Killing Bears to Save Bears

Bill Schneider responds on the controversy over taking out “problem bears”-

Killing Bears to Save Bears. Let’s applaud Glacier Park bear managers for killing problem bears. It’s necessary to save the species. By Bill Schneider. New West.






  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I have never been to Oldman Lake in Glacier, but have spent many a night in the Swiftcurrent Campground. I have always slept in a hardsided camper or trailer. You can stand in the campground and if you look carefully at the hillsides on both sides of the campground, you can always see Grizzlies. It is common to see them walk near or through the campground. At one time the park service had a chainlink fenced area in the campground for tent campers, but when I was there two years ago, it was gone and tenters were camping all over the place.
    There are some places in Grizzly country that you shouldn’t allow camping in tents. Swiftcurrent is one and it sounds like Oldman Lake is another. The present park policy of allowing tenters in Swiftcurrent and other campgrounds in high density grizzly habitat will result in more campers being killed by a Grizzly. I was in Glacier when a young Grizzly killed two tenters near St. Mary’s campground.
    The darting incident resulting in the death of the Oldman Lake Grizzly Cub speaks for itself. I am convinced that putting one of those funny looking park ranger hats on a human head results in damage to the part of the brain that controls common sense.

  2. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Larry, are there any places in Glacier where you can only stay in hard-sided campers? I know Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone is that way.

  3. Kropotkin_man Avatar

    Here’s the NPS internal press release:

    Rangers Shoot Habituated Grizzly Deemed Dangerous To Visitors

    By Amy Vanderbilt, Public Affairs Officer
    August 19, 2009

    The “Oldman Lake Bear,” a female grizzly bear that had become highly habituated and had a history of potentially dangerous interactions with humans going back to 2004, was seen heading toward the backcountry campground at Oldman Lake with her two yearling cubs on the afternoon of August 17th. Park staff had been monitoring the bear and rangers were about to close the occupied campground when they saw her approaching. Given her most recent display of over-familiarity and her history of habituation, it had been determined that she presented an unacceptable threat to human health and safety. She was accordingly shot by the rangers, who then darted and tranquilized the two yearlings. One cub died shortly after being tranquilized for unknown reasons. The rangers attempted to resuscitate the yearling by performing mouth to nose CPR, but to no avail. A necropsy (animal autopsy) will be conducted to determine cause of death. The park’s internationally vetted bear management plan and guidelines specify that conditioned bears that display over familiarity must be removed from the wild population. No zoos or other federally-authorized captive facilities were willing to take an adult bear at this time. So far in 2009, three separate incidents had been documented wherein the female grizzly exhibited behavior that could be classified as “repeatedly and purposefully approaches humans in a non-defensive situation.” The female was again demonstrating this same behavior on Monday afternoon. Over the past five years, the female had repeatedly frequented the Morning Star and Old Man Lake backcountry campgrounds, both in the Two Medicine/Cut Bank area. During that time, she produced two sets of offspring. Throughout this period, both the mother grizzly and her offspring approached hikers, forcing them off trails, came into cooking areas while people yelled and waved their arms at the bears, and sniffed at tents during the night. Numerous efforts were attempted to haze the female and her offspring away from backcountry campsites. Since 2004, a variety of aversive conditioning techniques were used to discourage the bear and her young from human interactions. Rangers used noise, Karelian bear dogs, and other non-lethal stimuli to encourage the grizzly to keep away from humans and backcountry campgrounds.

  4. Mike Avatar

    I like Bill Schneiider, but his nonchalant attitutde towards other life is disturbing and surprising in this article.

  5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    There might be one on the west side of the park at the bottom of the going to the sun road, but I haven’t camped in that area for some time and things change.
    Mike- I agree with your comments about Bill’s attitude. He sounds like some of the Biologists who get callous about the animals they study and start treating them like disposable livestock.
    This bear was in the area for over ten years. I suspect it has been darted and collared many times. Many observers of wildlife have made reference to the aggressiveness of bears that are repeatedly drugged and handled.

  6. jimbob Avatar

    I agree with Mike above—anybody who believes that killing “problem” grizzlies is necessary is playing the political game. It has been mentioned on this blog before about our “remove all risk culture”. You will never remove all risk from ANY activity—even reading books in the library can result in your death if some human comes in firing a gun. Why then do bears HAVE to be killed? Risk management? You assume risk when you enter the forest. Why is it our society is full of people with this view? Politics!?!?

  7. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Larry I too will not sleep on the ground in grizzly country. When I do book readings this question comes up sometimes in the question and answer period. I believe that people on the ground in tents could appear to a bear like meat cached by another animal. It doesn’t happen very often, but I like bears too much to temp them. I would use an electric fence which are now a possibility even for backpackers or sleep off the ground. If it couldn’t be avoided I would be up all night and sleep in the day, like they do. I wonder if it were possible for the park management to provide electric protection for backcountry over night campers in grizzly bear habitat?

  8. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    I think Bill wrote the article in New West in a manner to provoke a lot of responses. This he has succedded in.

    As for camping in Griz country most of mine was on poacher stake outs. Thus it was in country bears didn’t anticipate folks.

    Therefore I took more precautions than most. This included piling dead branches (makes noise as well as keeps bears away from side of tent) about three feet high all around the tent. Then I urinated around it also. After dark before exiting I always shone the flashlight front first then to the sides upon getting further out, then in a full circle. Much of my travel to the area of poacher contact was done from a camp maybe a mile from the camp. I’d leave the horses picketed and then head out in the dark…with a flashlight taped to either the shotgun or rifle. This is how it went for hundreds of nights away from the cabins. Lots of close calls with bears but I came away with no war wounds.

    I will have to say when one wakes from a sound sleep in the middle of a night and hears the huffing circling the tent, dead branches or not, the effect when you are alone is no different than when I would hear the pounding of horses hooves coming up the game trail in the earliest of morning light….after two to three years of waiting at that spot for ten days of each year. The gun gets awful heavy, the breath is short and the heart is really pounding. Such is how it is when one is a part of the woods instead of dominating it.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’ve spent hundreds of nights camped in the Teton and Washakie Wildernesses, usually by myself. I did two hiking guidebooks.

    I never had a grizzly come into camp and bother me. Sometimes I’d find their tracks nearby in the morning.

  10. Tilly Avatar

    Is there anywhere we can read more of your Yellowstone tales? I hope you are working on your memoirs!

  11. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    The Sierra Club of San Francisco wanted me to write a book. Would provide me with a writer, ghost writer or co author…however I wanted it. They’d give me $5,000 up front and another $2,500 when it was published. Royalities were very little until any additional printings. The kicker was I also had to sign a document saying any script or movie money went to them and and the contract writer (s). Plus no information I gave in this book could be used in any other books I chose to write or have written.

    To me it all seemed a scam set up to benefit others.

    I have also had several script writers approach me but since I have no weight in the world of movies I pretty much have no control of the output. Just sign my name and look pretty with chaps and a lever action I guess.

    If there was to be a book or movie I think it would have to be a Cohen Brother one. You see there are no heroes in the horse world I lived in. I had a district ranger who loved the accolades of the tourists when he rode his horse to the Ham Store. He had pictures of Canadian Monties on the walls in his office and he dressed his horse to look like one. One time a savvy tourist approached me and asked me “who’s the dork on the horse?”. Get it?

    The hunting guides grind down the outside of the heels to their boots so they can walk bow legged. Wranglers take their horse through deep holes on the river with their legs down so when they come back to the outfitter camp all can see it was rough out their.

    I had an office bound chief ranger who was deathly afraid of horses, but his wife gave him some worn saddle bags for his birthday. He then prominently displayed these hanging on the coat rack of his office. All the visitors to his office would note this and of course he did nothing to dispell the inferrence.

    It all a Walter Mitty world …and a perfect Cohen movie. If you want to read some of the world I was in Gary Ferguson’s book, Hawks Rest, won a lot of awards. Thanks for inquiring

  12. Mike Avatar

    Bob wow what a terrible deal you were offered on the book. I would have turned it down as well.

  13. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I flew into the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary in Alaska 23 years ago and spent 5 nights in a small tent. The first night I counted 13 large brown bears within a mile from my tent before I crawled in to sleep. There were 10-12 bears in sight every night while I was there. It rained constantly and the wind blew so hard that I couldn’t hear any bears if they did prowl around my tent at night, but knowing they were close made me sleep very lightly. We were told to treat the bears as if they were large dogs and to throw rocks at them if they came into camp. None of them came into camp, so I didn’t throw any rocks. One of my fellow campers took one look at the bears his first evening, and slept on the table in the cook shack each night for the duration of his stay. The famous Japanese photographer, Michio Hoshino, was was camped near me. He was killed by a brown bear several years ago while sleeping in a tent in Russia.

  14. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    To all of you talking about camping in grizzly country, while it may be dangerous, it is also a rewarding experience as you are visitors in the bear’s home. As far as removing a risk, that is a double edged sword. While I would prefer all bears who are “problems” get relocated, sometimes you do have to shoot one. I just think they should have tried to relocate this sow and try harder to giver her aversive conditioning. The cat that she had been in the area so long makes me wonder how proactive they were.

  15. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Larry do you know the full story of how Michio Hoskino was killed? There was a film crew at the outstation trying to film fierce grizzly bears for a Russian movie and they couldn’t find any so they baited this large male into camp and tortured him to make him growl and swat and charge. Then Michio came not speaking any Russian and they picked on him too, but never told him about the bear . . he slept outside to get away from those in the cabin and the bear took out his aggression on him. This information came to me through Charlie Russell’s writing and I can’t remember exactly where but Charlie went there to piece together what happened. So often someone is killed by a bear but the information that would save other lives is hidden or just plain wrong to protect some human action . . bears will eat dead bodies and I wonder how many times they have been blamed for a killing they didn’t do. Too bad bears can’t tell their side of a story. When you think about it, it is a way to get away with murder . . just kill someone in bear country using “blunt trauma” and then make sure the bears have immediate access. You don’t even have to be careful about leaving clues because assumed bear maulings are not treated as crime scenes.

  16. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I was in Yellowstone twenty years ago when a photographer was killed on Otter Creek by a Grizzly. I was at Otter Creek when park rangers shot and killed the bear. When I happened to read the report years later, the bear supposedly killed the photographer the afternoon before he was found in the morning eating him. The only problem with the report, was that I saw the Grizzly (It had a large yellow radio collar) just before dark ( when it was supposedly eating the photographer) accross the Yellowstone River from Otter Creek, looking for a place to come accross the river. I had first observed this bear higher on the slope above the river during the afternoon while it was supposedly killing the photographer. I think the photographer may have died from a heart attack or some other cause and that the bear found and ate him. I wasn’t aware that the bear was thought to have killed the photographer the day before he was found, or I would have reported my observation at that time. I thought the photographer was killed the same morning they shot the bear.

  17. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Just to answer a previous question, there is no hard sided only camping areas in Glacier…

  18. Mike Avatar

    I’ve spent a lot of time in Glacier (my favorite national park) at all of the campgrounds. I’ve never had a problem with bears, although that’s not to say that it isn’t possible. I would say that for me, Many Glacier campground is the spookiest in terms of proximity to bears. You can see them feeding up on the slopes before you go to bed. There was an incident where a bear did come down into the Many Glacier campground and kill a sleeping tenter back in 1976.

  19. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson


    I and another guy were the ones who dug up, bagged and then carried the guys billfold and lilly white skull to the service road. the camera tripod was bent over and some of the remains had been buried in a couple spots…all within yards of the tri pod. I had always thought the guy got had before he had time to take any pictures. Then a couple years ago in talking with bear management they said they had pictures of the scene and bear from that camera. I never got to see the pictures but I guess if it is shown the guy had gotten charged while the guy was sitting up for Custers last stand (the spot was on a small knoll well away from any trees) then “your” yellow ribbon bear was a different one.

    One thing is know by me. The guy, a photographer from Helena who was economically desperate to get close up photos of Griz, had set his tri pod up…something pic takers don’t do unless there is something there to photo.

    Oh, bears don’t like the skin of humans either. The skin was peeled from the neck to his blue jeans. just a tid bit for the meek of heart.

  20. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Thanks for the descriptions Bob.

  21. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The campground you call Many Glacier is the same one I call Swift Current. It is just up the canyon from the Many Glacier Hotel. I am not sure what the official name is. I see Grizzlies there everytime I camp and would not sleep on the ground in that campground. I once observed some park rangers shooting bighorn ewes and lambs with rubber bullets on the road between the Hotel and campround. I guess they posed an “unacceptable risk” to the people in the picnic area. Maybe the rangers thought the people would break their fingernails while petting the lambs.

  22. Ryan Avatar


    Maybe they were deterring it because they don’t want the sheep to become tame, lambs and ewes are fine but a rutted up ram with no respect for humans in a campground sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    As for shooting the bear, habituated bears are much more likely to attack than non habituated bears and although killing 1 bear might have created a minor ruckus, the park service allowing a bear that they know is habituated to maul someone would create a much bigger fiasco. The bear would most likely die if it was relocated or cause problems in that area instead.

  23. Jay Avatar

    “I once observed…” Seems like every LT post has that phrase in it.

    Larry, maybe, just maybe, those out of control park rangers were acting in the best interest of the sheep, did that ever cross your mind? Have you ever heard of road kill Larry? Maybe they didn’t want someone to plow through a group with their motorhome and take out a pile of sheep in one incident.

    Nah, they were just harassing them for fun, and maybe to make it a bit more difficult for you to take photos.

  24. Mike Avatar

    Larry – Interesting comments.

    I’m pretty sure the official name is the Many Glacier Campground now:

    Although it is right next to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn(basically borders the parking lot as you know). You have probably been going there longer than I.

    I spent a week in Many Glacier last fall (Sept 24-31) and slept on the ground in that campground. There were about five other people max camping out, and I had a site next to the creek there. Lots of sleet, snow and rain to be sure. The bathrooms were closed up except for a single outhouse. I saw grizzly bears feeding on the slopes daily, and a ton of black bears along the main road into the Swiftcurrent Inn parking lot.

    That part of the park was virtually empty due to the nasty weather. I had a nice time but quite gloomy. The bears seemed to love it and were all over.

    I never really felt unsafe, but I did feel more exposed compared to Apgar campground and Two Medicine campground(even though I encountered a large black bear at Two Medicine last fall next to my camp – again there were two parties in the entire campground).

    I’ve always enjoyed tenting in that park, but it does have a history.

  25. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I have been going to Many Glacier for around 40 years. The Bighorn ewes and lambs at Many Glacier have always been tame. The rangers were not shooting at rams, they were shooting rubber bullets at ewes and lambs. Their crime was begging for potato chips in the picnic area.
    I saw a ranger shoot a bighorn ewe in the head with his pistol (real bullets) just below the Many Glacier Hotel after it couldn’t get up after being darted and radio-collared by a researcher. I have a photo in my files of the radio-collared dead ewe with blood pumping out of the bullet hole in her head. The ranger wanted my roll of film because he said it was: ” An Un-authorized Photo”. He didn’t get it.
    Jay- Did you like that observation?

  26. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I enjoyed Bob Jackson’s description of enforcement stakeout work in bear country. I had a somewhat similar job my first full summer in Alaska in 1976 at age 19. We staked out salmon streams on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula for commercial fishermen fishing in closed waters. We worked mostly in pairs (but occasionally alone) usually spending 4 days on a particular stream. A substantial portion of the local seine fleet, based in the Shumigan Islands and King Cove, was involved in creek robbing at the time (not so much now with more abundant salmon runs and higher quality standards).

    We had to hide our camp in the alders along the creek bottom where the bears traveled and fished, with heaviest activity seemingly at night. I was very green to say the least, as were the three other seasonal enforcement aids based out of Sand Point. On my first stakeout, I was put in a stream that was full of bears with a first year law enforcement student who had been in Alaska only 4 days.

    On the first evening, we decided to let the bears have the creek bottom at night and, the weather being fair, laid out our sleeping bags just inside the edge of the grass along the beach berm where we could be most vigilant for nocturnal creek robbering. We began picking out the glistening coasts of brown bears as they descended from the mountains from seemingly everywhere, crossing a grassy belt between the high alder patches and those along the creek bottom. As evening fell, we also noticed an iridescent jet of magma spewing hundreds of feet from the side of Mt. Pavlof across the bay, fading to cherry red as it streamed to the sea. The scene was completed with a bear in the foreground chasing salmon in the surf at the creek mouth.

    I felt assured all of this excitement would motivate us to stay awake and vigilant all night. Never-the-less, I awoke suddenly in the early morning hours, startled and appalled at the sight of fresh bear tracks approaching to about 3 feet from my sleeping bag before spraying sand in three leaps and returing to a walk as they continued along the beach.

    The following night, I chambered a round and set the rifle arms length away on the side of my sleeping bag opposite my partner assured that this time I would for sure remain awake. Again, I awoke with a start in the early morning hours, but this time found myself laying directly atop the .350 Rem. carbine with the safety pushed off. I’ve never had a more vivid lesson in where to watch first for danger . . . . Those bears were pretty well satiated and not much interested in us or our food. There is a small fraction that are just plain dangerous any time, just like with humans I suppose. I ran into one that summer, but fortunately was sleeping in a cabin at the time.

  27. Jay Avatar

    I once saw a wildlife photographer harass wildlife to get a picture to sell. Actually, I’ve seen it numerous times. Maybe you were one of them Larry?

  28. Linda Hunter Avatar

    seek Mossback . .thanks for a great story!

  29. mikepost Avatar

    Some of the outrage here amazes me. It is no secret that any animal that becomes habituated to humans as a food source eventually gets into trouble, usually dead in some manner, direct or indirect. I have never heard of any successful mechanism to “brainwash” the food habituation out of these animals. Once it happens, they are doomed, and responsible authorities are doomed to act as well. Hazing aggressive wildlife to creat fear of humans is one of the most humane acts we can perform.

  30. Jay Avatar

    Not according to Larry, Mike–he’d prefer to allow the behavior to get worse to the point a person gets hurt, AND the animal has to be put down. A win-win in his eyes, apparently…

  31. Mike Avatar

    My neighbor has a pit bull that is definitely a little “off”. It gets too close to little kids. Should I go out into the neighborhood and shoot it to prevent something bad from happening?

  32. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    I think William Tesinsky is the photographer who got eaten by a “habituated” roadside grizzly in Hayden Valley in the 1980s. As I recall, the NPS developed his film, and he was quite close to the bear. Nobody saw the bear kill Tesinsky, but it’s assumed the bear killed him and ate him.

    Gary Larson did a cartoon in which you’re looking over the shoulders of two bears at a couple of people on the ground in sleeping bags. One bear says to the other, “sandwiches.”

    I’ve never gone in for the notion that bears “mistake” people in sleeping bags for carrion. Bears are curious, and they’ll investigate a person sleeping on the ground, or a tent. Bright colored tents get more scrutiny, as do rectangular tents. It’s best to blend in with a dome type tent in camo or a natural color. The flimsy nylon walls of a tent offer no physical protection against bears, however, bears tend to approach strange new object cautiously.

    1. Shantal Murphy Avatar
      Shantal Murphy

      Hey Dave this is an old post – But just so you know the facts. There were no pictures on Tesinsky’s camera of the bear that killed him. Tesinsky was my father and I have the pictures. Scenery shots.

  33. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    I was a bit away from where the bear got shot. He was eating the guys rib cage. The rangers who shot this bear said it was the most awful sound they ever heard…of human ribs breaking.

  34. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    I’m sure Glacier NP was genuinely concerned for people who might be injured by the bears, but I’m sure officials were equally concerned with tort claims and lawsuits. Killing the bears was a pre-emptive strike.

    We should not be discussing “problem bears;” instead, the discussion should focus on bear-human conflicts. The bears were habituated and perhaps food-conditioned. People caused those problems. Glacier NP’s “bear management” policies failed. Why? The NPS needs to evaluate what went wrong instead of killing the bears and saying, all is well. We got rid of the problem.


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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