The Grizzly in the Driveway by Rob Chaney: Book Review and Discussion

First of all, I would recommend reading this book, and possibly giving it as a gift to people with TSW-like interests.

Rob Chaney, well-known journalist and currently Managing Editor of the Missoulian, is the author.  He’s got a strong background in this and other federal lands issues, knows and interviews many of the key people, and tells great stories.  The stories alone are worth the price of admission.  Naturally, I disagree with his views on all kinds of topics, but I both learned much from, and was greatly entertained by his stories.

Apparently there are internet communities around specific bears as Chaney discusses in the chapter titled “Ursus arctos Facebookii.”  There’s also a discussion of drone-induced wildlife harassment (where do all those videos come from anyway?).  More generally, there’s much of interest in this book, and Chaney is an excellent writer.  In fact, you can see in the photo that I placed so many tabs for things I considered to be interesting.. well, there’s so many it held me up from writing this review. Where to start?

The grizzly is Nature’s performance-enhancing drug.

Yest taking that drug, while it may make you better, it will also extract a price. Because what do you do when you enter the wilderness? You meet the wild. You meet thunderstorms that rattle your teeth, rivers that rip your boots off, and , just maybe, a grizzly bear that might maul you.  You measure yourself against the Universe, see how infinitesimally tiny you are compared to the indifferent cosmos, and yet you come out somewhat enlarged.

Take the bear out of the temple, and the magic becomes indifferent.  The thunderstorms and rivers and mountain peaks don’t look you in the eye.  They don’t pass judgment on your worthiness, or edibility, or threat potential.  It’s not anthropomorphizing to say the grizzly makes a decision about any encounter between the two of you, once in which you have virtually no standing to justify or sway.  As the Glacier Park t-shirt says “Some days the bear gets you; some days it just walks away.” Get sanctified by a a grizzly bear, and you wear a pan-denominational robe of glory.

Anyone with any affinity for wilderness longs for that kind of transfiguration.  That promise that if I go in deep, I will return empowered, enlighted- or at least verified as beyond merely human.

I used to call the attitudes of some folks “carnivolatry.”  This isn’t, strictly speaking, accurate, as it seemed to be mostly about wolves and grizzlies (an omnivore) and not so much about mountain lions. “Transfiguration,” “sanctified” and all spiritual/religious terminology.  Personally, I like Wilderness as a place to be with (usually) fewer humans and (usually) more quiet.  Being challenged by large animals is not part of what I go there for; in fact, it’s a bit of a pain for me to follow the grizzly rules as I like to be there alone.  That’s why I prefer places without them. But I’d never read about these religious views before “temple”  “magic” and so on.

I like this quote about the Wilderness Act:  “the result is a law commanding preservation of places never well understood for relatively undefined purposes.”

And how Native Americans (who disagree among themselves, as he notes) and Tribal sovereignty might influence decision-making.

“Some people derive life-changing benefit from seeing a grizzly. What is that worth? How does a Hindu explain to a Muslim that in India a cow is sacred and must be allowed to wander in the streets unmolested, until it wanders across the border into Pakistan , where it’s a commodity to be eaten and tanned into leather? How do I tell a Hutterite Farmer on the Rocky Mountain Front that my grizzly siting is worth his family having to live behind electric fences? All those precepts get thrown in a blender when North America’s sovereign Indian Nations get involved. And they have, in a big way.”

Then there’s the spiritual rights argument..

Does an Indian making a spiritual-rights claim by protecting a grizzly bear from a hunter actually commit hunter harassment, a criminal offense in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho? Or would the protection be a treaty-backed, constitutional exercise in Freedom of Religion?

It is the position of the FWS that they cannot consider the religious implications of their delisting decision because this would conflict with the ESA,” the tribal attorneys wrote in Crow Tribe vs. Zinke. This position is in violation of RFRA  (Religious Freedoms Restoration Act) and is arbitrary and capricious.

There’s a section on women in Indigenous traditions and shamanic work, including the work of Barbara Tedlock.

There’s a whole chapter called “The Bear on the Bicycle” about biking and bear conflicts, which I’m sure is of interest to many.  And other recreationists that were not around in the past.. like endurance runners.

Such runners routinely race fifty miles across the Bob Marshall core in a dayy, on a route that professional outfitters like Smoke Elser spend a week leading dudes on horseback through the most productive grizzly habitat in the Lower 48. Few can afford the thousands of dollars such guided adventures cost. Fewer still have the stamina to “Bag the Bob” in a twenty-four-hour ultramarathon. Yet both groups claim a vested interest in teh heart of the biggest bit of landscape in the contiguous United States that grizzly bears still call home.

Who am I to tell the runners to stay home? I was out there too, packing a three-ounce titanium cooking post instead of an outfitter’s cast-iron skillet. I enjoy the assistance of modern technology in ways that don’t involve wheels.

The Endangered Species Act asks people to think about what adjustments we’re willing to make for other forms of life. National surveys show most people support such sacrifices. This breaks the debate down to two questions.  First, do we want to keep having wild grizzly bears? If no, then the Endangered Species Act “problem” goes away with them.

But if we say yes, we want grizzlies, then the debate becomes all about limits and sacrifices.  Not only loggers and miners, but bikers and hikers must leave something on the table for the bear.

It does seem a bit ironic that “loggers” who came to grizz country were bad news for coming in and cutting trees..and miners, whose behavior was fairly predictable,  but the various forms of recreation reach much further, more regularly, and for all seasons of the year.  Maybe the bear would be better off if the loggers and miners returned, and all varieties of recreationist were excluded.  Just a thought.

Anyway, there are many possible discussion topics in this book.  The comments below will remain open if you want to read the book and discuss further.  As you can tell from the tabs in the photo, I only touched upon a few of the interesting things in this post.

2 thoughts on “The Grizzly in the Driveway by Rob Chaney: Book Review and Discussion”

  1. The National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently had their North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE) Grizzly Bear (GB) Restoration EIS scoping comment period, which was remarkable for its disinformation by omission. In characterizing Ursus arctos as a threatened species that is critically endangered in the NCE they failed to mention that U. arctos is a successful holarctic species numbering more than 200,000 individuals, of which about 100,000 are full adults, throughout its 48-nation occupied range. They failed to mention that some 58,000 of those bears live in North America, with about 20,000 living in Canada.

    They also failed to mention that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists U. arctos as a species of least concern with a stable population. Nor did they mention the existence of an organization named the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which is responsible for assessing the status of species at risk of extinction in Canada . . . and which operates right next door to FWS stomping grounds.

    The fact that NPS policy forbids it from importing species that pose a threat to staff, contractors, or visitors? Not a peep.

    Not only that, but the joint NPS/FWS EIS process for their previous attempt to do essentially what they are proposing to do now was terminated. By the Secretary of the Interior. Who announced the termination at a board of county commissioners meeting in Okanogan County, Washington.

    The previous FWS director, in her confirmation hearing, stated that both the wolf and the grizzly bear are biologically recovered and need to be delisted so that the resources being lavished on the wolf and the bear can be reallocated to other far more greatly imperiled species who are in far greater need of those resources for their recovery. (Lesser prairie-chickens and Northern long-eared bats, Black-footed ferrets, and several others spring immediately to mind.) Not a single senator, from either party, challenged her assessment.

    Just a little bit more context when thinking about U. arctos, bears in general, and how we should manage them.

    • The 1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan identifies six distinct recovery zones, and unique recovery criteria for the six different grizzly bear populations. The North Cascades is one of the populations, and 0≠recovery. Whether any individual population could be considered “recovered” in isolation is an open biological question, but legally (so far, and my interpretation), they can not be delisted separately because the species as a whole has not recovered in all of the designated recovery zones.

      Please provide the specific NPS policy on species introduction that you are referring to. Of course, if it conflicts with a law requiring federal agencies to promote recovery of listed species (which ESA does), it wouldn’t be a valid policy.


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