and agriculture, wolves were seen as unwanted competitors.

[Wolf] loathing came with the arrival of Europeans and their ideas of manifest destiny and ”civilizing” the continent. The Europeans wanted to rid the area of wolves to civilize it. Wolves are the antithesis of civilization. -Doug Smith

The culture of wolf hatred extends back thousands of years, where wolves have been seen as aggressive killers, even evil in some cases. Wolves have often been pitted against humans in stories and fables, enlivening misconceptions about their species (such as their danger to humans- in reality, wolves are mostly timid and fearful of people). Smith acknowledges that wolves are “one of the most controversial wildlife species in the world” and are “the universal scapegoat”. Part of his work has been to reduce misunderstanding of wolves and give them a voice, but it’s been hard since “in many ways, wolves have been pawns in a larger cultural and philosophical battle”.

He is pleased with the species’ biological recovery in the Yellowstone area, however fragile their political status still may be. Packs have reached stability within the park, while 80% of packs outside are usually killed by humans. Smith hopes that biologists can establish another wolf safe zone in the United States, especially as climate change begins to “reshuffle the deck for the planet”. He says:

Humanity has got such a broad footprint now that we just push and bully our way around, and other species have to sort of fall to the side. Ethically, I’m concerned about that. I think it would be good to get wolves established someplace else….The wolves are largely confined to Yellowstone now. If something happens because of climate change, where are they going to go?

Creating another protected area where wolves are introduced could also generate a lucrative tourism industry in its state. Yellowstone National Park brings in $35 million a year from people wishing to see wolves. Smith believes the wolves enhance people’s experiences of nature, creating an “aura of wildness so [intense], it makes all other country seem dull”. I am grateful for Doug Smith’s efforts to restore wolves to our country- I think they are a beautiful, fascinating species that are under-appreciated and overly antagonized. With our power comes the responsibility to conserve these animals for future generations. The United States may have a horrible past history of wolf treatment, but leaders like Doug Smith are bringing us out of the dark ages. Thank you Doug!

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