Once, walking through head-high sagebrush in Yellowstone National Park, a couple of field researchers and I ran into a grizzly bear heading straight toward us, at a gallop. The bear had better things on his mind, luckily for us. It was elk calving season, and between us and him, three elk cows were racing away, pink mouths open, eyes wide with fear, trying to protect their young. They cut left, and the bear followed, moving at a rocky sprint, his loose brown flanks rippling in the sunlight, intent on hunting down his dinner.
It wasn’t maybe the safest way to see grizzlies, but for the bear it was heaven. He was visibly better off than in those long decades when the National Park Service allowed Yellowstone grizzlies to become dependent on garbage dumps and roadside tourist handouts. Since that practice abruptly ended in the 1970s, the Yellowstone bears have become wild again, learning which foods to eat in which seasons, and living by their considerable wits.
Incredibly, though, there are places in North America where the tourist-handout approach persists. In Canada’s Quebec province, travel companies bill it as “ecotourism.” They set up feeding stations on private land to provide paying guests with what they describe as a “one-of-a-kind encounter with the black bear of Quebec.” It is perhaps a reliable way to see black bears. But it borders on consumer fraud to pretend these animals are “wild.”
The feeding stations effectively domesticate the bears, changing their