How close should you get to a grizzly bear?

Stuffed grizzly bear as store display

News articles recently reported that a person is serving time in prison and paying fines for approaching too close to a grizzly bear and her cubs in Yellowstone National Park. All park visitors are warned about the dangers of approaching any of the wild animals and given specific distances to stay away from them. For grizzlies, you are told to keep 100 yards (that’s 300 feet! 91 meters!) between you and them. If you are closer and a bear decides to chase or attack you, you will not get away. These bears can run up to 40 mph, a lot faster than any human. They can run up and downhill, swim, and also climb trees although because of their long, curved claws, not as good as black bears. Males can weigh up to 700 pounds and females up to 400 pounds. A large male standing on his hind feet might be seven to nine feet tall. Not something you’d want to wrestle. I read that even though millions of people visit Yellowstone each year, records kept since 1892 show only 16 people were ever killed by bears.

When I visited Yellowstone National Park, I was thrilled to observe so much wild life up close. Some of these animals can still be seen in California but not in such numbers as in the past. Huge populations of elk, deer, black bears, wolves, and grizzlies once roamed the hills and valleys of California. Some such as wolves and grizzlies are gone forever. 

In 1846 American settlers in Alta California rebelled against the Mexican government. They chose the grizzly as a symbol for their flag because the bear never backed away from a fight. These rebels became known as the Bear Flaggers. When California joined the United States, the rebel flag with the grizzly was adopted as the state’s official flag. The grizzly still flies on the state flag even though the last California grizzly bear was shot in 1924.

What was life like in the national parks when they were closed during the Covid-19 lockdown?

Young buck in the wild

When I read a Los Angeles Times article about the recent increase in the number of wild animals seen roaming in Yosemite National Park and the peacefulness experienced in the park by the 100 to 200 employees living there, it reminded me of the wild nature of all of Alta California just 200 years ago. With few people in the park, the territorial songs of birds, grunts of bears, growls of mountain lions, and howls of coyotes blend with the rush of the waterfalls and the wind in the treetops in Yosemite as it once did in the 1800s. In those early days, in the San Francisco Bay area and all along the coast, wild animals did not fear people as much as they do now. Once in a while, even now, you can get quite close to nature.

How close can you get to a hummingbird?

It amazes me how strong a connection people used to have with nature and how little most of us have now. Every now and then, though, a fleeting link does happen. I was sitting outside at my deck table reading and enjoying the warm day and a gentle cool breeze. As I sat quietly, a hummingbird buzzed by over my shoulder and dove into the bright red geranium flowers in a nearby window box. It flew on to sip the nectar from the petunias in a hanging basket. I sat quietly and watched it, with my book propped up and open, but not reading or even turning a page. This tiny bird flitted over to the table where I was sitting and visited the petunias in the bowl on the table. It was within twelve inches of my open book. When I made a chirping sound, it flew toward me and came to rest on the top edge of my book. It sat there for a minute, sticking its tongue in and out, looking directly at me. Another hummingbird buzzed over my head and chirped, and the two flew off. You can’t get much closer to nature than that!