Books by local authors shed light on lives of grizzlies
By David Reese/Montana Living
Are you going hiking in Glacier?
You need to read these books.
Tim Rubbert (pictured above) took his experiences hiking over 10,000 miles in northwest Montana and condensed them into his first book,“Hiking with Grizzlies: Lessons Learned." Rubbert offers up sound advice for people on how to behave in grizzly bear country.
Over the course of eight years Rubbert watched 1,700 grizzly bears, most of them in Glacier National Park. Only twice has he been forced to use his bear spray, once in an attack that injured his hiking partner, Jim Cole. The other time was when he was sitting on a cliff, watching bears, when a grizzly charged him.
If you venture into bear country, or any country where there COULD be a bear, read this book. It will show you how to use bear spray or — more importantly — how to avoid situations where you’d have to use bear spray. The photos in his book, over 100 of them, show grizzly bears in situations that range from the beautiful, to the comical to the absurd (a woman standing five feet from a bear in Yellowstone).
Bear books tend to be political platforms to espouse what the writer believes is proper bear-management policy. Rubbert stays away from making any political points in his book, and prefers instead to offer up instruction and experience.
“I try to stay away from politics,” he said. “It just gets too messy. The message I tried to get across in my book is that bears are not monsters, but their not a cute and cuddly creature either.
“I want people to have a healthy respect for the bears, but at the same time learn how to enjoy recreating and living with them.”
While he loves bears, Rubbert does not cross the line of common sense. After all these years and all the grizzly bears he’s seen, Rubbert continues his march toward knowledge of the grizzly bear. “I’m fascinated by grizzly bears,” he said. “I’ve just taken it to another level. I want to know as much about them as possible.”
Rubbert is constantly learning — about grizzlies and the people who put themselves in their path.
While hiking in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park, Rubbert watched a grizzly feeding on huckleberries above Many Glacier Hotel. Later, as he returned to his car, he encountered a couple walking up the trail. “They asked me, ‘Do those grizzly bear warning signs at the trailhead really mean anything?’” Rubbert said, flabbergasted of the couple’s ignorance. He politely told the couple that yes, the signs DO mean something and in fact he’d just seen a grizzly in the area.
The couple turned back on the trail and returned to the Many Glacier Hotel.
Earlier that day he was at one of his favorite perches watching three bears near Red Rock Lake. Suddenly the mother bear stood up. Her two cubs ran to her before the trio bolted. Looking up the trail, Rubbert saw a family walking toward him, making noise and yelling as they hiked.
Rubbert asked them if they’d seen the grizzlies above the trail. “No,” they responded, apologizing that they might have spoiled his photography experience. He told them they were doing exactly the right thing, making noise while hiking (although they were not carrying bear spray.)
The following day, Rubbert encountered another hiker on the trail. He’d also noticed bear paw prints in the dusty trail. He warned the other hiker to be on the lookout. A while later, Rubbert met up with the hiker again. Sure enough, the hiker had spooked the bear, only 20 yards off the trail. The bear bolted. “I told the hiker you’re lucky you didn’t get munched,” Rubbert said. The hiker was not making noise and he was not carrying bear spray.
As much as anything, Rubbert said his book will help educate hikers about being safe in bear country; and doing that, might just do as much as any book that makes a political statement about bear management. “If you’re not prepared to hike in grizzly country, don’t do it,” Rubbert said. “It’s better for you and it’s better for the bears.”
Bear spray alone does not a wise hiker make. You need to know about food and habitat conditions that grizzlies prefer, hiking tactics, and how to use bear spray if it’s ever needed. “Just because you’re carrying bear spray doesn’t mean you can go skipping down the trail, ignoring what you’re doing,” Rubbert said.
WHITEFISH AUTHOR DOUG CHADWICK'S book 'TRUE GRIZZ'
WHITEFISH AUTHOR Doug Chadwick has added another book to his repertoire of wildlife literature.
Chadwick, a writer for National Geographic and author of several wildlife books, chronicles in “True Grizz” the lives of several grizzly bears and the people who are trying to manage them to co-exist with humans.
Chadwick’s book does not stray into a broad political discussion about bear management, and instead tells the day-to-day stories of bear managers like Tim Manley, Erik Wenum and Carrie Hunt. The book describes how Chadwick and his colleagues follow Fernie, Stahr, Easy and Dakota — bears that are getting into trouble with humans; or have the potential to.
Chadwick has master’s degree in wildlife biology and happens to be a gifted writer. Throughout the course of the 176-page book, which is published by the Sierra Club, Chadwick does not attempt to formulate public policy about bear management.
“Most grizzly stories are not really about grizzlies,” Chadwick writes. “They are about how people thought and felt and acted around the big bears. This book focuses on individual animals that I followed season by season, year after year, gathering details about their lives. In a sense they told their own stories. I’m just passing them along.”
Some of the stories about the bears have happy endings; some do not. But Chadwick does not use the good stories — the good ones or the bad ones — to further an agenda. Some of the anecdotes are just plain humorous, like the way Chadwick locks himself in a horse trailer like a shark cage one night to try to get a glimpse of a bear and her cubs they’re trying to trap.
Or how he relates to having lived among the grizzlies in the North Fork of the Flathead, where he would sometimes stumble home from the Northern Lights Saloon.
“The only things I feel fairly certain about are that every simplistic image of these fellow mammals, and every blanket solution for how to relate to them, reveals limitations on our part more than on theirs.”
For the most part, the stories about bears in Chadwick’s book are having problems not because they’re problem bears, but because local property owners won’t face facts about attracting bears with dog food, bird food and garbage. But Chadwick still reserves judgment.
He becomes sentimental only in his epilogue, after he’s presented the facts of the bears he’s lived with and followed. “While we may ultimately discover much of what we need to know through scientific data and logic, using our heads, the heart is sometimes a truer field guide.”
Combined, Chadwick’s and Rubbert’s books will complement a hiker’s or a bear aficonado’s bookshelf. The books are among at least six new books on bears. How much can the market, well, bear?
“There are certain people who just love anything to do with bears,” says Chris Cauble, publisher of Riverbend Publishing in Helena, which released Rubbert’s book. “Bears are their wildlife focus, and these people will devour anything about bears, especially books.
"Another reason is that it’s hard for anyone to be neutral about bears. They’re interesting, even to the most casual observer, so a good bear book can appeal to this larger market as well.”
“Good stories, good writing, and accurate natural history,” Cauble said. “Plus new information about bears that help us better understand them.”
— This article appeared in a previous issue of Montana Living magazine