Posted by: greentangle | October 18, 2015

Coming Attraction

David Quammen writes the entire May 2016 issue of National Geographic on the Yellowstone area. Have a listen at the following link.

Posted by: greentangle | September 20, 2015

The Porkies

I’m back, after a couple weeks in Marquette. It wasn’t the worst vacation of my life, but unfortunately both of us were sick most of the time I was there. Between my sneezes and her coughs, the poor dog was running back and forth alternately trying to help or escape. So instead of a lot of local hikes and tasting good food, I spent most of my time reading and watching Netflix though in a more peaceful setting than here.

We did manage one long day trip.

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A short hike on what I recalled as my favorite trail there was a bit disappointing. As when returning to childhood places everything seems smaller, maybe my years in Yellowstone have changed how I see everything.

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The Presque Isle River is still fascinating though.

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And the Lake looks more lovely there than in an urban setting.

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The dog went for a swim.

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We saw wildlife.

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And stopped at Lake of the Clouds, the Old Faithful of the Porkies.

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While in Marquette, I learned of Minnesota photographer Jim Brandenburg’s latest project–a short video for each day.

I’m currently reading Speaking of Bears: The Bear Crisis and a Tale of Rewilding from Yosemite, Sequoia, and other National Parks. I’ve said similar things about Yellowstone tourists many times, but just so you don’t think I’m the only one–a Sequoia maintenance worker on designing bearproof containers: “We had to keep it simple. We needed at least two movements to outsmart a bear, but two or less for humans.” And a Yosemite biologist:  “Bears are smart, and some are very smart. My problems start when the smarter bears and the dumber visitors intersect.”

Until next time.

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Posted by: greentangle | August 20, 2015

Spinning the Tale on the Grizzly

One of the interesting aspects of the recent hiker/bear deaths has been how Yellowstone has tried to manage the situation on its Facebook page. I don’t believe the park had a Facebook page in 2011, the last time they killed a bear for eating a human. If they did, I haven’t been able to access it to compare. I’ve spent hours looking through the comments, including over a hundred from NPS.

Originally, NPS kept reposting the same canned reply to comments but eventually moved to more varied answers—I believe they were very surprised by the volume of replies. Another change came in how the site of the killing was described—originally described as ½ mile off-trail, the emphasis shifted to being a popular area less than a mile from residences as commenters used the hiker being off-trail and not having bear spray to argue in the bears’ favor. The absurd highlight came when someone suggested the person ran, and NPS replied that he was not wearing running clothes.


I wish I knew that area better and that NPS gave a more detailed description of the area where the attack happened. I’ve hiked Elephant Back trail, but I’m not sure where, what, or why this popular off-trail area people frequent is. Near the top or bottom, a hot spring, a view, a shortcut to housing? One NPS comment said there was evidence of a bear digging for truffles—do people go there for the same reason, competing for food?

Let’s be clear–no matter how authoritative some people try to sound, none of us posting on the internet really knows what happened, not me, not the people I agree with or the people I disagree with. NPS has probably reconstructed the events to a greater extent than has been made public yet, but their final report almost certainly won’t claim to know what happened either.

But as far as this specific bear, she had lived in this area for many years, raising at least five sets of cubs often visible from roads and by photographers. That visibility is part of the reason there was so much response to the plan to kill her. Despite the fact that photographers often break the rules regarding wildlife, there apparently was never an instance where she had acted aggressively toward anyone despite their closeness, and she’d never been captured by NPS.

That doesn’t seem to make her a likely candidate to suddenly decide that people were prey so it seems almost certain to me that this was a case of a hiker surprising her and her cubs. He didn’t have bear spray to defend himself, and given the defensive wounds on his arms apparently resisted rather than playing dead as advised. If he’d died under those circumstances and the bear walked away, she might not have been killed, although a witness still might have been needed.

Repeatedly in its comments, NPS wrote that the crucial factor was that the man had been (significantly) eaten and cached for further eating. That was also the case of the bear they killed in 2011—other bears had been on the scene and the NPS report acknowledged there was no proof she had even committed the second attack, but she’d eaten from that body, and lethally defended her cubs a month earlier, which proved a fatal combination for her. But if a person was killed accidentally rather than intentionally, there’s no reason a bear shouldn’t eat the body—it’s dead meat, just like elk and bison carcasses. Unfortunately, people have a hard time accepting that. Many people like the idea of their ashes being scattered in Yellowstone as a favorite place; personally, I’d much rather my body be eaten by the wildlife there, whether bear, wolf, raven, magpie, whoever. That’s the cycle of life.

Using legalistic rather than biological language, NPS wrote several times:

Allowing a bear that ate a person to live would be negligent: waiting for more people to die before taking action is an unacceptable risk.

Although they admit there’s no proof, they’re afraid once bears have had a taste of humans, there will be a whole lot of stalking going on (even though grizzlies don’t generally do that with the adult elk and bison whose corpses they’re much more used to eating, we’d be a much easier target). But, although most bears who eat a person in North America are killed (which eliminates the possibility of proof one way or the other), in fact there has been at least one case (1984 in Pelican Valley in Yellowstone) of a camper being killed and eaten by a bear which was never captured, and reportedly several other bears ate from the second body in 2011 without being killed, and yet there were no following strings of attacks on people.


Based on fears and maybes and the need for at least the illusion of being safe and in control, the mother bear was killed, and the two cubs will be sent to the Toledo zoo (a whole other issue). Although I’m sure many weren’t happy with this decision, people who live and work there also have their self-interests of continuing their jobs and lifestyles involved.

I can understand killing a bear who attacks people in a developed campground in the middle of the night, but I don’t agree with killing a bear who kills a hiker whether she eats him or not. That is a risk the hiker is taking and if not willing to accept the possible consequences, the hiker shouldn’t be there–there are plenty of places without bears in the world to hike. To me, the wildlife in Yellowstone is much more important than the people there. Other species need a place to live much more than we need another place to play.

Unfortunately the NPS policy doesn’t allow the hiker to accept the responsibility and consequences of his own choice (a commenter who claimed she knew this hiker wrote that he wouldn’t have wanted this bear killed and I would certainly feel the same way). It does allow him to hike alone and not carry bear spray (though advising against both), but those are choices which could lead to a bear being killed.

The problem for NPS is that it was created with conflicting instructions. One of their comments:

These are tough questions, and they get at the heart of a conflict inherent in the Organic Act that created the National Park Service: “… to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

If you read through our management policies (, you’ll find the following passage (4.1 General Management Concepts):

The Service will not intervene in natural biological or physical processes, except
· when directed by Congress;
· in emergencies in which human life and property are at stake;
· to restore natural ecosystem functioning that has been disrupted by past or ongoing human activities; or
· when a park plan has identified the intervention as necessary to protect other park resources, human health and safety, or facilities.

In my opinion, they lean far too much toward protection of people and do far too little to protect the park from the people. This incident was a reminder to me of how I often felt when living in the park—that it was a wonderful place, but so much less than it could be because of human actions and policies. Ironically, since I didn’t get offered a winter job there, I had pretty much decided to bite the bullet and apply for a job next summer so I could see it one more time, despite this July being the most crowded month ever, and next year probably going to be worse because of the 100th anniversary of NPS. One interesting NPS comment–

As visitation continues to climb, we will likely have more and more conversations about ways to reduce crowding and improve safety. A Denali-style solution, in which people must take shuttle buses to visit the interior of the park, would be a drastic change for Yellowstone. It would also be complicated by Yellowstone’s annual visitation (roughly six times that of Denali), and the fact that we manage five entrances instead of one. That said, do you think it could work?

I’d already decided I’d want a room on the back of the dorm because facing the streets and open areas for years, I had witnessed more than enough of people harassing wildlife with no punishment unless the wildlife inflicted it themselves. But right now, I’m feeling that I don’t want to go back. I was willing to risk my life hiking alone, but knowing my death would mean a death sentence for a bear feeling a mite peckish doesn’t sit well with me, and hiking in groups is almost always an inferior experience. Would just looking at the mountains and smelling the sage be reasons enough to endure months of the negatives of crowds, dorm life and cafeteria food?


Posted by: greentangle | August 8, 2015

More BS from NPS

A hiker has been killed and partially eaten by a grizzly mother with at least one cub in Yellowstone. The man worked for the medical clinics in the park and he was killed near a trail in the Lake area which he frequented, so I assume he worked at the Lake clinic and that I probably didn’t know him though he would have been in the park when I still worked there.

He apparently was not carrying bear spray so bad on him. Regardless, one thing I feel quite sure of is that none of us who chose to hike alone in the park, including him, me, and many other friends, would want the bear killed in these circumstances. Someone who wrote that she knew him has already verified that on the park’s Facebook page.

Unfortunately, the park does plan to kill the bears if they’re captured. To quote from the news release,

“We may not be able to conclusively determine the circumstances of this bear attack, but we will not risk public safety.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if the bear was spooked by the hiker and protecting her cub (most likely) or if it was a predatory attack (only slightly more likely than that the volcano will blow while you’re visiting, but it has happened), we’re gonna kill the bears.

But not risking public safety? The bison who’ve attacked five people this summer haven’t been killed, there’s no limit on the number of automobiles allowed which kill more people in the park than all the wildlife and natural features, there isn’t a big fence keeping people from falling into the canyon, and rangers are nowhere near aggressive enough in punishing the hundreds of thousands of people who harass wildlife and walk off boardwalks in thermal areas every year. And yeah, it was a long time ago, but the book I recently read about the 1988 fires, written by someone working there for NPS at the time, claimed people in the park were definitely endangered by choices NPS made then.

Which is OK in a way because risking one’s safety is exactly what should be happening in places like Yellowstone. Despite the NPS catering to the lowest common human denominator, and boosting cell phone coverage and adding a fucking business center in the remodeled Lake Hotel, it’s not an amusement park. Stupidity and carelessness can still kill you, as it should, and sometimes even if you do everything right, you’ll still die there.

So don’t buy the crap about we can’t risk public safety or that once a bear tastes a human it just won’t be able to resist us because we’re so delicious–most NPS employees know the bears shouldn’t be killed. Like most things which happen in Yellowstone (like the rest of the human world), this is about politics and economics and fear of lawsuits, not ecology or science.

 Back to the Facebook page — — there are over 500 comments at this point (I’m sure there are many more hundreds to come), a mix of intelligence and ignorance and divergent values which almost made me join so I could comment. Take a look and see how many you can read before getting furious. There are macho gunslingers and wildlife haters, and the most dangerous humans of all, the ones who truly want to eliminate risk in Yellowstone and are incapable of understanding anyone who would choose to hike there when they could just see it from their cars instead.  There’s at least one comment worth reading–a long one from the piano player at Mammoth about the grizzly attack he experienced there many years ago.

Adding link to Doug Peacock’s opinion.

Posted by: greentangle | July 15, 2015

Let There Be Lake Breeze

There has been some horrible humidity lately, mixed in with smoke coming from Canadian wildfires, but yesterday was glorious with a breeze off the Lake. The glory lingered into today so I got out for a hike I wouldn’t usually do at this time of year.

I got lucky early when I encountered a grizzly munk who stood up on his back legs to get a better look at me.

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I’d forgotten to bring my munk spray, but fortunately he decided to go the other way rather than charge me.

There weren’t anywhere close to as many mosquitoes as there were on a hike we briefly tried to do in the UP last month, but I was getting bitten enough that my time in the wooded parts of the hike were mostly focused on getting out of the woods as quickly as possible. I did stop for several minutes trying to get a good photo of this flower.

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I’m fairly happy with that, but not with the amount of work it took to get it with the Nikon camera I bought before my last year in Yellowstone. As many people have written in reviews, it has big problems focusing–before I took the above photo, there were dozens of attempts when the camera would either focus elsewhere in the frame or focus on the flower but then completely blur. I think I’d have fewer bites right now if I’d gone with the Canon which was my second choice.

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When I got to the canal, I thought back to the many other times I’d made this hike and decide to take a few photos with the Nostalgic Sepia setting.

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My legs got a good workout hiking back along the beach, and I’d put the camera away as I headed for the bus stop when this gull seemed to demand a portrait.

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And a family one to boot.

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Posted by: greentangle | July 1, 2015

Hit the Trail, Jack

I borrowed a couple big, heavy books from the library this week. The Year Yellowstone Burned  by Jeff Henry, who was a seasonal ranger that year and has worked in the park in many capacities for many years, covers the period from June 30 to September 12, 1988 when more than a third of the park burned. It’s a large paperback of text and photos on heavy paper.

I also got America’s Great Hiking Trails, a hardcover about the size of an LP. This one has text about the trails by Karen Berger, but is primarily photos by Bart Smith, the first person to hike all 11 national scenic trails from end to end.  Each of those trails has a chapter, and another chapter has a couple paragraphs about each of the other long trails in the country.

I won’t be getting any more free advance copies of books or anything else from Amazon’s Vine program. They gave people a week’s notice that starting July 1st, social security numbers had to be submitted because things were going to be taxable and 1099s would be going to the IRS. I quit because I had no interest in giving them the number or complicating my taxes, others quit because of concerns that the extra “income” would jeopardize their various assistance programs, and most of the people staying in the program are saying they’ll take a lot fewer items to review. Others may be taking more hoping to make a profit on eBay. As is usually their way, Amazon is doing a terrible job of providing information about the changes to people, and it seems to me this might well be the beginning of the end of the program.

As several people wrote on the Vine forum (open to the public if you’d like to Google it and see the fiasco yourself), I’m looking forward to having more time to read books that mean more to me on my own timetable. The only drawback of quitting will be the loss of a steady stream of free reading material if I go back to Yellowstone this winter and am without a library.

Yes, it’s time to decide that once more–the winter jobs were posted today. Enough time has passed that I know that if I don’t go back this time, I won’t consider it again. I do expect to apply for a job from December to June, thus being there for most of the quietest times and spring birth and bear season, while getting out before the biggest crowds of tourons arrive, and also avoiding fire season and the elk rut (which can be fun to see, but refer back to tourons). But there are still many factors which will eventually decide if I actually return.

In theory, I could have mostly hiked the North Country Trail to go back to visit my friend in Marquette again a couple weeks ago, but I took the bus instead. When I got back to Duluth after dogsitting in May, the traffic here made me feel like I was in New York City.  And there seems to be more road and building construction going on than in all the years I’ve lived here–it’s difficult to walk from here to there. Who knew that a former Bostonian would come to regard Duluth as too urban? And as much as I once loved Duluth and thought of it as home, I probably have less emotional connection to it now than I do to Yellowstone or Marquette.

I don’t know where I’ll wind up, but there are worse places than on a beach with a dog.


Posted by: greentangle | May 17, 2015

On the Beach

I had a wonderful ten days living in Marquette with a dog, including a few days on the ends with his human. It was my first time taking care of a dog (and a large number of plants) as an adult and it was interesting to notice how it changes one’s life–not quite as free, but more active and more aware of and connected to one’s immediate neighborhood.

When I first moved to this area in 2001, I preferred Marquette to Duluth but didn’t think I’d have much luck finding work there. As it turned out, I didn’t have much luck finding work consistently in Duluth either. Now I’m within a few years of work not mattering anymore.

Marquette is smaller and quieter, but the Lake and a university and its status as the UP’s largest town help give it a good mix of restaurants and breweries to sample, two bookstores within a block, a good library, and a coop larger than Duluth’s. And although this sandy beach isn’t as convenient as Duluth’s, it’s a lot emptier.

Let’s take a look.

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To the left . . .

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To the right . . .

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I see more Marquette in my future, and we talked about going to the Porkies in the fall.


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