Bryce Andrews chronicles the life of a grizzly bear named Willie and her three cubs in Down From The Mountain: the Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear. Andrews, who works a ranch in Montana’s Mission Valley, reports first-hand about the encroachment of both man and bear on each other’s environments. Both a conservation polemic and a moving naturalist memoir, Down From The Mountain examines our perpetually shrinking world and the effect that has on the locals.
–A Good Book Cafe, Sumner, WA
The Writer’s Life
Bryce Andrews: Encounters Between Bears and Humans
By Amy Brady for Shelf Awareness for Readers April 16, 2019
Bryce Andrews is the author of Badluck Way and Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear. The latter, out now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (reviewed below), follows Andrews as he works with a Montana farmer to protect a corn field from encroaching grizzlies. It explores the dangers bears and humans pose to each other, and how development is making possible encounters between the two more likely. Andrews has won the Reading the West Book Award for nonfiction and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. He currently works with the conservation group People and Carnivores.
To understand my trajectory, it helps to know that I didn’t start out as a rancher. I grew up in the middle of Seattle, far away from agriculture and the world that I live in now. But early on I had an affinity toward conservation and the idea that wild spaces and creatures are worthy of our protection. After college, I worked as a ranch hand in valleys that border some of our last true wildernesses. I got to know these wild places much more intimately than I had as a kid in the city, and after a while, the animals I became most curious about were not the ones I was raising, but the ones that lived in the mountains. Today, I believe that wild animals are absolutely essential and worth saving–even when they cause us trouble. I’m pursuing that idea through my nonprofit work with the conservation group People and Carnivores in areas where wilderness meets agriculture.
Your book focuses on encounters between wild bears and humans who farm areas of land that brush up against the bears’ habitats. You go into detail about one bear in particular, Millie, who was wounded by a gun. We often think of bears as being dangerous to humans, but what dangers do we pose to bears?
Basically, dangers arise from collisions–accidents on the highway, chance encounters with hunters in the mountains and moments where a bear’s natural desire to feed runs headlong into something like a dairy, an orchard or an unprotected chicken coop. More often than not, bears who turn to eating domestic livestock and crops end up dead. As more people move to areas where grizzlies live, and the bears begin returning to territory now occupied by farms and ranches, such outcomes become harder to avoid. People and Carnivores takes into account the needs of bears and people to find ways to help both.