Autumn will be time for most grizzly problems

Hyperphagia and hunting season relates to more grizzly/human encounters-

Hyperphagia is period of intensive feeding by grizzly bears before hibernation. They will consume as much food as possible to make it through their period of hibernation. We are now entering the start of that period, one that results in more encounters with humans, now that so many of the bear’s sources of food inside Yellowstone Park, such as the whitebark pine have died.

A cynic might also say that politicians are entering hyperphagia too, gorging on campaign contributions for the next election. Put the two together and crash may be inevitable. While grizzlies have lost many of their old food sources, politicians now have unlimited corporate contributions to eat because the Supreme Court has made corporations into people.  Their one vote margin decision in the Citizens United case and exploitation of existing campaign finance loopholes means that they can drop millions or even billions of dollars and make much of it anonymous.

It is clear that their elected representatives are crafting a new narrative how grizzlies are causing more and more trouble, this after a successful generation of better public knowledge and tolerance of the great bear.

We can expect every grizzly encounter story this fall (there will probably be 10 or so maulings) will say something like this “Wallace’s mauling death came as run-ins between humans and the Yellowstone region’s growing bear population reached record levels last year [emphasis added], according to a report this week by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, a group that includes state, federal and tribal wildlife agencies.” This is from the recent MSN story on the grizzly caused death of the hiker in Hayden Valley, which is dead center inside Yellowstone Park where the region’s bear population is completely irrelevant.

These corporation backed politicians are creating a “narrative,” which is a political story created to justify certain policies and/or oppose other policies.  Pretty much every organized interest creates narratives to further its political goals.  Some are close to the truth; others are patently false. Their effectiveness, however, depends not such much on their truth, but on how many political resources are available to propagate the narrative. Money is one of the most important political resources and, for the moment, at least, no one can compete financially with the resource extractive interests or the money from reactionary billionaires and centimillionaires.

For serious reading about the construction of political narratives, the book, Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making, Revised Edition [Paperback]
Deborah Stone (Author) is very good.



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  1. SAP Avatar

    Ralph wrote: ” . . . crafting a new narrative how grizzlies are causing more and more trouble, this after a successful generation of better public knowledge and tolerance of the great bear.”

    Good insight. I’d add that the narrative isn’t particularly new — they’ve been saying the same stuff for 30-odd years. Even when there were only about 200 bears left in Greater Yellowstone, people would point to any conflict as evidence that there were just too many bears.

    “Too many bears” is of course highly subjective. One bear can seem like “too many” if we’re not doing what we can to minimize conflicts.

    My sense is there’s some sort of meta-narrative that goes back at least to Nixon and his “silent majority.” The narrative tells of a group of “bad” people who either have nefarious motives (Bolsheviks among us who wish to enslave everyone, or who secretly work for the Rockefellers, or who want to become fabulously wealthy via Equal Access to Justice Act ‘exploitation’), or they are just soft-hearted, soft-headed romantics who are almost as dangerous in their lack of “realism.”

    The “good” people, Lord knows they’ve tried to tolerate these Abbie Hoffman types and their crazy schemes, but enough is enough!

    So, in the narrative, it’s time for the “good” people, the “real” whatevers (man, I could generate a list as long as my arm of instances of that — anti-gay bigots speaking of “Real Vermonters” who oppose civil unions; “Pro-America parts of America” from Palin; a county commissioner telling the Forest Service that she spoke for the “real people” who were too busy working to come to a meeting, so on and so forth) to have their day, to “take their country back.”

    The pushback against this caricature counter-culture has been going on for a long time, and spans a wide range of issues: gay rights, cultural diversity, welfare, the environment (oh, how they love their tropes about them college boys with all their arrogant book-learnin’, doing things that really backfire that anyone with a little common sense coulda told ’em wouldn’t work), and so on.

    The puppet masters know how well this all plays, how it keeps em distracted why they get robbed blind. Your jobs are in China, your kids’ school is falling down around them, your water and air are not safe — OH LOOK OVER THERE! LIBERALS! WOLF LOVERS! Blame THEM!

    [I am ranting. You want the reasoned, thorough account, check out this link: )

    So, we went from 1986 to 2010 without a grizzly-caused human fatality in Greater Yellowstone, which is really remarkable. Then, we ended up with a run of four deaths in 2010 and 2011 (so far — it’s a long time til the bears den up).

    Is this a “trend”? Well, let’s take out two deaths as very explainable: Frank Evert accidentally found himself at a trap site with a grizzly recovering from drugging and handling – a wildly improbably event that should never happen again.

    Brian Matayoshi’s unfortunate death is just something that statistically we should expect once in awhile, especially if people aren’t carrying bear spray. Female grizzlies are going to hurt people now and again; it’s amazing that more people DON’T get killed, considering how fast and strong bears are. And yes, statistically we should expect more such encounters if we triple the bear population concurrent with a 50% increase in park visitors.

    If we aren’t going to do something on the people side to limit the encounter rate (area closures, trail restrictions), then we have to focus on doing what we can to change the outcomes of these encounters. Training and bear pepper spray are the two things that can safely change outcomes regardless of encounter rate (with the caveat that at some point, individual bears are really going to suffer from a high encounter rate).

    The other two fatalities – we really don’t know what happened in the latest killing (John Wallace), as there are no witnesses. I have yet to learn whether the bear(s) fed on Mr. Wallace. All we really know is that he was in a place with a lot of grizzlies and he had no realistic defense system (bear pepper spray or a firearm).

    The killing up by Cooke City of Kevin Kammer is, as far as we know, a scary and hard-to-explain event. Bears are individuals, and they are predators. Sometimes they’re going to do things that are out of the ordinary with no known trigger. Worth pointing out that a family dog recently attacked and killed its owners’ new baby:

    Crazy bad stuff is going to happen once in awhile. How many people freaking out over “too many bears!” are on a campaign to keep dogs away from infants?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Thanks SAP,

      This is another of a long history of short essays you have written on this blog as comments.

      I agree about the meta-narrative. I think it has been around in one form or another long before Nixon the and the 1960s unrest.

      The period from 1932 or so until the 60s was very unusual in the context of American history. Political controversy during that period focused on economics, bread and butter issues. The cultural issues were largely ignored when someone tried to raise them.

      The scholarly discipline of political science grow up during this unusual period, and I think that generation of political scientists was slow to realize that in American politics the economically powerful had typically diverted the political organization of the poor, the working and middle classes into cultural conflict with each other.

      By the mid 1970s, conservative business elites had regained their confidence and began the successful organization that has reempowered them and left the country fighting over cultural issues while accepting economic policies that promote more and more inequality, e.g., divide and conquer.

      1. SAP Avatar

        Yep – a friend of mine told me recently there would be no point to me trying Twitter!

        Interesting perspective on the evolution of political science. Thanks for that. Dare I cross this line? Why not: It’s funny how folks think the fall of communism somehow totally discredits Karl Marx. Sure, communism was an abject failure, and Marx and his adherents were pretty naive in thinking it would work, I think. And the idea that communism would be a historic inevitability is, as far we know, a little laughable.

        But, as far as Marx’s critiques of capitalism and the industrial revolution: spot on. Capitalism is destroying itself. It’s also incredibly dehumanizing, stealing people’s individuality, autonomy, and dignity.

        Marx could not have foreseen the irony of capitalism persuading people that they could get individuality, autonomy, and dignity back by buying the products the industrialists tell them to.

  2. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue


    That was a post that was a very good read.

    1. DB Avatar

      Agree. Interesting post and comment. Keeps me coming back to this site.

  3. Chuck Avatar

    It amazes me, you take a person like Lone Eagle Woman, she spends generally 3 months back in the thorofare, ya she had a couple close encounters with bears, I know she use to carry an air horn and am not sure if she carries bear sray now or not, my guess is not. Then I go on to one of my favorite hunting forums and so many big bad hunters are affraid to go back there elk hunting because of all the grizzly bears. My closest encounter with a sow and 2 cubs was amazing, I watched her stop and start digging up something and it looked like each paw full of dirt would fill a 5 gallon bucket. Both my wife and I always carry bear spray when ever we are in grizzly country. They are awesome animals to watch and I could sit for hours and watch them. It really bothers me when a bear is killed for just being a bear, after all we are the ones tresspassing on their land and they are protecting their young or their food. That incident last year up in Cooke city was a tragedy indeed. I had always heard that the black bears were more predatory then other bears, that they were more likey to hunt a human down. But they are just what they are, wild animals.

  4. Linda Jo Hunter Avatar

    Thanks Sap . . so true. I remember growing up there was a narrative about bears that ran through all of life that basically they were an animal that would unpredictably run out of the woods and rip you to shreds. I still encounter true believers of that “common knowledge” as soon as somebody mentions I wrote a book about bears several well meaning people come up to me to tell me that bears are dangerous and I shouldn’t be out tracking them cause I am gonna die! My knowledge of bears took me years to acquire and I am now way more afraid of humans than bears. It does make one wonder, however, how many things I believe, which I haven’t taken time to research myself, that are also false. Our brains are not big enough to sift what we think we know from what we actually know in most cases. . you hear something on the news . . say that peanut butter is bad for you. . and you file it somewhere in your brain without examining the facts or asking why and how they got that information and you have just become someone’s puppet. We get so much information every day that we can’t sort it. I have met that black bear male they talk about that decides humans look easy and bitable and are stalking me with every intention of an easy meal. Surprisingly they are pretty easy to deter even without pepper spray. You just have to use you got given anger and convince them you ain’t going down without a fight. Pepper spray does a good job of that, however, and it is easier to use.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan