Grizzly bear in water

Grizzly bears represent a wild America that once was—and one that most of us would like to see a time or two again. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Being close enough to view a grizzly bear in the wild inspires feelings of awe and nostalgia: wonder at their size and power, and a longing for an America that once was—when the land was wild and pristine, and we newcomers were still adventurers exploring something big and far beyond anything else we had ever known. It’s hard to come by that feeling in any other way today, and that’s why we need grizzlies more than ever.

Because bears and humans share a similar omnivorous diet, we tend to want to live in the same places. Unfortunately, that didn’t bode well for the bears. Ursus arctos once lived in much of western North America, from Alaska to Mexico and from California to Ohio. Between 1850 and 1920, however, during the time of European settlement, we eliminated grizzly bears from 95 percent of their original range. Unregulated killing of grizzly bears continued in most places through the 1950s, resulting in a further 52 percent decline in their territories between 1920 and 1970.

Now, there are less than 1,500 grizzlies left in the United States south of Canada. Luckily, there are still about 31,000 roaming the wilds of Alaska, and the adventurer in us all longs—and I would argue, needs—to safely and respectfully see them.

I saw my first wild grizzly bear in 2005 in British Columbia. After that, I knew that that one experience just couldn’t be my last. So I sought them out again in British Columbia in 2009, and in Alaska in 2006 and 2013. Below are some photos from my grizzly bear travels over those years.

Today, grizzly bears are symbols of wild America and the freedom we as a people treasure. And once the majority of us realize how essential they are to our identity as a nation, perhaps they will also become icons of understanding.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

Grizzly bear front in the grass

Grizzlies are usually brown in color, although their fur can appear to be white-tipped or grizzled—the source of their traditional name. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear in grass

In North America, grizzly bears are found in western Canada, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and in Washington. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear claws

Used for digging, picking fruits and catching prey, a grizzly bear’s claws measure about two to four inches long. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear mom with cubs

Generally, cubs stay with their mother for two years, although they will stay for three or four if the sow does not become pregnant in the fall of their second year. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Mom and cubs pouncing

Mother grizzly bears school their cubs in finding and exploiting food sources, and the cubs spend significant time observing her actions. This can be very clearly observed at Brooks Falls in Alaska. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear cub in grass

A cub that loses its mother in its first year is severely disadvantaged. Many bears that become what we term “nuisance” animals later in life were orphaned as cubs. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly cubs by rock

While mother grizzlies are fiercely protective, nearly half of all cubs do not survive past the first year. They succumb to disease, starvation and predators, such as adult male grizzlies, mountain lions and wolves. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly cub standing up

Bears can see, hear and smell better when they stand up than they can when they are down on all four legs. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly cub in a tree

While adult grizzly bears do not climb trees, cubs can. Sows sometimes tree their cubs as a defensive measure. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzlies and salmon at Brooks Falls

Although they are normally solitary animals—with the exception of mothers with cubs—grizzly bears will congregate in places where food is plentiful, such as these bears at Brooks Falls, Alaska, during the salmon run. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear walking the top of Brooks Falls

Grizzlies can run fast for short distances, reaching speeds up to 35 miles per hour. They are also good swimmers. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear tearing up a fish

Grizzly bears in Alaska love to feast on salmon, craving fats that will sustain them through the long winter ahead. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear scratching itself

After having seen my first grizzly bear in British Columbia, I sought them out again in Alaska in 2006 and 2013. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear in sunlight

Being close enough to view a grizzly bear in the wild inspires awe—and a bit of nostalgia. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

 

Grizzly bear grin

“For many of us, the world would be a poorer place without bears. We keep bears because they are a part of nature and because of what they do for the human mind, body and soul.”—Stephen Herrero in “Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance.” ©Candice Gaukel Andrews