Louisa Willcox talks with a man who pulls no punches when talking about the management problems of the ecosystems and the political dominance of the livestock industry over all other values on public lands. Chuck Neal, ecologist, author, and grizzly bear expert, and old friend and colleague spent 40 years as an ecologist working for the Departments of Interior and Agriculture across the West, from New Mexico to Montana, with a special emphasis on wilderness and habitat. Chuck has a passion for grizzly bears and has spent countless hours in Yellowstone’s backcountry in the company of bears. His book, Grizzlies in the Mist makes for a fascinating read.
"…The grizzly bear has always been the symbol of wild America. I’ve often said the wolf may be the voice of wild America, but the grizzly bear is the symbol, the spirit of wild America. It’s a highly iconic species… And looking ahead through the lens of an ecologist, it became apparent early on that he is what we call an umbrella species. If we can protect suitable habitat for our bear to have a self-sustaining population, we can also protect the habitat needed for the great host of other species that occupy our western wildlands."
"…There is a conflict over who really controls those lands and that conflict primarily… comes from the livestock industry who have grazed these lands for probably a century or more, and they still see these lands as belonging rightfully to them. From my perspective it’s simply a question: is society going to let that status stand? Are we going to allow our public lands be used primarily for private livestock taking precedence over public wildlife, or are we going to turn that around and say public lands must have a priority use for public wildlife rather than private livestock?"
"Delisting: As far as I’m concerned, delisting will stop the recovery of grizzly bears in its tracks. By that I don’t mean to say it’s going to mean the elimination of the bear population. There will continue to be a grizzly population in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, that is the area directly around the Park itself, for an indeterminate amount of time. But it will not be what we could call a recovered population. They’re going to be more appropriately termed a “relic population”, an “open-air zoo” population, as it were. Because recovery itself, which requires an expanding population into previously occupied habitat by bears, would no longer be taking place."
"If it were not for the Endangered Species Act, I think the bears would be just struggling to survive in Yellowstone Park today. The Endangered Species Act forced the states and forced us as a people to show a degree of tolerance for a large omnivore who on occasion can be dangerous, but most of the time is not."
"My view is that the top-level opportunistic omnivorous carnivore such as the grizzly bear is simply too important a species to permit provincial views to take control over their management -- and that’s exactly what will happen within the states."
"I’ve had bears come within six feet of me, on either side of me, in front of me, slide to a stop. They’re so close they throw sticks and stones at my face, and I just continue talking and I’ve never had a claw or tooth mark on me. But I apologize to the bear while I was going through this process and the bear let me off. Sometimes with a second or third charge, but still let me off."
Grizzlies in the Mist, by Chuck Neal
Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, by Stephen Herrero