Montana Public Radio

Excerpt From GRIZZLY WEST, By Michael J. Dax

Jun 10, 2016

Credit University of Nebraska Press

The meeting room was crowded and restless when Bitterroot Valley resident Dennis Palmer rose from his seat and declared, “We don’t want the doggone bears.”  This bold declaration, while representing the sentiments of many attending the public meeting in small, conservative Hamilton, Montana, was more measured than others.  Long-time resident Robert Norton confidently stated, “Women and children are going to be killed and maimed.”  During a similar meeting held in Hamilton two years later, an opponent of grizzly reintroduction read aloud the pathology report of a woman who had been mauled by a grizzly bear in Glacier National Park and displayed a picture of the mangled body for everyone to see. Another positively asserted that people “would rather reintroduce rattlesnakes and water moccasins than grizzly bears.”  Histrionics reached an apex when one local resident lifted his young daughter above his head in the middle of the meeting room.  Everyone’s eyes turned toward the young girl as her father announced to the room that she would be bear bait if the federal government reintroduced grizzlies.  In High Country News, a reporter summed up the frenetic atmosphere of a meeting in rural Salmon, Idaho, which was similar to the other six meetings held across Montana and Idaho in October, 1997, by wryly observing, “Big, stout fully grown men displayed the kind of hostility and fear bordering on panic that, when voiced by women, is usually dismissed as hysteria.”

Passions ran just as high on the other side as people who supported recovery felt no need to pull their punches in the public meetings, which gave citizens of the region a chance to voice their opinions on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft environmental impact statement for Bitterroot grizzly recovery.  In a meeting held in Boise, a supporter of the great bear taunted his opponents, “If you want a sterilized, artificial environment, go to Disneyland.”  He continued, “I’d expect it [fear of bears] from industry, but it really disgusts me to hear hunters, backpackers or whatever say they’re scared.”  Although the atmosphere at most of these meetings was raucous and frenzied and even bordered on chaotic, the room was silent in Missoula, Montana, when the eight year-old granddaughter of renowned grizzly bear biologist John Craighead stood at the microphone in front of two hundred attentive on-lookers and made an impassioned, heartfelt plea for the bears.  Back in Hamilton, one speaker tried to rally support for reintroduction by emphasizing a sense of “moral responsibility,” while another pleaded for the bears’ restoration by couching the issue as matter of national, not local, concern.  If these meetings affirmed one thing, it would be Chris Servheen’s claim that “nobody, has no opinion about grizzly bears.”

Excerpted with permission from Grizzly West: A Failed Attempt to Reintroduce Grizzly Bears in the Mountain West, by Michael J. Dax.

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Michael J. Dax lives and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mid-June Montana appearances:

June 13, 2016
Chapter One Bookstore
252 Main Street
Hamilton, MT 59840

June 14, 2016
Elk River Books
120 N Main Street
Livingston, MT 59047

June 15, 2016
Fact & Fiction Books
220 N Higgins
Missoula, MT 59802

June 16, 2016
Country Bookshelf
28 W Main Street
Bozeman, MT 59715