Urbigkit’s new book details grizzly interactions in Wyoming
As the grizzly bear continues to hit newspaper headlines, Wyoming author Cat Urbigkit captures the history of grizzlies and delves into their interactions with humans in her new book Return of the Grizzly: Sharing the Range with Yellowstone’s Top Predator, which was released on Jan. 1.
“Between fundraising campaigns and a lot of news articles about incidents involving grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region, I didn’t feel people were getting the true story about grizzly bears,” Urbigkit comments. “When many people think of Yellowstone grizzly bears, they think of bears in Yellowstone National Park, but that’s not the case, and that’s not how things are today.”
The hardcover book, published by Skyhorse Publishing, tells the story of recovery and insight into the impact of bears across a broader landscape.
“From cowboys on horseback chased by a charging grizzly and grizzlies claiming game animals downed by human hunters to the numerous self-defense killings of grizzlies that occur each year, the manuscript examines increases in conflicts and human fatalities caused by grizzlies in this ecosystem inhabited by humans who live there year-round,” reads the book description. “Human-bear interactions, grizzly attacks and deaths, avoiding attacks, effects on agriculture, wildlife protesters, the consequences of bear habituation and more are all covered.”
State of bears
Urbigkit describes the growth of grizzly bear populations surrounding Yellowstone, commenting, “The range of grizzly bears is 22,000 square miles.”
Additionally, what was once 136 grizzly bears when the species was first granted federal protection has grown to as many as 1,000 bears in a three-state region today.
Urbigkit addresses interactions with bears by those who live, work and recreate in grizzly bear habitats.
“Unfortunately, we see a lot of over-simplified reporting that says it’s livestock producers versus grizzly bear advocates. That doesn’t really reveal the situation,” she says. “Grizzlies are not an evil species that no one wants, but they can be very difficult to live in association with.”
“Grizzly bears are a beautiful, magnificent and powerful species, so it’s no wonder they have such following,” Urbigkit adds. “But people should never forget they are top-of-the-food-chain predators. That is what this book helps to remind people about.”
Further, while human mortality as a result of grizzly bears occurs infrequently, the impact is widespread for the families involved.
“What I thought was missing and what we attempt to address in this book is what it’s like for people to live and share the same landscape with grizzly bears,” she comments. “There’s quite a bit about livestock grazing and both cattle and sheep production that is very much impacted by the expanding grizzly bear population, even far outside the original recovery area.”
Research and writing
Writing Return of the Grizzly was a three-year process for Urbigkit, who combed through scientific documents and research reports, as well as investigative reports from human fatalities cause by grizzly bears.
“I am pretty fortunate that my publisher worked with me and let me have the leeway to write a history of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region from the ground level,” she explains.
As she perused the documentation, Urbigkit says, “Most people say human fatalities are a defense of cubs or food, and many times, that is true. But when grizzly bears kill people – and especially if they feed on them afterwards – these are not surprise or defensive attacks. In those cases, grizzly bears are viewing humans as prey.”
Today, grizzly bears have little reason to fear man, and they have habituated to humans, she adds.
“Grizzly bears are not persecuted in any way, and they have no reason to fear man,” she says. “It’s different to have a ranger standing alongside the road in Yellowstone National Park than it is to meet a bear in the willows on the Upper Green River.”
In addition to research and writing, Urbigkit took all the photos in the book, after having developed an extensive file of images from her personal interactions over a number of years.
“This a beautiful book,” she says.
Available at all regular book sellers across the state on Jan. 2, Urbigkit notes she will do a book tour later in the year to promote the work.
Urbigkit emphasizes, “I think grizzly bear recovery – which we absolutely achieved several years ago – would not have come without the efforts and tolerance of the human communities and live with them.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.