A RECENT tragedy in Montana's Glacier National Park dramatizes
the challenges the park system faces in coping with more visitors,
less funding, and a reduction in wildlife habitat.
This fall, one of the worst grizzly-bear attacks ever occurred
in the park. One hiker and three bears died. This event highlights
the increasing number of human-bear encounters as grizzly-bear
habitat continues to shrink in the lower 48 states. While
day-hiking on the Loop Trail, about a half-mile below Granite Park
Chalet, John Petranyi of Madison, Wis., was mauled to death and
partially eaten by a female grizzly and her two yearling cubs.
Glacier Park Chief Ranger Steve Frye says Mr. Petranyi was "an
experienced back-country hiker." He says the decision to destroy
the bears, which were located by park rangers and shot eight days
later about a mile from the attack, came after consulting state and
federal bear experts on the subject.
Chris Servheen, grizzly-bear recovery coordinator for the United
States Fish and Wildlife Service, and Richard Knight, leader of the
Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, were among the government
experts who concurred with the park officials' decision to destroy
Mr. Servheen says, "We don't tolerate those types of aggressive
bears. It's dangerous and it's teaching its cubs things and that's
not the type of animal that we tolerate in grizzly habitat." He
says he believed that the cubs were "a lost cause" and must be
destroyed because "...they learn everything from the mother."
Investigation of the bears' carcasses after they were shot gave
no clue to the reason for the attack. The female was a healthy
300-pound grizzly and the cubs, at 75 pounds, were healthy and
stable as well.
Since park officials have in the past opted not to destroy bears
who have mauled hikers, this decision met with mixed reactions. Mr.
Frye says park headquarters received numerous calls after the
decision to destroy the bears.
"About 70 percent of the callers favored allowing the bears to
live and about 30 percent wanted them destroyed," Frye says.
ALTHOUGH Glacier Park spokeswoman Amy Vanderbilt reported in
local newspapers that all bear authorities agreed with the decision
to destroy the bears, other reports indicate differently.
Charles Jonkel, longtime bear authority and director of the
Ursid Research Center and the Border Grizzly Project, both private
research organizations, says Frye telephoned him a day after the
hunt for the bears had begun. "I told Steve that there was no
historical biological evidence to support their premise that the
bears would link killing the victim with feeding on him. Grizzlies
do not have a predator-prey relationship with man.... I urged him
to call off the hunt and leave the bears alone. Destroying the
bears was a biologically unsound decision.
"The park is getting better about managing the bears, but this
action was a step backward. I think park officials succumbed to
political pressure," Dr. Jonkel concludes.
"I disagree," counters Mr. Knight. "I think bears are very smart
and learn about new food sources quickly. There's no guarantee they
would have preyed on people again, but it was best not to take a
chance with human life."
Many bear advocates are concerned that this encounter is a bad
omen for the grizzly. Mary McFarland, longtime resident of
Whitefish, Mont., says, "When you have more people, you have more
trouble. Years ago we never had problems in the park because the
bears didn't run into people. They didn't like the human smell. Now
there are so many people, the bears can't avoid them."
Some express concern that this incident foreshadows what will
happen to the bears on a grander scale. If the grizzly isn't fully
protected in the national park system, they reason, how will it
survive in the remaining habitat areas outside park boundaries? …