Remembering the Man Who Loved Bears

Remembering the Man Who Loved Bears

With extra than 4,000 tales in the Experience Journal archive, we like to often pull a nicely-beloved post down from the electronic cabinets to thumb by means of yet again. Examine a piece from our archive that we’re thinking of this 7 days as we check the expiration dates on bear spray canisters and mingle once more with them in summer woods. – Ed.

Obituaries for Chuck Jonkel, who passed away in 2016, a legendary Montana professor and bear expert, credit rating him for inspiring an full era of wildlife biologists. But he did extra than train people he also educated bears, and I consider that will prove to be his for a longer period-long lasting legacy.

Jonkel, who died at age 85, cultivated a specified ursine persona. His salt-and-pepper hair and slight hump to his shoulder were being just the beginning. On hikes, he’d issue out the wild vegetation that bears consume, and sample morsels alongside the way. Like a spring grizzly, he favored to use lodgepole pine trees for a back-scratcher.

Jonkel researched all kinds of North American bears, from polar bears in the Arctic to ghost populations of grizzlies in northern Mexico. While he was most carefully associated with the University of Montana, no establishment could have Jonkel for prolonged.

I achieved him when I was a newspaper reporter masking the “bear beat” in Montana. Jonkel was the form of colorful, credible supply that journalists treasure. He delighted in goading company bureaucrats who, in his watch, put politics and careerism forward of wildlife.

I would pull out my notebook when Jonkel walked into a staid assembly of self-happy rangers and source supervisors. All people realized he was about to lob in some verbal hand-grenades. Chuck produced for excellent copy.

Even so, I suspect that Jonkel’s greatest contribution can be located in a tiny can that weighs about 16 ounces: Bear pepper spray. Again in the 1980s, working with fellow bear professional Carrie Hunt, Jonkel was searching for a non-lethal way to assistance maintain bears out of hassle. They created a very concentrated pepper concoction in a spray can compact plenty of to clip on your belt.


Jonkel documented it as an productive tool in opposition to aggressive polar bears, which frequented northern outposts when hungry. Nowadays, bear spray is sold in the course of grizzly country below brand names like Counter Assault.

I bought my first can of Counter Assault in the late 1980s, when I was surveying alpine bear habitat as a summer months grunt for the Forest Service. In people times, Counter Assault was seen with skepticism. My colleagues most popular additional standard “bear medicine,” these kinds of as a .44 Magnum revolver.

In the 30 decades considering that, bear spray has verified by itself in excess of and in excess of all over again. I’ve interviewed dozens of hikers, hunters and berry-pickers who have repelled troublesome bruins with pepper spray. Scientific experiments have also demonstrated the effectiveness of spray, demonstrating it is effective improved than firearms and has the included gain of leaving the bear alive.

Not long ago, I discussed this with Gary Moses, a occupation ranger in Yellowstone and Glacier countrywide parks who now is a agent for Counter Assault. Moses notes that, a few many years in the past, two or 3 site visitors were mauled by grizzly bears each hiking period in Glacier National Park. In latest a long time, the amount of maulings has dropped, even as the variety of site visitors has climbed substantially, and the quantity of bears has edged up as properly.

Moses has no really hard info to issue to, but he thinks that the variance is pepper spray, which has become standard equipment for rangers and hikers alike. Now that bear spray is ubiquitous in nationwide parks, hikers are superior capable to protect them selves from troublesome bears.


But that’s just the commence of it, Moses thinks. Grizzly bears are very clever, and cubs learn life classes from their mothers. Moses thinks that extra and additional Glacier grizzlies have acquired to prevent folks immediately after remaining strike with pepper spray. Individuals bears go on to educate their cubs to give persons a broader berth. It’s just a hypothesis, but can make perception to me.

A handful of days right before Chuck Jonkel died, I observed myself with a pal at one of my preferred avalanche chutes in Glacier National Park. It was a location in which I’d appreciated watching bears with Chuck many years ago.

That evening, my spotting scope exposed a searching herd of elk. Suddenly, my mountaineering companion gave an fired up shout. A massive, golden-brown grizzly waltzed out of the forest potentially 200 yards away. Instinctively, my hand shot to my belt and my holstered can of bear spray. It was an electric powered instant, which held buzzing even following the bear disappeared back into the timber.

In the finish, it was a attractive and peaceful evening: Two men and women and one bear sharing a mountain with mutual respect – and no violence. Chuck Jonkel would have accepted.

This tale appeared beforehand on Significant Country Information. Photographs by Jacob W. Frank/Denali Countrywide Park, Yellowstone National Park, James Brooks


We’ve been screening a quite neat product that acts as bear can holster for your bicycle, belt, backpack, just about anything truly. It’s named the Bearosol holster, and if we lived in a condition with grizzly bears, we’d absolutely have a single of these on our handlebars. Look at it out, here.

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