BY BETSY MARSTON
We heard last month about bears rummaging through Bozeman’ alleyways in search of food, but others bears have also been making news. In the 14th mile of a 16-mile run through the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area near Missoula, college student Ani Haas suddenly found herself in the kind of situation you never want to blunder into: She was caught between a mother bear and her two cubs. Haas tried outrunning the black bear, but when that didn’t work, “she turned to face the bruin and was soon engaged in hand-to-claw combat,” reports Montanan magazine. “I had this sense of power coming out of me,” Haas said. “I still don’t know where it came from.” Though the bear raked her chest and a shoulder with its claws, Haas kept punching it and throwing rocks until, surprisingly, it backed down and led its cubs back into the forest. Haas was then able to escape. Since then, she said, she carries pepper spray to help ward off any attacks, and she still wields a fighting spirit along with her fists.
Then there was the thrilling story by Rich Landers in the Missoulian about a young woman who blocked a charging grizzly with the help of a gutsy horse named Tonk. Erin Bolster, 25, of Swan Mountain Outfitters was leading eight clients through the Flathead National Forest near West Glacier when a deer burst out of the brush and glanced off Tonk’s shoulder. It was running from a huge grizzly, later estimated at 700-750 pounds. The hullabaloo spooked most of the horses, sending them fleeing down the trail, followed by the deer. So the grizzly focused on a horse named Scout that had bolted into the trees, its rider a terrified 8-year-old boy. Bolster said she “bent down, screamed and yelled, but the bear was growling and snarling and staying very focused on Scout. … I realized I had to get Tonk to square off and face the bear.” Bolster turned Tonk, an 18-hands-high mix of Percheron and quarter horse, directly into the path of the grizzly, a move most horses would resist. But the ploy worked: The grizzly turned its attention from Scout and charged Bolster.
She urged Tonk to charge right back, an exercise repeated three times, with the grizzly coming closer each time. After finally hazing away the bear, Bolster was able to pick up the boy, who’d fallen onto the grass and seemed in shock. Bolster said the boy’s father probably suffered more than anyone, because he couldn’t control his runaway horse or help his son. After a while everybody was fine, she said, “and I got my biggest tip of the season.” As for the brave horse Tonk, he now belongs to Bolster, who bought him when the dude season ended. “After what he did that day, he had to be mine.”
Another grizzly’s behavior (a female) startled researchers recently because she appears to love swimming for hours in northwest Montana’s Flathead Lake—once paddling for seven miles, with a one-day rest halt on tiny Bird Island. The bear was fitted with a satellite collar so researchers could follow her every move from June of last year to September 2011. During those 15 months, the 4-year-old bear traveled 1,200 miles on land, as well as exploring the lake. Rick Mace with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks called the bear unique: “Every bear is kind of cool when you look at the nooks and crannies where they’ve gone, but this is the first one that’s done something like this.”
Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, an op-ed syndicate of High Country News (hcn.org).