Thursday, May 26, 2016


In the Sixties English teachers like myself used to teach propaganda.  No one does that anymore — it interferes with advertising.  But one of the most potent strategies was the isolation of facts, so that the exciting stuff was framed as simple oppositions and all the mitigating circumstances or explaining details were removed.  Eric Berne called the result “Let’s You and Him Fight.”  In this case, over bears and the government.  

The regional daily picked out the most belligerent and sensational shout-out of the recent event.  After it was explained how the reparative cost of a lost cow was paid by consulting the auction house figures for that day, a man yelled,  “How do you set the compensation for a lost child?”  

Well, actually there’s a database for that, just like everything else.  The insurance companies project the cost of lost arms, legs, lives . . . and children.  Used for children beaten to death by unrelated men living in the household, used for drunk drivers, and so on.  Of course, it’s tort law, like suing O.J.  The call-out is what tweeters call “clickbait.”  Close to “trolling,” starting a fight for self-aggrandizement.  People are sort of resigned to drunk driving and violent young male alcoholics.  Just not bears.

To cut the gaming and quips, one needs a real journalist, the kind we used to have in small towns, people who stay involved in the lives in that place and report honestly in detail about what's going on.  We used to teach journalism as “who, what, when, where, why”.  Luckily Choteau still has a classic journalist, Melody Martinsen, the editor of the Acantha.  Her publisher is her husband, Jeff.  I sat in front of her at the recent bear meeting and heard her clicking away on her laptop throughout.  Beforehand we chatted a bit.  Sometime I’d like to do a formal interview, but right now I’d like to relay what we talked about.

Choteau, and all the other small towns out this way, is ironically suffering from a shrinking of human population.  The schools, the churches, the stores, the infrastructures are all aging out or dwindling below critical mass.  The closing of the Teton Nursing Home was particularly painful.  On the national scale, people are scared by the reduced economic prospects, and unable to decide whether to laugh or cry over the presidential race.  There is a general level of anxiety that can easily burst into hysteria.  

Communities are welcoming newcomers, but they can be confused by the new environment and not have the support networks they left behind, or maybe not realistic expectations of the new place.  If you’re interested in romantic histories of the West and of Choteau specifically, you might enjoy the fictionalized account in the series of novels by A.B. Guthrie, Jr.)  Don’t think that hometowns always agree with the “take” of a novelist.  But maybe it would lend a sense of proportion.  “The Big Sky” is about fur-trappers, not so long ago.  No one counted or collared the bears.  There were no protected species, not even humans.

The Late A.B. Guthrie, Jr.
It wasn't a bear that killed him.

People keep insisting that the bear problem needs more people, more regulation, more laws, and more money.  They’re right.  But the times are mysteriously skint — we’re all making money as fast as we can, but it never seems to end up where it’s needed.  Some forces actively block private grants and so on, evidently out of political meanness. 

Part of the bear problem is that everyone in the household is gone all day, either at work or at school, so no one really knows whether bears are around in daytime or can recognize individuals.  But being a wife, not necessarily raised on a ranch, home with preschoolers in an isolated area, doesn’t mean the one holding the fort can tolerate a bear anywhere in sight, much less camped on the front porch.  Maybe no one thought about the dog food out there.  Maybe there’s an apple tree in the front yard. I'm having second thoughts about my compost.

I read blogs by ranch women, some of them sheep-raisers with big tough dogs from Europe accompanied by shepherds from the high mountains there.  Sometimes they lose sheep, sometimes they lose the dogs.  I haven’t heard of anyone losing a shepherd.  But we benefit enormously from their photography and books.  I’m thinking of Cat Urbigkit.;  So far she has not lost the ranch.

But that IS part of the grizz problem: margins are narrow these days and the bank doesn’t forgive bears.  The man who runs the Livestock Loss Board Centralized Services is George Edwards in Helena.  I hesitate to give you his email and telephone number because those who shoot first and ask questions later have already flooded official people with demands and accusations.  If you’re a rancher, you already know.  Ask your banker.  They reimburse for chickens as well as hoofed animals.  

There are complexifications about the difference between proven losses and probable losses and about what evidence is required.  George explained a little about the difference between bloody sub-dermal wounds (an indication that the animal was alive) and bloodless punctures made while the animal was dead.  Spacing of teeth, place of attack (bears go for heads and napes, front shoulders; while wolves go for flanks and sides, undersides), what’s eaten first, how much is eaten.  The evidence on the carcass is so important for the evaluation for reimbursement that it needs to be protected, even if that means moving it into a barn.  Otherwise the critters will keep eating it.

What struck me all along is something any journalist would recognize: the compulsion to tell the stories, especially the ones that shot someone full of adrenaline.  One man told about digging and discarding potatoes in his family garden, looking around, and discovering a bear right behind him, chomping up the culls he’d thrown over his shoulder.  Maybe the newspapers need to print a “bear story of the week.”  In the old days Milo Fields of the Glacier Reporter and Mel Ruder of the Hungry Horse News collected a steady stream of animal stories, sometimes funny and sometimes about hunting prowess but they stuck to the facts.  City newspapers and magazines have no clue.  They go for the atrocities and the sentimental treacle, not facts.  

Choteau today, like the other communities the Acantha serves, esp. Augusta, is economically crippled in contradictory ways: too small to support a hospital but close enough to Great Falls for prosperous people to access those health services and to shop there.  Like Los Angeles, one cannot comfortably live in small town Montana without a car.

One strong leg of these town’s economies is ecotourism:  photography, hiking, hunting, and simple back-packing for whatever reason.  The second layer of income is in motels and cafés.  These activities are vulnerable to setbacks in the general economy.  

When it comes to grizzlies, there is a dependence on marketing these eco-activities but also wariness of scaring off business.  I’d like to see a graph of the tourist traffic at Glacier Park after the notorious “Night of the Grizzlies,” when two women were killed by grizzlies on the same night on opposite sides of the mountains.  Theories ranged from menstruation to the strong thunderstorm over the area that night.  The autopsies showed the victims were NOT menstruating and research by the Jonkels showed bears didn’t worry about it that much.  

In fact, one of the offending bears was an old, diseased, starving bear who had been human-habituated by raids on human foods in a popular fishing and picnicking spot and the other one came across campers sleeping in the middle of a known bear path with unsecured food alongside them.  This was also about the time that garbage pits hosting big electrically-lit bear feasts were being phased out.  No more easy smorgasbord.  Some bears don’t like change any more than humans do.

I’m agnostic on the subject of listing or delisting grizzly protections.  I suspect that a blanket prohibition is not as effective as more fine-tuned place-based prohibitions.  De-listing in Yellowstone is in an iconic, defined and emotionally treasured place.  De-listing in the Rockies would restore the economic force of hunting, esp. trophy-seekers -- maybe even Japan or the Middle East -- people who use supply packtrains and luxury camping.  The ethos of hunters flying in from urban places back East or overseas is quite different from the local hikers.  

The print industry for the high rollers would be magazines and video rather than newspapers.  Advertising.  The splendour of the mountains is part of the whole syndrome of grizzlies as a charismatic megamammal.  Of course, in the first season after de-listing, the bear hunts are likely to be successful.  VERY.

Getting back to Jeff and Melody Martinson’s Acantha newspaper, it presents old fashioned facts.  These are the facts of their May 25 bear story, which turned out to be about a photo I took off Google Images.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks grizzly management specialists on May 21 trapped a young female grizzly that was eating chickens at a rural property north of Choteau and set another culvert trap in Dupuyer for a grizzly trying to get into a pigpen.

“We had a pretty busy weekend,” grizzly management specialist Mike Madel said from his vehicle as he and wildlife technician Kim Shields transported the female grizzly from Choteau to a relocation site in the Puzzle Creek drainage on the Flathead National Forest.

Madel said he and Shields captured the adult female bear, estimated at 4.5 old, during the night on May 21 as she returned to the chicken coop on the Roy Deshner property on the south side of U.S. Highway 89 about 3.5 miles north of Choteau. 

This was the bear’s second trip to the coop. She had come earlier this year, gotten into the coop when the door was open and killed chickens. Madel responded at that time and Deshner began closing the door at night and for three weeks had no more problems. Then the bear returned, jiggled the door until the latch opened and killed and ate more chickens.

Madel set a culvert trap right in the coop yard and on the sixth night that the trap had been out captured the young adult female bear, blond in color with chocolate brown legs. Her feet measurements matched tracks in the yard, Madel said, adding that he is sure this is the bear same bear that came to the coop earlier.

The bear was captured for the first time and has no nuisance history, he said. He outfitted her with a GPS collar and orange eartags with the number 661. She weighed 290 pounds and was in poor condition, rating only a two out of five on the fat scale.

The relocation site will take her 60 air miles from the chicken coop, but since she is an adult who has likely established her own home range on the front, Madel said he would not be surprised if she eventually makes her way back here.

He said it is possible that this bear was also involved in another chicken-coop killing on the Cooper Martin place north of Bynum on the west side of U.S. Highway 89.

A bear got into the coop on the Martin place by breaking the door on the coop, Madel said. Both Deshner and Martin are going to work with MFWP through a cost-share program that will put electric fences up around their coops, and Madel and Shields will be doing that work.

Madel and Shields on May 21 also set a culvert trap in Dupuyer, where landowner Theresa Wood observed a medium-sized lone grizzly coming into the town limits and trying to access a pigpen. Madel said Wood told him that the bear was slapping at the single electrified wire she had around the pen.

Madel said he decided to try to trap the bear since it was coming into town and trying to get into the pigpen. He also added two more strands of electrified wire and a new energizer to protect the pigpen. He said he plans to leave the culvert trap set up there for a few more days.

With recent rainfall, vegetation along the front is greening up, and Madel said he noticed in the last week that he is receiving fewer reports of grizzly sightings out in the open on the prairie. Bears are likely staying in riparian areas now where they can graze on snake grass, clover, cow parsnip and Angelica, for example.

Bear Management Techician Kimberly Shields and her son Aden Harding of Choteau
 pose next to bear 661, trapped at a chicken coop north of Choteau and relocated on Monday.


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