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Grizzlies and the Edge of Eden

The last two days I hiked into several drainages where the hottest spots of the Yellowstone 1988 fires burned.  After 20 years those soils are still so sterile that no new trees are growing.  Hottest area of the '88 fires.  Sterile ground, good forageThis is an area of excellent forage though, with young sweet grass and sagebrush.   Pulsatilla flowers just emerging nowThe snows are just beginning to melt and seasonal streams are running.  With a forest of dead timber, standing and downed, the run off will be fast and furious.  But its early still and the streams are gentle.  A huge log jam up river, crazy every which way, testifies to last years’ fury.

In summer, without the advantage of shade,  this place is too hot to hike in.  In the fall, it is full of hunters hoping to kill bull elk migrating from the Park. There is a strangeness here, the dead trees stand as sentinels against the hoodoo-like rock carvings from ancient lava flows.Dead trees and lava hoo doos

This is grizzly country.  They inhabit these draws, drainages that rise abruptly into high meadows; forests thick with Lodgepoles and Limber  Pines.  Spring is the best season here.  The dead timber provides homes for insects that attract an abundance of birds.  A woodpecker fights a flicker for territory, running him around and up a dead tree.  Finally the flicker retreats.  I find it curious this jockeying for dominance in an area of abundant food.There is a strangeness here

We saw grizzly tracks both days.  On the second day we followed a grizzly trail, although we were backtracking him. Grizzly track The trail, not on the map, was a highly used game trail that went up the wide mouth of the drainage. At times the downed trees were so thick the trail disappeared.  When the trail faded, we watched where the grizzly had chosen to go, figuring he’d have taken the path of least resistance.  It led up the creek bed, the stream disappearing and reappearing in odd places.   At one point, we crossed under a large downed tree trunk,.  The tracks passed directly underneath so we looked for fur stuck to the nubby remains of the branches.   There were a few hairs there.  Claw marks on trees noted where a grizzly stopped to mark his territory.  They were so high I couldn’t reach them.  That’s a big bear.Grizzly scratches on pine tree
Another tree with grizzly marks
A coyote,  running in our direction on the far side of the draw, suddenly smelled or heard us, and decided to turn back.   A bloody leg dangled from his mouth.  Koda noted the spot near the trail where the kill might be, but I called him back, fearing we’d find that grizzly there.  On the way back down, we walked over to the site Koda found.  A kill a few days old, the only remains was a small rib cage of a young elk or deer.

Its grizzly time right now.  They won’t be going high to find their moth sites until sometime in July.  Tonight  I watched a powerful video about  Charlie Russell called The Edge of Eden: Living with Grizzlies.   Charlie grew up in Canada  on an outfitter’s ranch.  He was a cattle rancher for years and had to deal with grizzlies.  He found that if he left out some winter kill cattle for the hungry grizzlies in the spring, they’d leave his cattle alone the rest of the year.  He wanted to understand grizzlies better and went to Kamchatka, Russia where the local zoos kill orphan cubs.  He began bringing these cubs back to the wilds, acting as their mother and protecting them for a year, sometimes two, then allowing them to roam free.  It’s a marvelous video  (that won several  film festivals) and story about a man trying to help restore respect for the grizzly as well as pioneer new strategies for those living in grizzly country.  To order the video, contact skyfilms@xplornet.com.

2 Responses

  1. Carry bear spray.

    I love hiking the burns, at least until the trees start blowing down.

    Nice pasque flower.

    I’ve tracked bears for miles and oftentimes they go straight up and straight down VERY steep ridges!

    Thanks for the link to the cool film.


  2. […] with a well-viewed female grizzly. I learned more about how to behave around bears by watching Russell’s body language than any […]


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