Living Through a Grizzly Attack: Stories of Survival

The federal government recently declared that Yellowstone National Park's grizzly bears no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act. With the grizzly population on the rise, three men who came face-to-face with these remarkable animals share their stories with Day to Day.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

The grizzly bears that live in and around Yellowstone National Park are more plentiful than they used to be. And there's now a proposal to remove the Yellowstone bears from the threatened species list, though grizzlies elsewhere remain on it. This is great news for bears and at least sort of good news for hunters and hikers who will continue to experience the thrill and terror of meeting in the wild one of the great predators of the American West. Here are three stories of such encounters. You'll hear the voices of biologist Chris Servheen from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and a hunter named Joe Tilden and a bear groupie, Chuck Neal, a retired government field scientist.

Mr. CHRIS SERVHEEN (US Fish and Wildlife Service): Something magical about grizzly bears instills that memory in us. And anybody that ever sees a grizzly bear can remember all the details of the time and the place and the weather and who they were with.

Mr. JOE TILDEN (Hunter): It was early in the morning and I was walking down an old logging road and I had--it was very gray and you could just start to see. And I had just seen a moose track. And so up in the logging road in front of me, probably about 75 yards, I could see this dark thing. And so I looked at it through my binoculars, and there was this grizzly bear standing there looking at me like that.

Mr. SERVHEEN: It was a very hot day and as I crawled into the den, the immediate sense was that, `Jeez, this smells really strongly like a bear.'

Mr. CHUCK NEAL (Retired Government Field Scientist): Early July this year, working my way through this burn area of downed timber, I suddenly heard this deep hoarse--(imitates grizzly breathing)--and the jaw popping and the bear came up over the top of a series of downed logs, perhaps 35 yards in front of me. A beautiful, beautiful bear, all-blond grizzly.

Mr. SERVHEEN: It was probably 20 degrees cooler inside that den than it was out on that sunny slope. And the guy that was with me was outside the den and he said, `Hey, there's a bear. Come out.'

Mr. TILDEN: And so all of a sudden, the bear just turned around and he stood there for just a few seconds looking at me and then he started walking towards me.

Mr. NEAL: She came up on top of the logs and bounded down toward me, huffing and jaw popping and ears back, you know. Definitely, she was irritated.

Mr. SERVHEEN: And so she just started to make this low, groaning sound that they sometimes make, just kind of an--(imitating grizzly groaning sound)--like that.

Mr. TILDEN: And I started talking to the bear in a very calm voice, you know. And I was saying, `Look, bear, you really don't want to come any closer than that,' and those kind of things, you know, and `why don't you get out of here.'

Mr. NEAL: And I, of course, started talking to her. This is what I've done for 30 years because it's worked every time for me, just talk, `Just me, bear. Just me, bear. No harm, bear. No harm, bear. Passing through, bear.'

Mr. SERVHEEN: I think we said a few things like, `Hey, bear, hey, bear,' you know, that kind of stuff that you usually say to bears. It's--you know, it's always generally thought of that if you speak to a bear in calm, low tones, it's more of a reassurance and a way to interact with a bear in those close-encounter situations to try to minimize surprises on both sides.

Mr. NEAL: Don't get hysterical. Don't yell. Don't run. Whatever you do, don't run. Stand still and talk to the bear and look slightly to one side while watching the bear. Don't stare right in her eyes.

Mr. TILDEN: He finally turned and walked over a hill down into the timber. I wasn't afraid because I had a rifle and I knew that I could kill the bear. But that's the first time I'd ever had a bear like that--it was a lone bear, no cub--that absolutely showed no fear of me whatsoever. So anyway, what I ended up doing, I broke into a clearing and I went out and sat in a clearing for about an hour until it got very daylight and I could see what was going on.

Mr. SERVHEEN: We immediately left the area and went straight up the hill to the helicopter. And I left my measuring tape and various other things inside the den for her, I guess. And that's the first time that we'd ever documented that grizzly bears going to their own dens in the summertime.

Mr. NEAL: `It's never over until it's over,' to paraphrase Yogi, because I've I've had them come back again, and that's what she did. She came bounding back down again, up on top of the log pile and back on my side and down toward me again, repeating the whole process, just as graceful as a big cat. I just looked at her and admired her. And she went back down and picked up her youngsters and started going up the hillside. And she would stop every 20 yards or so and chew me out. And for an hour or two afterwards, there's electricity in the air that wasn't there before. You feel more alive than you felt just five minutes before.

Mr. SERVHEEN: I mean, every time you encounter a grizzly bear makes your heart race. It's always a very exciting and--I mean, your heart is always going at these times because it's a large animal that doesn't necessarily like to be close to people.

Mr. NEAL: It's very important that we have an animal out there that is larger and more powerful and who is capable of preying on us on very, very rare occasions. We need that as a species to remain humble when we're out there. Otherwise, we're just totally arrogant, and that's what--the people don't want that feeling of humility. They want to be arrogant. They'd want to feel like the top dog and they're terrified at the prospect there's another animal out there who may be more powerful than they are. That's just what they need, but that's not what they want.

CHADWICK: That was retired scientist Chuck Neal. We also heard from biologist Chris Servheen and hunter Joe Tilden. And thanks to our colleagues Elizabeth Shogren and Anne Hawke for recording their stories. The editor was Dan Charles.

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