I wear a black glass pendant in the shape of a bear around my neck. The artist’s card that came with it reads “A Dance of Earth and Fire.” Apt because it’s how I feel when I put it on.  The bear found me while I was prowling the artisan booths at Bozeman’s Sweet Pea Festival. I didn’t know then that the life of a protective grizzly mother in Yellowstone National Park was almost over.

Bear-in-BerriesCarolyn Hopper's photo of a black bear that she took up Hyalite Canyon.Today I wear it as an amulet for her and her cubs. She is Ursa Major, a totem, a power symbol, and she has been watching over me since before I was born. The pendant is just a reminder.

I read about the hiker in the Park who lost his life recently. That evidence pointed to a sow bear being the cause. But I didn’t want to fully accept that her life and that of her two cubs would be snuffed out by…by what, really?

I spoke to a woman in Yellowstone Supt. Dan Wenk’s office. She told me, “The bear preyed on the hiker. We cannot take the chance that it will not happen again.”

“You are holding her in a cage now until you make a final decision. Are you giving her food and water?” I asked, feeling as though I was talking about a prisoner doomed to hang even while the guards honor his request for last meal.

“Yes,” the woman answered.

 “Is she with her cubs?”

“Yes she is. They are in a safe place.”

I thought to myself: You’re going to end her life at any time now and you say she’s in a safe place?

I wanted to yell at her, but said instead, “Thank you for the information. I remain 100 percent opposed to her death and killing the cubs, too, or sending them to a zoo.”

“I will relay your information along to Superintendent Wenk.”

I love to go hiking as often as I can around Bozeman. There is no place I’d rather be than on a trail, heading up a hill lined with wildflowers. Grizzlies have recolonized the mountain forests around our town.  Some of my friends have seen bears. I’ve occasionally seen bear sign—tracks or scat—but never a bear while I have been hiking. Once I was fortunate to see a sow black bear picking service berries along the road to Hyalite Reservoir. She looked right at me while I stayed in my car.  She didn’t flee.  I took a photo of her.  And I shared it with the noted Yellowstone naturalist Jim Halfpenny, asking him “What was she thinking?”

His reply: “You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.”

Sometimes I carry bear spray. I know I should carry it every time. I always remember advice about bears from experts teaching classes for Yellowstone Association Institute. And I learned that science, politics, perception, and emotion all come into play whenever there is talk about wild creatures we call predators.

Through  classes which have included time in the field as well indoors for story telling, I’ve learned that if you skin a bear, it looks like a woman. I have no plans to skin a bear as I have no plans to kill one—whether for food [how many people really do eat bears?] or to prove my dominance over a wild creature.

I understand through reading and study that the complexities of ideas around terms like “conservation,” “environment,” “nature,” and “wildness” leave my head swirling even though I consider myself a “Nature Girl.” And I’m not alone. I invite you to take a peek at the stack of books surrounding my favorite “reading” chair.

I wrestle with questions like: Does Nature care if I pick wildflowers?  or What difference to Nature if one bear (or wolf, coyote, fox, eagle) is killed outside the bounds of a “natural death”?  Yet when I hear of or read about a driver of an automobile in Yellowstone Park hitting and killing a bear or other animal, something inside me feels gashed.

Dramatic of me? Maybe, but never the less, that’s how it feels. The fine of a punishment is a modest one at best, if the driver reports the death.

I sometimes wonder, would my Dad, a conservationist, hunter, fisherman and humanist now call me a “bleeding heart liberal?”

And I wonder myself as to why this bear now has become so important to me that I write many posts on Facebook, letters to anyone I can find who may be involved in the decision to kill the bear, and make phone calls to park officials expressing opposition to the killing of a griz that may have preyed on a backcountry hiker.

Why does this incident elicit such a visceral reaction? Can I hold up my pleas and arguments about considering the sacredness of wildlife in the face of government staff making decisions and have them stick? Is there hope for a bear’s life?

On the morning of Thursday, August 13, the mother grizzly who likely killed the hiker as an act of self defense for her offspring, was euthanized.  Meanwhile, her surviving cubs, Yellowstone said, will be sent to a zoo.  And again I am left to wonder: What are they—park officials and the young bears—left to think?


Editor's Note: Carolyn Hopper is a freelance writer and photographer in Bozeman. Her passions are wildflowers, wildlife and conservation. She has written for Outside Bozeman and High Country News’ Writers on the Range, among other publications.