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Jan 20th
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Home National & State Parks Yellowstone Take a Bear Class? You Bet, Says Yellowstone Association’s Jeff Brown, Who Talks About His Surviving a Bear Mauling to Encourage Hiker Awareness

Take a Bear Class? You Bet, Says Yellowstone Association’s Jeff Brown, Who Talks About His Surviving a Bear Mauling to Encourage Hiker Awareness

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Seeing a bear-even taking a photo of one-is on the vacation checklist of many people planning a trip to Yellowstone or Glacier National Park, but ask a ranger or naturalist expert and they will tell you that bears are big, powerful animals and are not to be fooled with.

After surviving a life-threatening bear mauling more than 20 years ago in Glacier National Park, Jeff Brown, currently the Director of Education for the Yellowstone Association, was able to put the experience behind him, and again is comfortable hiking in the backcountry.
Knowledge, he said, is one of the keys to being safer outdoors.

"Education is important for visitors because bears can be dangerous," Brown told OldWestNewWest.com Travel & History Magazine. "Armed with the right information and knowledge, and taking reasonable precautions, people can share the outdoors with them."

Brown has been the Yellowstone Association's education director for nearly 13 years. He is responsible for overseeing all of the nonprofit group's education programs, including the highly successful field seminars that take place in Yellowstone National Park.

This spring and summer, the association has a variety of field programs specifically designed to give Yellowstone visitors bear information. Some of the 2010 Yellowstone Association field seminar courses include:

  • Wildlife Watching in Grizzly Country, May 3-6. Visitors learn how to observe the park's many wildlife species unobtrusively while exploring their habitats and discussing wildlife topics, issues, and controversies.

  • Into the Bear's Den, May 15. Yellowstone bear biologist Kerry Gunther leads a classroom overview of bear denning behavior and physiology, then a hike to an unoccupied bear den.

  • Grizzlies: From Dumps to Recovery, June 4-6. Visitors participate in field trips and classroom discussions about the natural and cultural history of grizzlies and their current status and threats.

  • Bears: Bones, Signs, and Stories, June 24-27. Visitors discover a uniquely broad view of bears from their evolutionary origins to interpretation of their sign to compelling renditions of classic bear tales through lectures and field trips.

More information about the Yellowstone Association's 2010 bear field seminars, as well as many other wildlife classes, is available by going to the group's Web site at http://yellowstoneassociation.org .

Brown now understands much better the habits and patterns of bears, and how to walk in their world. Part of that understanding comes from surviving his mauling. He vividly remembers the day he was attacked.

"It was the first day of my vacation," Brown recalled. At the time, he was manager for a wilderness lodge near Lake Placid, New York. "I was day hiking with a friend in Glacier National Park on Sept. 11, 1986," Brown recalled. "We happened to come upon a grizzly bear that reacted aggressively to us. I think we just got too close, and the bear responded by charging.

"We turned and faced the bear and yelled," he continued. "Sometimes with a bear, it's just a false charge, but this bear kept coming. My friend tried to climb a tree, but that excited the bear. He went after her and was about to yank her out of the tree. I went over and punched the bear a couple of times in the head. Of course, the bear got more aggressive.

"He mauled me, then he mauled her. It went back and forth. Finally the bear focused on me, dragging me 189 feet off the trail. The bear end up on top of me and started panting in my face. I played dead. That was hard to do. Finally, the bear moved away," he added.

While the bear was focused on Brown, biting and clawing his back, arms and legs, his friend was able to crawl away and left the immediate area, somehow being able to walk to a nearby wilderness hut for help.

After the bear stopped mauling Brown, and eventually moved away, Brown slowly opened his eyes. Once he was sure the bear had left, he was able to pick himself up and walk to a park service cabin. Rangers called in a helicopter that took both hikers to the hospital.

Brown and his friend were lucky.

"I had 66 surgical wounds, and well over 1,000 stitches. Both arms were bitten, and there were lots of lacerations on my legs," he recalled. "It took about five weeks for all of my wounds to close up, and there was lots of infection, but there were no permanent wounds."

Both hikers are fine now.

Shortly after the incident, Brown worked up in Alaska, where he became comfortable being outdoors again.

"I just love being out there," he said. "And I know that if you are going to hike in bear country, you need to understand about bears."

That's why Brown talks about his mauling-to use his experience to encourage people to take classes.

"It is an exhilarating experience to spend time in the wilderness, and be where these bears live," he said. "There is a feeling people have about them. Bears encourage humility, but they demand respect. We have an obligation to learn the rules of the road. After all, this is their home, and we're visitors."

National & State Parks