'Grizzly Almanac' educates, entertains with information

Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2001

"The Grizzly Almanac"

By Robert H. Busch

Lyons Press

"Few animals are as awe-inspiring as the grizzly bear" begins the fly-leaf of "The Grizzly Almanac." Author Robert H. Busch obviously believes it.

Carefully researched and finely photographed, this book delves into grizzly lore from ancient times to the current controversy of the move to reintroduce the big bears back into their former habitats.

Noting that the grizzly bear once roamed from Alaska to Mexico, the author offers information from the evolution of the grizzly through its place in folklore and the first encounters with Europeans to the decline in numbers in the 20th century and current conservation efforts.

The book is formatted in topics rather than chapters. "The Ancient Bear" describes the grizzly's family tree, beginning 34 million years ago with a dog-sized animal and progressing in branches to the present day Ursus arctos horribilis: "the horrible northern bear."

With photos, maps and anecdotal information, Busch leads us through the evolution, taxonomy and range and habitat to the next topic -- "The Big Bear," where he examines size and weight, diseases and longevity.

The sections include relevant sidebars and tables such as Boone and Crockett record grizzlies ("Of Bears and Men"), grizzly home ranges and grizzly densities ("Hungry as a Bear") and pepper spray position paper ("Grizzly Attacks"). Each topic is well researched, documented and illustrated.

In "Of Bears and Men," Busch names famous "outlaw" grizzlies -- Old Ephraim, El Casador, Three Toes, Wab and Old Bigfoot, among others -- and gives a brief description of their indiscretions.

"Old Mose was a Colorado bear who reputedly killed 800 head of cattle and five men before finally being shot ... after 35 years of pursuit."

The same part also names famous early grizzly hunters such as James Bridger, Theodore Roosevelt, Andy Sublette and, of course, Grizzly Adams. And perhaps coincidentally, it lists the documented "last grizzlies" in nine states and two Canadian provinces.

The writing style suits the subject. Busch presents his material clearly with a minimum of jargon. Because he is writing for both a Canadian and American audience, he is quick to explain or enhance: "Grizzly milk...(yields) 41 to 88 kilocalories per ounce(6 to 13 kilojoules per gram)." The material is cited within the text and includes an extensive bibliography.

Busch is the author of "The Wolf Almanac," "The Cougar Almanac" and other natural history books, as well as magazine articles that have been included in the Grolier 1998 Anthology of Best Science Writing. He currently lives in British Columbia -- in grizzly country.

"To some, the North American grizzly bear is the ultimate symbol of the wilderness. To others, it is the ultimate terror that lurks behind every tree," begins the publicity release. "The Grizzly Almanac" investigates both sides of this dilemma in an educational and entertaining manner.

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