To his credit, he didn’t seem to care very much. I think it’s true that we tend to take our lives too seriously in some ways; which Timothy didn’t do. He even once said on “Letterman” that he might end up as “bear shit.” So, although he didn’t mind being killed by a bear, my concern was that there would be terrible repercussions for the bears. Which there were. We live in such a hunting culture, I knew they’d use Timothy’s death to open up new areas to hunting; to enable hunting right up next to national parks and bear-viewing areas like McNeil Falls, and that’s what they did. It was a nightmare. All these bears who had learned to trust people were exposed to hunting. So what his life ultimately proved was that he cared more about Timothy Treadwell, and the Timothy Treadwell mystique, than he did about bears.
The MOON: How do you reconcile your advice to carry pepper spray and surround yourself with electric fencing with your belief that we need to base our relationship with bears on trust?
Russell: There are some bears who are dangerous, just like there are some people who are dangerous. These bears don’t like people, and they don’t like them for very good reasons. Generally, bears who aren’t trustworthy won’t build a relationship with you. You have to take precautions against those bears, just as you have to take precautions against dangerous people. Timothy didn’t take those basic precautions, and now I can’t conduct an interview, or give a lecture, without having to talk about Timothy Treadwell, and it pisses me off. He didn’t have to die, but he wouldn’t take the simple precautions that would have prevented it.
The MOON: The theme of this issue is “The Call of the Wild.” Can you speak to that? Why should we value wildness? What does it mean for us humans, who think we’re so civilized?
Russell: There is so much we can learn from nature, even though most people think we can improve upon nature. In agriculture, for instance, we think we can create fertilizers and pesticides and even crops that are better than nature provides. And then we think we’ll create chemicals to counteract the problems that result. We’ve gotten away with it to a certain extent, but now the problems are multiplying: soil loss, habitat loss, species loss, global warming, rainforest loss, acidification of the oceans, fisheries loss, droughts and water shortages. If we’re not part of nature, what are we?
I’ll tell you what we are: totally screwed, but we don’t know it yet.
I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by incredible beauty, enjoying wonderful relationships with wild animals most of us were taught to fear. We really need to get over our fear of the wild. It’s what sustains us; not what threatens us.
For more about Charlie, visit his website.