posted: April 29th, 2010 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: OK, it’s official! On May 17th Montana Public TV will air a “Night of the Grizzlies” retrospective.
As many may recall, 43 years ago on August 13, 1967, two young women were fatally mauled, one at Granite Park Chalet, the other, at Trout Lake. A huge mountain range separated the two incidents as did about eight linear miles, making it impossible for the same grizzly bears to have been involved in both tragedies. However, conditions at both sites were similar in that the bears had been habituated to people by the presence of garbage.
GARBAGE THE CULPRIT
At Granite Park Chalet, managers were intentionally disposing of garbage immediately behind the rustic stone building, doing so to attract grizzly bears. Unfortunately, the route the bears followed to the chalet passed directly through the Granite Park Chalet campground, and on that horrible night, the route led directly to where a young woman was camped.
At Trout Lake campers had been disposing of excess food or food they couldn’t eat, creating odors that also attracted bears. Much the same had happened at other park campgrounds, but the conditions were particular serious at this beautiful site because it also happened to be some of the park’s best bear habitat.
As a young ranger in the park, I was involved with the two incidents, tangentially at Granite Park Chalet, and personally at Trout Lake. At Granite Park Chalet, I heard the call for help over the radio as I was shuttling a huge CAT over Logan Pass. It was about midnight and I was on road patrol, and the radio pack set at the chalet was apparently too small for effective transmission. From my patrol car (I was working that summer as a road patrol ranger) I relayed the message to headquarters.
The next morning I was astounded when Norman Hagen, another ranger, pounded on my door and said that I must hightail it to Trout Lake, for there had apparently been another bear mauling.
In previous posts I’ve reported on my involvement, and much of this will be replayed May 17th. But Montana Public TV interviewed everyone involved, and there were many others; and some played particularly significant roles. There was a doctor, a helicopter pilot, and a ranger stationed at Granite Park. There were hikers who had accompanied the victims, and tried — after the mauling — to do what they could. There was Leonard Landa, a ranger and my partner in tracking down and disposing of the bear. There was a minister at Granite Park, who provided comfort…
I believe the TV company found most all these people, so the reporting promises to be thorough. Gus Chambers, one of the program’s film makers, tells me that they have also recreated many of the scenes using actors, so I will be anxious to see how this comes off. (Did they choose Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp to portray me?)
Gus says he will soon known the URL for an Internet “streamed” version and that he will share it when it is final. That means people all over the world can watch the program on their home computers. I’m excited as I believe the program will dispel many myths.
100 YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Presumably, because the program is airing on the 100 year anniversary of Glacier National Park there will also be some retrospective on what conditions were like in 1967, and what they are like now. At the time, after finding the body of one of the young women, I had to wonder why we needed bears in Glacier, but my thoughts have changed. They’ve changed because these magnificent beasts are no longer habituated to garbage, and that means your chances of encountering a grizzly bear are really very, very small.
Put another way, you are probably safer hiking the trails of Glacier than you are driving through the Flathead Valley to the park’s various entrance stations. In other words, you are forewarned about inherent problems, and you can certainly elect to remain off the trails; but then you’d be missing a lot. Though there are problems sometimes, park rangers and managers have learned much over the past four decades and are doing a good job today of “Keeping Glacier’s Grizzly Bears Wild.”
THIS TIME LAST YEAR