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10/21/2005: "Grizzly Man and Poachers"

Bears aren’t just images on postcards or nature films, they are part of our lives here. Farther out the road bears accustomed to human food sources are known to help themselves to greasy grills and the food left in garbage cans. They don’t usually walk up to our house in this neighborhood so close to downtown Sitka. Though, several summers ago, Willard Jackson, who is from a community south of Sitka and is member of the bear clan (Teikweidee) reported seeing a bear nearby. The bear was one of his relatives coming to visit, he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

Last Friday hiking up Gavan Mountain with some friends, we noticed bear tracks on the trail. A dog with a bell on her collar ran ahead. The bell is a warning device, reminding the bears we are just passing through, visiting their territory or sharing it. I like to joke that the only time I sing is when I am either a thousand miles off shore or to let bears know there is a human passing by, with no ill intentions.

The next night, with the image of local bear tracks still present in my mind, we watched Werner Herzog’s film “Grizzly Man.” The film provokes a lot of thought about man’s relationship to the wild. Most people I’ve spoken with agree that Timothy Treadwell crossed some lines. He seems delusional. Treadwell repeatedly talks about taking care of the bears. "I will protect these bears with my last breath," he says. It is hard not to question how a man, who was ultimately eaten by a bear, could protect wild creatures in an area that is supposedly a sanctuary. Treadwell mentions poachers, but there is no elaboration on whether they are a real threat.

The other night Spencer mentioned a friend involved in the production of show for a Paramount series called “Wild Things” in the same area, northwest of where we live, where Treadwell “worked” with grizzlies. The friend said that an agency, probably US Fish and Wildlife Service, had said told the producers not to mention where they were filming because it would encourage poachers. The friend indicated poaching was an issue in the very same area where crazy Timothy set up his camp, stroked and named bears. The price tag of $13,000 per bear poached was mentioned too. It seems that top dollars are paid for elixirs extracted from bear organs and soup made with bear paws Despite the fact that Alaska has a ban on the commercialization of bear parts, poaching occurs because bear parts can be smuggled out of the state and sold in other states or countries fraudulently. Alaska’s Representative in the US Congress, Don Young, has been largely responsible for ending the progress of the Bear Protection Act to prohibit trade in bear viscera. The act without affecting a state's right to allow a legal bear sport hunting season would deter bear poachers and profiteers, while facilitating state law enforcement.

Herzog didn’t have a mission to talk about poaching or small pieces of Treadwell’s life that touched on something not so freaky or delusional. The director uses the film to contrast his harsh view of the world and nature with Treadwell’s sentimental idealistic perspective. Herzog comments with bleakness on the soundtrack: "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder." I wonder about the proverbial "happy medium..."