Human and Bear Relations

Biel 1In the wake of the recent bear attack at Yellowstone Lake (covered in this article by National Geographic), two books from UPK resonate on the subject of human / bear relations:

Alice Wondrak Biel’s “Do (Not) Feed the Bears: The Fitful History of Wildlife and Tourists in Yellowstone.” Drawing on the history of recorded interactions with bears and providing telling photographs depicting the evolving bear-human relationship, Biel traces the reaction of park visitors to the NPS’s efforts-from warnings by Yogi Bear (which few tourists took seriously) to the increasing promotion of key ecological issues and concerns. Ultimately, as the rules were enforced and tourist behavior dramatically shifted, the bears returned to a more natural state of existence.  Biel’s entertaining and informative account tracks this gradual “renaturalization” while also providing a cautionary tale about the need for careful negotiation at the complex nexus of tourists, bears, and all things wild.

9780700619351Sherry Simpson’s “Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska”  Simpson crisscrosses the Alaskan landscape in pursuit of bears as she muses, marvels, and often stands in sheer awe before these charismatic creatures. Firmly grounded in the expertise of wildlife biologists, hunters, and viewing guides, she shows bears as they actually are, not as we imagine them to be. She considers not only the occasionally aggressive behavior bears need to survive, but also the violence exacted upon them by trophy hunters, advocates of predator control, or suburbanites who view bears as land sharks that threaten the safety of their families. Shifting effortlessly between fascinating facts and poetic imagery, Simpson crafts an extended meditation on why we are so drawn to bears and why they continue to engage our imaginations, populate indigenous mythologies, and help define our essential visions of wilderness. As Simpson observes, “The slightest evidence that bears share your world—or that you share theirs—can alter not only your sense of the landscape, but your sense of yourself within that landscape.”