About Those Ravenous Grizzly Bears…By PAUL GREENBERG;nytimes.com
BRISTOL BAY DISPATCH #3: CONCERNING GRIZZLY BEARS
In grade school you inevitably learn a little about animals: what they do, what they eat, how they live. When you get to the part about grizzly bears, you are told that they are omnivorous — prone to eating many things. In the contained world of the urban grade school this can take on a quaint feeling. On Monday, maybe a grizzly bear feels like eating berries. On Tuesday, how about a salmon? As if the bear shops in a grocery store and picks and chooses casually.
Here in the Alaska bush, as we see more and more signs of grizzly bears, all that quaintness vanishes and what you come to realize is that a grizzly bear is not omnivorous per se, but rather absolutely, desperately ravenous all the time. It's as if a grizzly is a drunk or stoned guest barging into nature's cupboard, ripping open the cabinetry and refrigerators and roaring, "ISN'T THERE ANYTHING TO EAT IN THIS PLACE?"
On one hillside we saw where a thousand-pound grizzly had torn apart a nine-foot swath of earth just to suck out a single squirrel. Elsewhere, our guide, Mark Rutherford, pointed out a nest of swallows in a river bank. Grizzlies here, too, blast into these banks until they get to the eggs, with a puff of feathers often accompanying the rampage, like Sylvester swallowing Tweety. Our camp last night had three sets of footprints — a mother moose and a baby moose overlain by huge grizzly footprints as large as a pie plate. "I've seen this story before," Rutherford said, staring down at the footprints. "A lot of times it ends in a gut pile." Balls of moths, tundra grasses and, yes, berries, are all fair game.
And then, curiously, we found ourselves in the position of the grizzly — desperately hungry with no protein to eat. The "bite" turned off in the afternoon and nary a fish could be caught for dinner. Then, like bears, we rummaged in the forest for Fireweed for a salad and fell back on the camp supplies, which on day five are getting a bit sparse. We joke with Mark that he is like Shackleton, meting out the supplies as the expedition continues.
The lesson was viscerally felt. Without salmon this country goes hungry. One more reason to think twice before messing around with the fundamentals underlying all this miraculous fish "supermarket".