Grizzly Bears: Guardians of the Wilderness
Grizzly Bears: Guardians of the Wilderness
As grizzly bears feed themselves, they also feed some of their neighbors and increase ecosystem health. One way that salmon-eating grizzlies do this is by serving up free meals to other fish lovers. The bears usually carry their catch to shore before they start eating. Once they have taken what they want, scavengers such as ravens, gulls, otters and minks move in.
The massive amounts of salmon that grizzly bears haul out of the water also feed streamside forests. Salmon are loaded with nitrogen, which is an essential plant food. Grizzly bears spread this valuable fertilizer by scattering carcasses and pooping all along salmon-spawning rivers and streams.
Their berry eating provides different kinds of community benefits. Grizzlies can't digest berry seeds, so they come out the other end unharmed. For deer mice, red-backed voles and other small rodents, bear droppings full of berry seeds are like all-you-can-eat buffets. Rummaging through poop for your food might seem gross, but it saves the seed nibblers a lot of time and effort.
But rodents can't come close to consuming all the berry seeds grizzlies deposit. The rest remain on the ground, ready to sprout. As the bears wander from one berry patch to the next, they are like farmers sowing future crops.
This new title carries on the high level of expertise, up-to-date research, thorough topic treatment and appealing presentation as in other “Orca Wild” series single-species books. It's obvious from the “Introduction” that the author will draw upon the knowledge and fascination she gained in a personal five-month study of the bears in what would become the first grizzly bear sanctuary in Canada, at Khutzeymateen/K'tzim-a-deen on British Columbia's north coast.
Five chapters cover a wealth of information, beginning with "Bruin Basics" that deals with appearance, unique features and habitat. Its history, in the second chapter, details how attitudes about the bear changed from early peoples' respect, to centuries of intolerance that took a healthy population to its current status of needing protection. Readers learn about life facts and foods in the third chapter and conservation efforts in the fourth. Finally, the focus in Chapter Five is on bear-proofing actions we can all adopt while in grizzly country. A “Glossary” helps with selected definitions. Resources include print, video and a lengthy list of online sites. The final version will have an “Index”.
The author guides readers through the presentation of information with an easy-to-read, storytelling writing style, taking time with explanations. For instance, there's a brief interesting history on the various names given this bear, both indigenous and non-indigenous, as well as a full-page chart showing the eight bear species found worldwide. Bear habitat is examined by comparing their home range to a human community. Their function as umbrella species shows the many ways grizzlies are important to the whole ecosystem. Bear-human encounters are so often a result of shrinking habitat: facts are given about fatal attacks, a tiny number compared with grizzly deaths caused directly or indirectly by humans. When you read about their constant food needs, it's easy to understand their demand for personal space.
The chapter on conservation efforts has a sense of urgency while still taking a hopeful approach as it describes the vital need to maintain an already challenged level of population where even single losses are serious. Tools include sanctuaries, fences and crossing structures on highways, train track monitoring and electric fences to control access to sources of ‘people food'. Technology is helping wildlife rescue centres figure out how to successfully return orphaned cubs to the wild.
Chapter Five, "Grizzly Bears and You", leaves readers with a thoughtful list of ways to offer support for the bears. Some familiar tips bear repeating (e.g. roadside respect at wildlife sightings, and trail safety), but there's also a page about climate change as it affects the bears' food sources, urging us to consider how our actions can positively influence the process.
Each chapter features a page that spotlights a young person engaged in a bear-related study: biology fieldwork using hair samples, analyzing scat, monitoring populations and habitat use, using photo ID to allow life studies. Readers will meet one indigenous woman whose music and dance honors the bears and a young man whose bear-safety training prevented a possibly disastrous encounter. These pages with their personal stories are an especially enjoyable part of the book. Small inserts, “Bearology”, give additional neat facts as do the captions that accompany the many well-chosen photos.
Grizzly Bears achieves its objective, suggested in the subtitle, of encouraging us to respect grizzlies as “guardians of the wilderness”. Through content and presentation, readers will come to appreciate a magnificent creature's struggles to maintain its place on this planet that we share.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in British Columbia.