By: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter Jasper Fitzhugh

After years of publishing research papers on grizzly bears and their behaviours, Bruce McLellan has finally produced some reading material for those who don’t read scientific journals.

“Grizzly Bear Science and the Art of a Wilderness Life: Forty Years of Research in the Flathead Valley” is his first non-fiction book.

“It’s my first and last. I’m not going to do another 45-year study of anything else,” he joked.

“I’ve written a lot of journal papers – lots and lots of those – but they’re very different in many ways. One of the many ways is that hardly anybody ever reads them. One of the main reasons I decided to do this is because after writing thousands of pages for journals, I know that only the other scientists read that stuff. No one can really be bothered. It’s almost not understandable by a lot of people.”

It seems that Dr. McLellan is just like everyone else. When anyone sees a bear, they absolutely must tell everyone about it.

Well, few people could boast of having seen as many bears as he has. By his guess, he has seen approximately 700 grizzlies. He was the “capture guy” for southern British Columbia for a number of years, after all.

“I’ve handled a lot of bears in my life, and every one is different,” he said. “Every circumstance is different depending on how they’re captured.”

True to form, the wildlife research ecologist kept journals of his encounters to ameliorate his prodigious memory of his work. Other parties helped him along to make sure that details were accurate. For posterity, he included the exact co-ordinates of places where events occurred as well.

“Grizzly Bear Science” is an immensely readable adventure into a world that perhaps few would be daring enough to step foot in.

From these sources, he compiled a well-rounded look at the impressive creatures. It is a deep dive with a moderate though still digestible amount of science to explain bear behaviour. The book serves an important purpose as the issue of coexistence becomes more prevalent in mountain towns.

“This has been a summer of the grizzlies in town more than any that I remember, and I’m pretty sure more than there has been in a long time,” McLellan said.
“Just yesterday, I helped the conservation officers process a grizzly bear in Whistler that was in the schoolyard. There’s grizzly bears in my neighbour’s yard.”
In many ways, this book serves to dispel the myths and the mysteries surrounding grizzlies. There is something new to be learned in every chapter, if not every page.
For those who are most afraid of having an encounter, just make a lot of noise and you should be fine, he said.

“You don’t want to surprise them. They are big, dangerous animals. If you surprise them in close range, you could get quite a reaction. I’ve never had had an issue because I make quite a bit of noise. I know where they’re going to be, and I let them go on there and they’ll take care of the situation. It’s the surprise encounters that usually get people in trouble.”

There are some cases that are almost unexplainable, with “almost” being the operative word. Those mostly involve hunters or others who have attractants with them.

A book as approachable and as timely as this begs the question: why not write another that would help further the public’s understanding of the grizzly bear? He originally said that this would be his first and last, but his actions seem to be preparing him for the possibility. He did admit to having started compiling a tiny database on his experiences.

“There were some pretty interesting things that happened that I didn’t include and then I had forgotten about them. Some of them were pretty intense: running into grizzly bears quite close up and having things happen. Quite a few of those. I have started doing that a little bit just in case,” he said.

“I left out thousands of stories that are probably just as entertaining.”

“Grizzly Bear Science” was released on Nov. 7 and will be available soon at the Goat Bookstore in Valemount.