Signs of the Great Bear
Bitterroot youngsters gain some understanding of grizzlies
By TARA GALLAGHER
VICTOR - Five Victor High School students traveled up Bass Creek early Tuesday morning, raked scratches onto a mature pine tree, pressed grizzly-impression footprints into a patch of snow and deposited a largish Yellowstone-originated grizzly scat on the trail.
All was an effort to simulate signs of the Great Bear.
With instruction from Chuck Bartlebaugh, from Missoula, the advanced biology students also rolled a large rock, uprooted at patch of vegetation and knocked apart a rotting stump at the Charles Waters Campground.
Thus embellished, the trail was beset by seventh-grade students, who searched to identify and interpret the bear sign.
The exercise, which teaches students how to recognize bear sign and avoid encounters with bears while hiking and camping, was part of a series of activities in a unit on grizzlies being taught in Victor fifth through twelfth grades. The unit will culminate in a round table discussion April 16 by leading experts on both sides of the debate about reintroducing grizzlies into the Bitterroot Range.
Whether the grizzly is reintroduced or not, say Bartlebaugh and Victor seventh-grade life sciences teacher Barbara Solomon, students will learn to understand the bear, the issue and the means of protecting themselves around wildlife.
“What’s important about this program,” Bartlebaugh said of his organization’s national education and public awareness campaign, “is that communities like Victor live with mountain lions and (black) bears, often in their yards. We may never have an incident, but it’s better to err on the side of safety and prevention.”
Last week Bartlebaugh presented information in Victor classrooms about safety and responsibility about wildlife. This week at the campground, students also learned how to set up a safe camp, including how to erect tents a safe distance from food sources and how to hang food and other bear attractants from trees. They also learned responsible distances from which to view in photograph wildlife.
Victor High School junior BenDrewien, left, takes a turn hoisting a back pack to bear-proof a camp, as part of exercises prepared by Chuck Bartlebaugh of The Center for Wildlife Information, foreground. Drewien and Jorge Cano, right, were among several high school students who helped train younger students to be safe and responsible around wildlife.
Solomon said most of her students have a “bear story,” and they can relate to a setting up a bear-safe camp.
“Whether grizzlies come or not, most of the kids that we have at Victor are in the outdoors a lot,” she said.
Bartlebaugh said the center works with educators from Glacier National Park to Darby, presenting safety information and helping instill a sense of wildlife stewardship. Older students help instruct younger students, helping fulfill a primary goal of the nonprofit organization to set up a self-perpetuating program, he said.
“Part of the stewardship theme is that they take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of the wildlife they enjoy,” he said.
Salmon said the multi-grade, cross-curriculum grizzly units follow a similar, successful study of whirling disease by Victor students, which culminated in a valley-wide, half-day symposium at Victor School in January. Statewide experts on the disease participated in the forum.
Victor sixth-grade science teacher Lisa Hendricks, junior high/high school science teacher Joe Super and Solomon spearheaded the grizzly unit. Reintroduction of grizzlies, Solomon said, is a social, as well as scientific issue that students should be informed about. Teachers realize the topic draws heated opinions and point out that they are not teaching one opinion, but have worked to find neutral, “good, factual, general information,” Solomon said.
Victor seventh-graders James Houser, left, Casey Taylor, in the baseball cap, and Evan Schaefer inspect scratches imitating bear sign on the trunk of a mature pine.
She said many students have strong opinions and have spoken out forcefully about the grizzly reintroduction proposal. As students developed into citizens, she said, they must be able to “step up to an issue and not to have a close mind - certainly not at age 12.” To help students make informed decisions, Solomon said, “we’re trying to introduce the kids to all the different angles of it. Whether you agree with the other side or not, it helps them to at least look at the other side.”
In her classes, students will have to conduct a debate, taking the view opposite their own, as one way to learn to see different sides of any issue. Those wanting top scores will also have to present some of the information they’ve learned to younger students, an activity that was highly successful during the whirling disease unit, she said.
To complete the unit, Solomon’s students will design brochures about wildlife safety and related information. High school students have been creating a videotape of the unit, and sixth-graders will design and informative posters about safety around wildlife.
The next activity in the unit will be a presentation on April 11 by a renowned grizzly bear expert Charles Jonkel.
For the April 16 round table, the teachers sought out people whose opinions are well informed, Solomon said. Presenters will be Wayne Kasworm of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dean Jakes or Steve Christiansen of the Stock Growers Association, Hank Fisher of Defenders of Wildlife, Spence Trogdon Lazy T 4 Outfitters and Mike Bader of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Students from other valley schools will be invited. Events will include students’ questions, questions from the presenters would like to see answered, and informational displays from participants’ organizations.
Education is key to safety near wildlife
By TARA GALLAGHER
April 6, 1996
Victor — The Center for Wildlife Information, whose national spokes person is Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, believes that more information must be provided about individual responsibility and safety precautions around wildlife, says its director Chuck Bartlebaugh.
The number of incidents that occur between humans and wildlife is an indication that people are not getting appropriate information, he said. In addition, sitings are plentiful, with an average of one mountain lion siting per week in the Missoula area, he said.
In addition, the organization takes the stand that “tourists should arrive prepared to be responsible and look at their actions as having to be stewards” of wildlife, Bartlebaugh said. Instead, people have become accustomed to seeing footage of animals in action, and often arrive expecting to be able to photograph such scenes, he said. A passive animal, such as a feeding bison, appears to be tame, and they approach too closely, he said.
But such “wildlife on demand,” Bartlebaugh said, creates “disposable wildlife.”
Part of the problem can be blamed on advertising and other information that implicitly condones feeding of animals or shows them as pet-like, he said. The wildlife center estimates expenditures of such misleading information at more than $50 million annually.
Bartlebaugh said Yellowstone National Park and other parks have worked diligently to educate people about the dangers of feeding and approaching wildlife. In fact, information gathered by the center shows that since the late 1980s, maulings, gorings and deaths from such encounters have moved away from problems with food-habituated bears to incidents with photographers approaching their subjects too closely, he said.
As damaging as the tendency to see wildlife as pets is the trend to cast them as vicious predators and killers, he said. Bears often fit this category. Bartlebaugh said more deer than bears have injured people, and more black bears than grizzlies have injured or killed people. Usually, the incident stems from inappropriate human interaction with wildlife, he said.
Bartlebaugh said safety education is the first phase of the center’s program, to be followed by helping people learn how to enjoy the intrinsic value of wildlife and the outdoors, rather than merely expecting to be entertained by them.
Reprinted with permission from The Bitterroot View and the author.