Those of us old enough to remember when a gallon of gas, lead included, was 25 cents probably also remember the bears of Yellowstone National Park.

Old photos also tell a story. There were bears everywhere. That's because bears had come to identify roadside begging with food.

There are stories of people luring a bear into the driver's seat of a car to get a picture while children were seated inside the car. There are also photos of people standing inches from a bear holding food aloft in order to get it to stand on its hind legs.

One story I heard was of a Utah man on his honeymoon who thought it would be cool to grab a standing bear from behind. What he got for his prank was a very bloody shoulder.

Then there was the story told to me by a man driving through the park in his new Cadillac who decided he wanted to take a bear home. He lured a bear into his trunk with food then slammed the lid and started to drive off.

The angry bear began to claw its way through the back seat, so he stopped, climbed out of the car and slammed the door. The bear made it into the car and proceeded to rip everything to pieces. A passing ranger stopped, opened the door and the bear ambled off, leaving the driver embarrassed, cited and searching for a way to tell his insurance company exactly how it all happened.

I remember, too, staying in West Yellowstone and being directed to a garbage dump to see the grizzlies. I parked with my wife, Carol, in a row with a dozen other cars and waited.

When it appeared as if no bears would arrive, I turned to my left to open the car door to back out of my space. To my surprise and amazement, there, passing by at eye level, was the back of a large male bear.

We sat there, in the car, and watched as about three dozen bears arrived and began rummaging through the garbage. It was both exciting and disheartening. To see grizzlies up close was fascinating; to see them having to eat what people refused to eat was sad.

More surprising was there were people outside their cars walking about, apparently not the least worried about running into a grizzly.

For the sake of the bears, the park eventually did away with the roadside shows and the garbage dump.

In all my life here in Utah, hunting in the Book Cliffs, fishing on the Boulders, hiking in the LaSals, all prime bear country, I never saw a bear.

In fact, the only wild bear I've seen here in Utah was along Highway 12, near Escalante, about six years ago. Alongside the road I saw what I thought was a very large, shaggy brown dog until a sow and her two cubs crossed the road in front of the car.

She went through a barbwire fence, stopped, stood up on her hind legs and waited for her cubs. Once they were beside her she ran out of sight.

Bears are wild and unpredictable. They need to be respected and avoided. And they should never be fed. They do well in the wild on their own. When a bear learns to associate an easy meal with humans, it must be destroyed.


E-mail: grass@desnews.com