Grizzlies and NPR
Even though I haven’t spotted a grizzly bear for most of the summer, grizzlies have become an almost daily part of my life.
The Montana grizzly management specialist for my area works hard to prevent conflicts so he offered to install electric fence around my corral.
Wesley knew the Defenders of Wildlife would pay for fencing materials. I listened, but reluctantly.
Two philosophies on Defenders of Wildlife spin their way through the ranching community. One says avoid the enemy. Another says to drain their funding by having a group of ranchers spend it for them on electric fence and reimbursing predator kills.
I told Wesley I was not comfortable with his funding source. I don’t want to be a poster child for an organization that would like to see me quit helping to feed the world. I won’t ever drain their funding because they protect their budget.
I kept feeding my guard dogs and putting my sheep in the corral every night.
Then Wesley said he had a different source of funding. The Western Bear Association works to delist grizzlies and reduce conflicts between bears and humans, among other objectives.
I want grizzly bears removed from the Endangered Species list, too. I think a hunting season based on a quota would help manage populations and eliminate the bears that cause conflicts. After all, we don’t allow murderers and rapists to run free, hurting people, just because their mothers beat them as a child. We shouldn’t allow bears that cause conflicts to run free and hurt people just because their mothers showed them where to find easy pickings.
The quota would work a lot like the wolf and mountain lion hunting seasons that are already effective.
So Wesley and a Fish Wildlife and Parks technician, Sarah, went to work installing electric fence around my sheep corral. Three strands of wire, about 18 inches apart, will convince a grizzly bear to seek different snacks. Electricity is the Achilles Heel of the large predator world.
Because of the fence building, I happened to be on Wesley’s radar when a reporter from Montana Public Radio asked him to provide interviews for a program about living with grizzlies.
I didn’t think I said anything controversial.
My 11-year-old daughter, Abby and I told the story of the bear who ate some of our sheep and another one who wandered into our yard, then rubbed his back on the side of our house.
Other ranchers have had far worse horror stories about dealing with the bears, but when word got out they were on the short end of the sympathy stick. In fact, one rancher said protestors stood at her mailbox for a week so her children had to walk past them to get on the school bus.
So I spoke deliberately, mostly choosing my words carefully, saying I think grizzlies have a place, but it is not in my yard. Abby talked about how much the bear in the yard scared her.
I thought the program would air in Montana.
Tuesday morning, I received an email from a friend in Virginia. She had heard us on Morning Edition of National Public Radio.
Two hours later, I received an email from Chris Pfuhl – I think the p and h are silent.
This was not a comment on the NPR website. Pfuhl had gone to the trouble to find my email address and compose this letter.
“Saw you mentioned in an NPR article. Before you dismiss my comments, I'll tell you that I grew up in Glacier Park, so my experience with bears is substantial. Try to remember that YOU are the guy from "out-of-town" in the bear vs. human equation, and that they come with the territory (literally), where you've chosen to park your sheep. But if you are incapable of coping with the natural world you've chosen to inhabit, perhaps you and your panic-stricken daughter should leave. It's YOU that invaded the bear's turf, not the other way round!
Cheers,” he said.
My first reaction was to hope his mother didn’t run out from under the porch and bite his leg.
Then I decided the only way a person with integrity could throw stones at ranchers would be if he were standing naked, starving in the dark. Otherwise, he would hypocritically benefit from farmers and ranchers in some way. Even if he were a vegan, he would benefit from my ranching operation because I offer food and fiber to the world, reducing competition for his vegetables with my high-protein meat. I even generate electricity with solar panels at A Land of Grass, increasing supply and reducing the cost of his electricity.
I don’t think a person who is standing naked, starving in the dark, has access to the internet.
Then I got mad. I have no problem when somebody tries to bully me. I tend to sink my feet into the ground and bare my teeth.
But when somebody insults my brave, sweet daughter who still believes people are good-hearted and trustworthy, a grizzly sow is nothing compared to this mama bear.
I wondered if he learned from our current attack-and-insult political climate or if our political climate is a result of Pfuhl and others like him.
Maybe he thinks he is brave because he signed his name, even as his cowardice is insulated by impersonal satellite-enabled communication. Or his residence in a big city in Minnesota allows him to embellish his few summers in Glacier National Park as a teenager into growing up in Glacier while his father was a seasonal park ranger.
Now I’m back to blaming his mother. After all, every adult who behaves unacceptably finds an excuse. It is always the mother’s fault.