Can you explain your great love of animals? What motivates you?
Growing up in the Montana Wilderness, I have been fascinated with animals from the day I could walk. My father is a mountain man, so we spent as much time in the mountains as possible. This led to many interactions with wild animals. I just wanted to know more and was driven to explore and learn.
With much time invested early on, I began to develop an understanding of creatures that was special. I learned that if you want to know where the big animals are, listen to the little animals. For example, you might come across a raven in the woods; now, the raven and the grizzly are looking for the same thing. So if that raven, flying over takes a second look into the trees, there's a good chance of finding a grizzly below.
I love tracking. It is not only an art, but a great understanding of the animal you are tracking; almost to the level of nearly becoming it. Look, listen, it is there. Great beasts may only leave the slightest trace, but they leave something. I won't lie; I'm pretty good at it too. My wife's favorite story of mine is about me in grade school. When I was around 9 years old, my dad would be out bow hunting, and sometimes he would wound an animal and it would still be able to run pretty far away. My dad would lose track of him, so he would often come and get me out of school to track the animal for him. I always found it. I have also learned a lot from other great trackers. I once had the incredible luck to be able to follow a tracker in Botswana. I could see nothing but a seemingly unending grassy landscape, but he had become so keen that he was able to track a lion three miles from following one bended blade of grass every 30 meters or so. He moved across the landscape like following a map. A map of traces left behind. I asked him one day, How do you do it? He said simply, there is much to see and to understand, if you are willing to. How true this rings, not only in tracking animals, but in life. If you dig deeper into understanding these creatures, there is so much there. I have only scratched the surface, and that’s what motivates me to push forward.
When did you first realize your passion?
I have had this passion since I can remember. It’s pretty incredible, but by doing this Nat Geo series, I am actually living my dream from when I was a kindergartner. Passion builds over time, and tests come along the way. I have lived in a teepee for nine months for this passion. I have been attacked and nearly killed for this passion. But it’s a true passion, and it will never go away.
I remember crawling under a large juniper bush as a young kid while I was exploring along the river. There I came face to face with a rattlesnake, coiled and buzzing ready to strike, only a foot from my face. I reacted naturally, staring into its eyes, I backed away slowly. Most people would have left this experience with a fear or hatred of snakes. I left it wanting to know more, and it made me realize that I had a different passion than most.
Is there something particular about Grizzlies that attracted you to their cause?
People are generally attracted to things that remind them of themselves. And grizzly bears are very similar to humans. They posses a great amount of emotion and thought. Grizzly bears are very conscience. They are each as individual as people in their personalities. This combination of intelligence, emotion, power, and speed is simply awe inspiring. I always said that grizzly bears are only thumbs away from taking over the world.
Why did you help to develop Montana Grizzly Encounters? Can you explain exactly what it is and how it operates?
I have been working with wild animals professionally since I was a teenager. I have worked with grizzly bears more exclusively for the last 15 years. I've gotten to know many bears over time living in both the captive and the wild. They are the same creature living in very different worlds.
I was tired of seeing exploitation and abuse in the captive world. There are so many grizzly bears in the captive world that have no other option, but can have a wonderful purpose. So it was our hope to give bears "stuck" in captivity a great home, and more importantly an opportunity to be ambassadors. Just being in their presence demands attention, and once we have the public's attention, we educate them, and help try and save the grizzlies wild cousins through appreciation and education. People traveling or living in Yellowstone country stop in at our sanctuary to see these awesome bears. It’s the perfect chance to teach the very people who interact with their wild cousins on a daily basis, and make a difference, and save both grizzly bear and human lives.
How has grizzly bear/human encounters changed over time?
Grizzlies were first viewed by Native Americans as a brother like creature, an animal that they held in high regard, and even sometimes worshipped. Then over time, with the coming European settlers, the view of the grizzly drastically changed. While grizzlies killed their livestock here and there, the European settlers killed the bears in droves. Today we are somewhere in the middle. But it is my hope, and seems to be the trend, that it will lift into a place of mutual respect, and compromise, and that both humans and grizzlies can once again coexist peacefully. What are the most pressing issues facing grizzlies right now? What is being done about these issues?
In the Yellowstone ecosystem there are a few issues. Development, global warming, and genetic isolation are the main culprits. More and more each year, the island that this population lives on shrinks. Along with this shrinking habitat, global warming is eliminating some of the grizzly bears’ important food sources at a drastic rate. White bark pine, cut worm moths, and other populations that grizzly bears depend on are greatly affected. Without a stop to these events, it could lead to extinction; but most certainly to hardship, that in time will only lead to more bear/human conflict. I feel that education and awareness toward these issues is a major front on combating these issues. Most people don't even realize it is happening, so we need to spread the word, develop an understanding, and ultimately generate a passion to do something to help the grizzly bear.
What don’t many people know about Grizzlies?
Bears are emotional creatures. I have witnessed tears of joy from Brutus. And it would be selfish to think that this emotional characteristic doesn't exist in all of the species. Grizzly bears are not "blood-thirsty killers;" they mostly eat things that other animals have killed. There are so many misconceptions about grizzlies, and it’s this very thing that causes many of human-grizzly conflict. There are a few bad bears like there are bad humans, but 99 percent of these animals have no interest in harming humans. Over 85 percent of attacks are when a mother feels threatened and is trying to protect her cubs. They are not much different than us.
What have you learned from Grizzly Bears?
Insight from Brutus: If it is physically possible, then it is done. If not, it isn't. After weighing a boulder in at one ton, we used a tractor to lift it to place a piece of salmon under it. Soon after, Brutus caught the scent of the salmon and walked to the boulder. In one swift move, he pushed the boulder to the side and happily devoured the salmon. Then it dawned on me as I stood next to my friend. He doesn't worry much; he is not handicapped by his mind. If his body isn't capable of doing it, then that is his only limitation. He does not sit there and contemplate, or make excuses; he just does all he can. Then goes and takes a nap in the sunshine.
How great would it be if we could all live that way?
What is your experience in animal rescue and rehabilitation?
Lifelong; it started with injured rabbits, birds, and snakes when I was 5 to orphaned black bear cubs, misplaced cougars, and injured birds of prey in high school and college, and everything in between over the years. I imagine this will always be part of my life. I just moved a pacific rattlesnake off the trail when I was jogging in the Hollywood Hills so that hikers could pass safely. I love to help animals and humans to live together peacefully.
When do most bear attacks against humans happen? Why do they happen?
Almost all grizzly attacks are caused when the bear has felt threatened; and as I mentioned above, most of the time, it's when a mother bear is protecting her cubs. In its flight or flight response at close proximity, it often chooses fight. But the intention is not to kill and eat, but to beat up and try to make the threat go away. When a grizzly inflicts its fearful rage on us, it’s not pretty. It is so important to be knowledgeable and aware when in grizzly country. These conflicts can be avoided; the bear does not want to not have these interactions as much as the people don't. Proper etiquette and behavior in grizzly country can lead to a very enjoyable experience for both species.
How does the state of wild grizzlies right now relate to the overall theme of conservation and protection?
I feel that the current state has a positive vibe. The Yellowstone grizzly is on a comeback due to a newly enlightened generation and a vigilant older generation. People are beginning to realize that this species will only be around if we want it to be around and are working hard to protect it.
The bear is far from out of the woods so to speak. But with the public's current awareness of environmental issues, it is my hope that future generations will make conservation and protection a big part of their everyday lives.
Do you think the changing of Presidential administrations will affect the plight of the grizzly bears? How?
I feel like the current change of administration will be a catalyst of the already positive trend that is in progress, and could be the very push that could get the grizzly out of the woods. The whole world will change with the current change in our government, and hopefully the results will ring true in all minds and hearts, and we will love the world we live in and realize how important it is to share the planet with all others beings that live on it with us.
How much time per day/week do you spend on grizzly bear issues? What activities are you work for this purpose?
I think "grizzly" everyday, and keep up on the current issues. I work with several people involved in grizzly conservation, management, and safety. I am an idea guy, and I like to use that resource to help develop practices that minimize human/bear conflict. Whether it’s through education of children, developing camping gear that prevents bear/human conflict, or writing articles for magazines to help give people a deeper understanding of this awesome animal.
How else do you spend your time? What other animal causes do you work on?
I spend most of my free time with my wife outside hiking, running, and loving life and each other. But I am a weird hybrid of a rugged mountain man who could be in a tent high on a mountain one day, and the next day I can be escorting my wife to some Hollywood red carpet event. I like to think I can do both well. And I tell you, Hollywood loves a good grizzly bear story.
My wife and I are both passionate about all wild things, which include each other. I find myself always sticking up for the animals that are misunderstood. For instance, the wolverine is an animal that we know very little about and have yet to properly protect it based on this lack of information. It is one of the greatest characters we have in our surrounding wilderness, but some how we forget about it because of its unique illusive nature. This animal will walk over mountain peaks in winter, will chase off mountain lions and wolves from their kills and it can have a range in the thousands of square miles. It’s one tough creature! Just because we don't know doesn't mean we shouldn't care.
Why haven’t you been attacked by Brutus? Do you ever fear an attack?
I have never been attacked by Brutus, but we have had our share of father/son type of disagreements. I do not fear attack; most attacks stem from an animal feeling uncomfortable. I never push Brutus; I never make him do something he doesn't want to. When people "push" a grizzly or make them feel uncomfortable, it[s usually the human that loses. I have no interest in compromising either mine or Brutus's safety by being disrespectful to him. When you ride a horse, you get bucked off, stepped on, and kicked once in a while. Brutus weighs nearly 1000lbs. When we play and wrestle it can "hurt". But it’s not vicious or harmful on purpose.
All that being said, our “play” has resulted in a few broken ribs…my ribs that is. What do you say to people when they bring up Treadwell comparisons?
We are two men with the same passion. But we practice that passion in a very different way. Wild bears are not particularly fond of humans, and for good reason. So imposing myself upon wild bears seems, to me, very foolish.
When I am among wild bears, I don't want them to know that I am there. I want them to be comfortable and I want to observe their natural behaviors. I respect them. I also take precautions. I carry bear spray; put hot wire fences around my camps, etc.
All that being said, my father taught me not to judge a man unless I have shaken his hand and looked him in the eye. And I am certainly not going to judge Timothy Treadwell because I watched him for a couple hours in a documentary when he didn't have any say over his final outcome.
Crazy or not, he died doing something he was passionate about.
Where does Brutus live now? How often does he get to travel?
Brutus lives at MT Grizzly Encounter Sanctuary with four other rescued grizzly bears. He travels just as needed — about a dozen times a year for film, educational shows, etc. This is all part of Brutus's extracurricular activities. We only do it because he loves the change of scenery and the human attention. If he ever becomes uncomfortable doing it, then we will stop. He's the boss.
How many movies/commercials/etc has he starred in?
Brutus is an up-and-coming star. At seven years-old, he is just now getting to the size that is attractive for TV and film. But he has a good start on a resume doing various TV spots and films. We are still waiting for his big breakout movie, and when people get to know him, his back story, and see his excitement for the spotlight, he will be the George Clooney of the grizzly world. He was your best man? Explain!
Brutus did attend my wedding, but for obvious safety concerns, he did not walk down the aisle. He would have made a great ring "bearer." But after the ceremony, he did pose for wedding photos, had a slice of the wedding cake, and was awed over by the wedding attendees. He will always be my best man. We have been through so much together over the years, and have learned so much from each other.
Anything else about Brutus you would like people to know?
He is a comedian. He actually has a sense of humor and really likes people. He loves to take the hat off of your head. And when I come home from a long journey, he usually lets me spend an hour or two loving on him. He has taught me patience and how to fight for what I believe in.
I know that I have saved Brutus's life, but he saved mine too. He gave me purpose, and the inspiration to try and make a difference in the world. He has always been the symbol of what we are fighting for.