Outdoor Writing

Smarter Than The Average Bear?: Protecting Bears and People in Wilderness Parks
Smarter Than The Average Bear?: Protecting Bears and People in Wilderness Parks

After years of managing problem bears, former National Park Service biologist Jeff Keay retraces his footsteps through Yosemite in Smarter than the Average Bear to see who is winning the arms race when it comes to bear-proofing our parks to keep the public and bears safe.

Back in the day, Yosemite’s bears were known for their persistence in devising creative ways of obtaining food. When I worked in the park, we sometimes received reports that bears strummed our steel food storage cables like guitar strings. If the paired stuff sacks weren’t of equal weight, the vibrations would cause the heavier one to drop into the reach of the clever bear. Patient ‘beaver’ bears chewed through food storage branches until they could break them. Impatient ‘kamikaze’ bears climbed above the food in the tree and jumped, grabbing the food sacks on their way to the ground.

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Stranded With a Bear
Stranded With a Bear

As the helicopter faded from view, I listened intently to the last vestiges of the whine of its jet engine. Then I heard nothing, not a sound, absolute and complete silence. I stood on a gravel bench, high above an extensive icy glacier to the west. I looked at the vast wilderness landscape before me, steep snow-covered mountains rose sharply to the south, their tops lost in a thick gray and brown cloud mass. Brown gravelly hillsides extended east and west of me. Mottled green taiga and tundra spread out to the north as the elevation dropped off sharply. The air was cool, but dead calm, not the slightest breeze against my face. The thick dark clouds portended a coming storm. The grizzly bear sleeping a couple dozen yards from me looked peaceful.

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Wilderness Expedition at 64 - Are You Serious?
Wilderness Expedition at 64 - Are You Serious?

Sweat streamed down my face and leg muscles ached as I planted one foot in front of the other, creeping up the steep mountainside. The relentless mid-day sun ricocheted off the granite canyon walls. I paused to take deep gulps of fresh mountain air only to have a tiny fly dart to the back of my throat. Coughing and spitting, I wondered if this trip was such a good idea.

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 A Field Journal System for Natural History Observations
A Field Journal System for Natural History Observations

By keeping a field journal, we make the time that we spend afield far more valuable than it otherwise would be. In a time of computers, remote sensing and radio telemetry as tools for the intensive study of “important” species, we tend to forget that we still don’t have accurate species lists for many areas, nor do we accurately know the local distribution of many plants and animals. The disappearance of once common species could have been detected earlier had we been watching and recording more carefully. Similarly, the encroachment of invasive species onto the landscape is difficult to detect and could be greatly benefited by careful observers accurately recording their findings. Incidental observations, recorded in field journals, can provide much of the needed information, and properly done, can help establish the credibility of the observer and the reliability of the observation. The purpose of this document is to provide a simple, convenient and systematic way to record field observations and make those records available and useful to the author and others.

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