My take on Tim Treadwell-
By Ralph Maughan

Few stories on this web page gain more readers than those about Tim Treadwell’s death, and that of his girlfriend Amie Huguenard.

In the great scheme of things, the death of two people isn’t much. It’s the way they died. People are fascinated and horrified, but not satisfied. They want to know more because they are hungry—not for flesh, but hungry for the unusual. Their appetite will be satisfied when the story is digested in the juices of their own life experiences and their prejudices. Not many people get eaten by wild animals anymore, so talking about it, writing about it, and watching a documentary is a feast.

Maker of “Grizzly Man,” Werner Hertzog is little different than the rest of us except he has the knack of telling about the unusual in a visually compelling way.

I draw on my experiences as a life long explorer of Western wilderness areas. The best wilderness is where the scenery is magnificent, where human presence is distant, and where death in a violent but unusual fashion is a real, if still unlikely possibility. Death not by cancer, death not in dementia, death not by vehicle accident, death not by mugging, but death instead by a slip, a mistake, a failure to read natural dangers. Most unusual in our overpopulated world is death by what we see as our lessers—big animals.

An unfound body would be best. The saddest thing about the grizzly that ate Treadwell and Huguenard was that it was found, killed, and worse, their partially digested remains were mostly recovered. Would it have been their abandoned camp found and nothing else.

Country with grizzlies has a special tingle. Unlike Treadwell you don’t have see them. I try not to. “Hey bear” I shout when I approach a patch of willows. I don’t camp on bear trails. I carry pepper spray.

I remember every detail of my four close encounters with grizzlies. Only one was truly dangerous. Alone on Hellroaring Slopes in Yellowstone, I crested a rise. About 75-100 feet away was a sow with her two cubs digging for rodents. Their backs were toward me and I was standing next to the only tree in the meadow. Fortunately, it was a Douglas fir with branches like stair steps, which I immediately climbed. So quickly she was just below me. I must have climbed 40 feet and waited, not able to see her, let alone her eyes, for all the foliage. A couple hours later I came down and looked in all directions before I continued along the Yellowstone River.

It’s hard to get people to hike or backpack with you in grizzly country. I want to thank my friends who have, especially my wife Jackie and my friend Lee Mercer, whose ashes now flow down the Greybull and reside in the elk taken by the Greybull Pack and in the bears in this high country.

Mostly I am by myself. This kind of wilderness journey stirs the body and mind. Dark thoughts about the pillagers of the Earth are common when you are out of range of the politicians, preachers, and advertisers. It’s good not to have a video with sound when I think of these purveyors of fakery in the world of hyperreality. Unfortunately, Treadwell had a video his last several years, and Herzog edited it.

I don’t know if there were poachers near Treadwell’s summer home, or if he was just basking in the sun and rain. How real was the story of his past? I don’t know. Did he “get what he deserved” as his antagonists proclaim? After thirteen glorious summers doing pretty much “everything wrong” I’d say “yes he did!” Twelve out of thirteen ain’t bad!

Of Annie Huguenard, I can’t say. But my experience is that outdoors women are as brave, probably more than men, and they are wise enough not to push things.

Before feasting on all the wonderful video Treadwell shot over the years, ethically speaking, Herzog should have been required to camp alone among the bears for a week. Then he would have some status to tell us what he saw in a grizzly’s eyes.

Copyright © Ralph Maughan

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

24 Responses to My take on Tim Treadwell-

  1. avatar matt bullard says:

    I enjoyed reading this essay when you originally posted it, Ralph.

    I had the pleasure of seeing the film at the Flicks here in Boise when it was making the circuit. I thought the film was interesting, but what made it even better was the panel discussion afterwards with a grizzly expert (from the conservation field) and Steve Nadeau from ID F&G (may have been one other person there as well). This discussion was illuminating in that one of the panelists seemed to have some information about Timothy that was not presented in the film, or at least not heavily emphasized. The main claim from him and supported by the rest of the panelists who know something about grizzly/brown bear behavior, is that Timothy was doing more harm to the bears than good (his modus operandi was to “protect” them from poachers). They all believed that he was feeding the bears, which was their only explanation of how he could get so close.

    The main point of interest was the explanation of the difference between food conditioning and habituation, which I have explained in other threads here. One example that the panelists cited was the scene where some people approached the shore near where Treadwell was camping to find a brown bear very interested in their boat. Treadwell filmed this incident and used it as a means of explaining how awful these people were (they were throwing rocks at the bear). The alternate explanation given by one of the panelists was that the bear was exhibiting behavior consistent with food conditioning (it saw humans, associated them with food, and was interested so it checked them out). The people in the boat were a bit worried by this, so they tried to get the bears away from them by making noise and throwing rocks.

    When I originally saw that scene in the movie, I had sympathy for Treadwell and his “mission”, but given the alternate explanation, I certainly got a lot more skeptical. Anyway, it is food for thought. Knowing how much discussion his death got, it will be interesting to see where this thread goes…

  2. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    I am continually amazed at the level of stupidity exhibited by Pennsylvania suburbanites who, after deciding to “live in the woods,” choose to begin feeding big critters, like black bears and whitetails. Then, inevitably, they miss a day or two, or go on vacation (to the city, or Florida) and return home to find their kitchen ransacked or the garbage cans (left outside; conveniently for the bear) overturned. Then the blame game starts and the critter becomes a “problem” animal and must trapped and relocated, or, better yet, dispatched with a rifle round.
    A quote from the conservation biologist Dr. Reed Noss: “Let’s face it, the vast majority of humans do not know how to behave in natural environments. Fearful of experiencing nature on its own terms, they bring along their chain saws, ATVs, guns, dogs and ghetto-blasters. They harass virtually every creature they meet, and leave their mark on every place they visit … A lot of people make a lot of money designing and building roads, and exploiting the resources to which roads lead.”

  3. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    The best and most thoughtful comment on the Treadwell situation I have found is from Charllie Russell and can be found on his webstie: http://www.cloudline.org Thank you you Ralph for revisiting your comments, which I also thought were quite thoughtful.

  4. To Matt,

    It’s possible Treadwell fed the bears, but they were huge and his supplies would be limited. He could figure out they wouldn’t understand the concept of “I don’t have any more of that stuff,” so i’d guess it is not likely he fed them.

  5. avatar matt bullard says:

    Ralph – excellent point! He probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did…

  6. avatar A friend says:

    Ralph, thank you for the repost.
    First and foremost, Treadwell did not ever feed the bears. I do not know where you have gotten this misinformation from but considering all of the other misconceptions and truths on Treadwell, this certainly needs to be established before it takes off and becomes it’s own entity.

    “One example that the panelists cited was the scene where some people approached the shore near where Treadwell was camping to find a brown bear very interested in their boat. Treadwell filmed this incident and used it as a means of explaining how awful these people were (they were throwing rocks at the bear). The alternate explanation given by one of the panelists was that the bear was exhibiting behavior consistent with food conditioning (it saw humans, associated them with food, and was interested so it checked them out). The people in the boat were a bit worried by this, so they tried to get the bears away from them by making noise and throwing rocks.”
    In this scene Treadwell is in an area where anywhere between 5 to 7 float planes, loaded with between 3 to 7 people, land on a daily basis, to secure pictures of bears in that area. The area is well known for this and these people who come to this area can be seen any where from 15 to 30 feet from bears, either while they are fishing or while they are approaching the planes for curiosity. These bears were already habituated to humans before Treadwell came onto the scene. This also may clear up another misconception. Treadwell fully believed he was protecting the bears from poachers. Could be true, probably not. However, BECAUSE these bears were so used to people it allowed Treadwell to explore the bear at a closer range, affording him to take photos of these bears and do his education in the lower 48, where he KNEW, bears were being poached or at the very least “accidentally” mistaken for a Black. Lower 48 bears are a bit more elusive and less tolerant of people than the bears where Treadwell camped. Not to mention, the lower 48 park services are apparently a lot less leaner on irresponsible behavior towards wildlife. It would have been a greater hassle for Treadwell to do what he believed in inside the lower 48 parks, both because of the services and the bears. I am going to emphasize again, Treadwell never fed the bears.

    As for the “stupidity” comment, I concur.

    A lie runs halfway around the world before the truth even puts on it’s shoes.

  7. avatar Erin Miller says:

    Personally I found interesting his fox friends. The rest is not needed to be said as for the overall impression of this instance…

  8. Tim Treadwell–I am very glad to see this article and am comfortable commenting on this issue today, as I have just watched “Grizzly Man” for the first time this week. (I’m alittle slow)

    Here are my thoughts: Tim Treadwell was definately an Adventurist and took some amazing video of the Grizzly. What I don’t understand is why everyone has made him into an Enviro-warrior. Treadwell’s antics asked for death. He said himself that he would “die for these grizzly bears” and he sure enough did.

    Yeah, he preached bear compassion to the schools where he gave his speeches–letting the kids fall in love with him and the bears–but if you watch “Grizzly Man”, how many of these kids will see him as he was at the end. “F– this!. F– the National Park System! ”

    Timothy Treadwell was loking for a friend. He was always running away from his past–it is my thought that if a skunk had shown Treadwell some attention, then he would have been living with the skunks….

    Treadwell done everything wrong. For Goodness sakes, he transformed a river so the bears would be able to get closer! He wanted to protect the bears but tear up the natural environment that these same bears survive in. What kind of warrior is this?

    Did Tim get what he deserved? No. Tim got what he wanted–plain and simple.

    For me, it is sad that in time, I am afraid that Tim will be martyrized into some sort of Enviro-saint. Tim got some amazing video, but at what cost will this eventually come to? Will people try to play “Tim” with the grizzlys? Will one kid grow up with this movie in his heart and?

    Let’s all hope not!

  9. avatar A friend says:

    I’m sorry you feel this way. I think you are mistaking Tim for someone else, I won’t mention. That is the truly SAD part about all this.
    Let me tell you this. We are part of nature, not APART of nature. Hunters do much worse to the environment they are using while hunting than Treadwell ever did. We don’t hear much about the hunters and their impacts do we. Curious.
    A group of bears move more rock in one hour than Treadwell did in the two it took him to do it. Never mind the bank erosion from planes landing in and out of the area.
    You have to be interested enough and know enough about film making to look deeper into this movie and come out the other end. Most people don’t want to take that time. It is a movie of special interest to them and that is all they move on with thought processes that are untrue, both about bears and about Treadwell.
    I also have manage to miss all of these people who have bathed Treadwell in ,martrdom. Look around on other sites and you will see it is quite the contrary.
    It is a shame that people cannot see the real problem with this whole thing. One day they will.

  10. avatar mike says:

    I know that this guy and his girlfriend died tragically and I am sorry for that; but, I saw the film and I could see that they were harmless souls; but, frankly, by the end of the film, I found the fellow so behaviorally wounded and annoying that I wanted to eat him myself just to stop the antics and could see how any self-respecting bear might be tempted to do the same, especially given the wounded behavior that was so transparent. Bears are predators that take advantage of woundd behavior after all. Please forgive me; but, he had some severe and not easily endured personality problems on some very deep instinctual levels and animals sense these things.

  11. avatar John says:

    I have to say I love Werner Herzog’s films & documentaries. He is a true cinematic genius. All his films in the 70’s, especially with Klaus Kinski, are timeless. As for Treadwell, I agree with a little of each of the last posts. I felt his heart was in the right place, he just went astray. I do not agree with the tactics he used (as well as other researchers, like the couple, there names I forget now, but they studied Brown Bears in Russia), but his love for the animals is apparent. Yes, he was a wounded soul (from drug or alcohol addiction, or whatever) but at least he got fulfillment from a more positive outlet, be it probably more dangerous to his personal well being, then the other vices. The most disturbing thing about the whole incident was that he brought his girlfriend! Wow, to put her in harms way to that extent, is almost unthinkable. Damn, he should have brought the kids too!

  12. In response to John First: Tim did not “bring” his girlfriend…she came voluntarily and was just as nutty as him….

    Second to “A friend” : I feel like there is probably always going to be two sides to this story…you mention look deeper into the film…this film is not meant to be a scientific expose on Enviromental issues.

    What is sad dear friend is that so many people, like yourself, feel sorry for him and continue to make excuses for his reckless behavior.

    Was he really anything other than an insane man on a death mission? I will say that I do believe he loved the bears. A will also add that his love was an obsession and like most obsessions, they usually lead to ruin or death.

    Treadwell’s story is tragic. He has brought alot of attention to these bears, which is probably good and bad, but at the same time if he would have given the “right” people a chance, maybe he could have worked and help to protect these beautiful creatures in a sane manner.

    Tim was a smart guy. He knew he was going to die doing this. But I have one question for you….when the guys were throwing rocks at the bears, if Tim cared so friggin much, why did he not stop them? Obviously when he recorded the date and time for his personal reasons on this tape, the people throwing the rocks could see him….why did he not speak up? A “warrior”? Naw….just someone looking for personal gratification…trying to fake something that wasn’t there.

    Tim was trying to reinvent himself into something that wanted nothing to do with him. It is a shame when the truth finally figures out a way to shine….

  13. I didn’t write about the Treadwell until quite a while afterwards. I noticed that people kept searching for “Treadwell” in the stats on my old web site, so I decided to write a brief essay after watching Herzog’s documentary. I had also thought quite about it during hundreds of days, mostly by myself, backpacking and camping deep in the Greater Yellowstone wilderness/backcountry.

    I don’t think he will be seen as an eco-warrior. I think the interest was and still is about a guy who tempted fate for a long time and finally got eaten by a grizzly bear.

    At one time being eaten was probably a common way for a human life to end, and our genetic fear of large carnivores is still with us, influencing debates about wolves, grizzlies, alligators, crocs, etc.

    My guess (this can’t be proven) is that getting eaten isn’t all the awful compared to many debilitating diseases associated with old age.

    I don’t think Herzog really got inside Treadwell’s head. To do that he would have to do what Treadwell did on some minor scale, like a week.

  14. avatar A friend says:

    ” I feel like there is probably always going to be two sides to this story…you mention look deeper into the film…this film is not meant to be a scientific expose on Enviromental issues.”

    Again, you are pointing fingers at the wrong individual. You will figure this out soon enough, many already have. I don’t expect people to look deeper into the film. I am assuming since you were holding a decent discussion on this that you may have wanted to. You have to remember who had control of this film. Only a few people could have possibly come out on top with this film and it certainly wasn’t Treadwell. I can’t go into this too much but when I speak of delving deeper I am not referring to the simple celluloid and obvious. It did it’s main job, made money and by focusing on Treadwell’s PERSONAL videos turned him into a raving lunatic. I KNOW you want to believe that but it isn’t completely true. I really do understand you “buying” into this film, as whole and complete, it is just easier to deal with as a done deal. There are too many political issues that are being conveniently left out for obvious reasons. That was the intention of the film and it soared on those intentions. Hollywood can make bad things much worse and incidentally create a whole other “life” by denying some truths to remain hidden. Anyway, look at the logistics and the road the vehicle was driven to arrive at it’s destination. Most importantly, who was driving.
    About the “rock” scene. No one, especially me, is overlooking Treadwell’s “issues” but these “issues” were exacerbated by the fact that he was being drawn and quartered from every angle. Being that he came with these “issues” from the start, they became heightened throughout his years in the park. Trust me when I say, he was scared, confused and extremely upset. That “scene” was not for the public, along with at least 80% of the films scenes, if not more. He didn’t approach them because he truly thought that what they were doing was wrong and the “scene” was for the park service. He liked to intimidate people by making then wonder why he wouldn’t show his face and to possibly stop them from further “rock throwing” by being seen with a camera. Paranoid.
    Treadwell’s obsession had more to do with proving himself then it ever did about the bears. Having to prove himself to ALL of the nay sayers forced him further and further into the realm of disrespect and danger. But yes, he genuinely loved the bears.
    Boy, I really have to grit my teeth when you address the issue of “going to the right people”. Those, so called, “right people” were seeked out by Treadwell in the very beginning and they laughed and shook their heads and waited for his death or mauling, even placing bets on it. Meanwhile Hollywood came along and found a “lamb” and history took Treadwell down the path that is clear today. SO, those “right people” didn’t give Treadwell a chance and why should they? Because something wonderful could have come out of this. He would have been a great spokes person given his charisma and could have definitely gone in the right direction. Because it could have prevented the very thing they did not want to happen? Other people following in his footsteps? I know a lot of them today that rue that decision now. Several times he saw the light but was quickly derailed by someone else.
    Excuses? So watching a film where someone dismantles someone else’s character to line their pockets is cool with you? BUT someone who is trying to defend someone who is not here to defend themselves, that’s a character flaw huh? Interesting ethics you have. Another “swell” individual. Maybe you should move out to Hollywood? Don’t attack me. Have a civil dialogue with me. We all have “friends” who make some horrible decisions but it does not define the whole package. It certainly does not define their friends.

    Thank you again Ralph. My intention wasn’t to start all of this. Sorry about that.

  15. Response to “A friend”–

    First off, let me say that I am not trying to “attack” anyone. You are making some very good points and I am listening..although cautiously. You said “the fingers point at the wrong person”–who should they point at, the film maker for showing the side of Tim that he was desperately trying to hide? Like I said, truth always comes out…If Treadwell was really “trying” to keep a certain image, he would have known better than to do it on film…his antics speak volumns to the people that have maybe only experienced the “public” side of the story.

    As far as there being to many political issues left out of the film concerning Tim, Tim decided on his own merit to start pushing the boundaries with the political assumption that “they” would get him some day. How many times was Tim told to move his camp at least a mile away from the bears? How many times did Tim do it? Tim tried to take the laws into his own hands because he felt it was the only thing he could do, and the only way he thought he could spend time with the bears.

    Tim’s refusal to obey the laws that apply to you and me is part of what caused his delusional thinking in the end. He was always running, but running from his own doing…How many times can you question the authority of the National Park system or any governmental office before they deal with you swiftly? You can not continuously disrepect a system and authority that you are also trying to work with, in Tim’s case, to try to save the bears. You said he was being “drawn and quartered from every angle”, why? Because Tim was at that time, breaking the law.

    You said he was trying to “work with the Park Service” in the “rock throwing scene”, this is just ludicrous…TIm was already on the run from the Park service. As far as his intimmidation factors….that is exactly what made Tim a threat to the Parks. He was trying to create injustice for the sake of his own benefit in a Park System that was truly working for these creatures.

    Timothy Treadwell was on a mission for himself. His “created” fame was done by himself…he made the videos, talked to alot of people and made his intentions very, very clear. Timothy Treadwell clearly created his own image. he figured if he could get a spotlight for himself, people would help with his cause. When the people decided that this wasn’t for them, he began taking more and more chances, getting evermore paranoid, and losing site of his main objective.

    “So watching a film where someone dismantles someone else’s character to line their pockets is cool with you?” What kind of question is that? Who were the videos left to when Tim died? Tim’s closest friends and family. Do you think alot of his best friends in the wild would have ok’d a documentary and APPEARED in it, if it were going to dismantle his “image”?

    You told me not to attack you, and I don’t think I have: here is the only previous mention of yourself in my comment.

    “What is sad dear friend is that so many people, like yourself, feel sorry for him and continue to make excuses for his reckless behavior.”

    Is this an attack? Or is questioning someone else’s ethics…and telling them to go to Hollywood..considered an attack? It is answers like this that just totally dispells anything useful that you might have to say…

    Just because someone else has a different viewpoint than you, is not considered an attack. It is called dialogue…being human. You speak of “friends” as if you knew Tim, if in fact you did, then I can see why. You would get along magnificently.

  16. avatar A friend says:

    okay

  17. avatar Nick says:

    This movie is both touching and chilling at times, as Werner Herzog methodically documents Timothy’s spiral into anthropomorphic delusions. But it is far from any kind of character assassination; the film simply presents evidence and implicitly asks the audience to make up their own minds about Treadwell.

  18. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    One quick comment… I worked as a guide in Alaska for quite a while. We worked 24/7 and were a team…if someone had filmed us washing dishes at night after being with clients all day and put that in a documentary on guides you would have thought we were all crazier than Treadwell. anyone, who spends time in Alaska has wacky moments. . whatever else is true or not true about the Treadwell story I knew when I watched that film that is way WAY slanted. . and that you could make a film about bush pilots that would make you never want to fly with them again. . I can’t believe people could take that stuff at face value. Also, I did notice that there is one spot where the narrartor says that Annie is acting afraid of a bear near her. . anyone who has been around bears will recognize that she and the bear were trading non-threatening body language instead and that there were lots of instances when things were mis-interpreted. I don’t think anyone will ever know what really happened but that film is a joke. Much better is Nick Jan’s book on the subject.

  19. avatar Ronnie says:

    I agree, the film from the beginning felt SLANTED.. I would love for someone to make another film on it, who would include much of his interactions which were left out and see what people think after that..
    We all have issues and I have met many people who are much more “crazy” than Tim, they just don’t have a director picking them apart to make a film.
    Did he do some things that were wrong? probably. But I also believe he experienced some things that not many humans have ever experienced around Bears.. Should someone be stopped if their dreams in life might end with death? I believe death would be to suppress a persons dreams in the first place.

  20. avatar A friend says:

    There are two in the works and I believe you and everyone else will be sorely disappointed. So far, I think one of them has a shot. With Hollywood, it isn’t about Treadwell, it’s about the money. Explotation and twisted controversy is the ONLY way they believe the public’s interest can be piqued and watching TV these days, I am afraid I would have to agree. It can be changed but there is just too much money to be made at stake.

  21. avatar Boots says:

    Fact: Treadwell was a recovering heroin addict looking for a diversion.

    Fact: Treadwell, and whoops the park service overlooking his ‘stays’ were responsible not just for his death, but for Annies as well, and yup that big hungry bear that was tempted into eating them.

    Fact: Man eaters loose in a park setting should be destroyed post haste.

    Fact: Treadwell is pushing up daisies this coming spring in Alaska, via bear scat.

    Lesson: You can too, if you follow that dumbskull’s ways. He wins himself a “Darwin award”, thankfully removing himself from the human gene pool.

    Side note: Last time I was in Griz country, I thought of you Ralph. Stay safe and thanks for the repost, even though we may not agree on Tim ‘ Tastewell’….

    PS Merry Christmas!

  22. avatar Mike Post says:

    There is no doubt that the real story here is not about the bears, it is about the psycology of one unschooled self-proclaimed “expert” as he basked in the lime light that always surrounds those who bring the powerpoint presentation about the santized wilderness to those who have not a clue themselves of what exists beyond the asphalt.

    I have seen the movie, and read Nick Jans book. It seems to me that both creators, having vastly different perspectives, seemed to arrive at the same basic conclusion: Treadwell blew it. No one should ever be encouraged to engage in the kind of twisted and harmful interaction with wildlife that Treadwell documented so well. If the reputation of an otherwise decent (?) human being has to suffer because of such a grand mistake in judgement then so be it. Treadwell killed the bear that ate him just as if he pulled the trigger. We need to stand up for that bear’s lost future, mitigate the damage he did in habituating those animals to humans, and not worry about Treadwell’s reputation.

  23. avatar cati says:

    i love tim w/ all my heart

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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