V. Behavior

photo: Charles JonkelThe present-day grizzly is still the grizzly. Animals evolve, but they evolve very, very slowly. There's been no genetic change. Even what we call the plains grizzly, and the barren-ground grizzly, just grizzly bears that lived out there–genetically–behaviorally they learned things differently, and they did things differently. I think what we've got today is the same grizzly bear that Lewis and Clark encountered, genetically. But I think behaviorally we've got a somewhat different animal. They've learned about--the Gary Larsen cartoon--what a rifle is, and stuff like that. I think in many cases they hear engines, a truck, or a vehicle, they've had bad experiences, or they've watched other bears, or elk, or something, run when they hear an engine coming. So they move away from exposed areas. We don't see them because they heard us coming, and that relates to a bad experience either to them or some other animal, and they move out, and we don't see them.

So, behaviorally they've learned to be shyer of us than they were in Lewis and Clark's day. I think they have probably quite a bit more respect for the two-legged bear, which is fine. That's the way they should respond to us, and I think that's what we require from them, that they don't push it. That if they find a way out they back out.

Well, there's always the occasional grizzly about that won't do that, but I think, partly, we haven't done the research that's necessary in that area of behavior. I think bears are capable of altering their relationships with us even further. There are a few people out there who are doing research of that nature now, where they walk around out in the woods with wild bears. The bear gets used to them as another bear that's not competing with them, and seem to appreciate the company. That kind of research scares me because a lot of people misinterpret it, and go out there too soon with too little information. I think people doing that research must be extremely careful. I think some day we're going to have a much better relationship with bears, and be able to live with them more compatibly, but if people go too far too fast, without adequate information, they actually can work against that. But I see some glimmers of promise out there, that we will do that kind of research, that we will have a different relationship with bears, more like the coastal bears have with other bears. You know--"There's salmon to be caught. Let's not argue." I think we're going to go that way with bears.

There's something about human beings--we like to do that. We did it with songbirds--we used to eat songbirds, then we gave them special status. Then we did it with things like whales. And I think we're going to do it with things like wolves and bears, too. We're going to give them a special status. I think we're going that way. I'm not sure just where it will lead, but it's very interesting. I think that that might happen.