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Wake Up to Wildlife

I grew up as the only kid to “Mad Men” era parents in Southern California. Our summer vacations were never glamorous, but rather consisted of unrelentingly long, hot drives to Mississippi to see my mother’s family, or week-long trips to Yosemite, Sequoia, and King’s Canyon National Parks to camp. While I tolerated the former, I lived for the latter.

SequoiaOnce we turned off the California freeways and entered the winding, fern-lined roads that climbed to these iconic parks, the pine-scented air of huge conifers hit me and I was instantly intoxicated. I loved everything I saw and smelled, the majestic trees, the wildflower-laden meadows, the cold streams, and rushing waterfalls. And my favorite part of all: the wild critters.

Throughout these visits I saw a multitude of lumbering black bears, inordinate mule deer, and of course, curious chipmunks and squirrels. I was naïve and didn’t know about not feeding wild animals. Bear canisters didn’t exist. WildEarth Guardians was not around yet to spread the word that a fed bear is a dead bear.

I spent every night listening to park rangers share fantastical fireside stories and then I climbed into my sleeping bag while animals foraged outside of our tent and attempted to break into cars and coolers looking for snacks—often successfully. I woke up and saw exactly where our furry visitors’ dusty footprints made their path during their evening ruckus with remnants of wrappers strewn across our campsite. Bear Sign

I’ve since learned that this was the era when bear “management” in Yosemite was at its zenith; nearly two-dozen bears were killed each year due to human-bear conflicts. Sadly, the bears always lost. Of course I know better now, but as a seven year old, all I felt was a rushing thrill to be so close to such a large, magnificent, and awe-inspiring animal. As a young girl, this is how I fell hard for bears.

The most memorable trip I took was in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Hearty fifth-graders, we each carried our own food, clothes, and bedrolls. In the backcountry we were smarter about bears, and the accompanying adults suspended our packs from trees during the night—something Guardians promotes in our Care About Bears Factsheet.

Somehow I ended up getting night watch during much of this trip. Night watch meant attempting to stay awake in the dark with a pot and pan. Anytime a bear sauntered into camp I clanged the two together to scare the bejeebers out of the poor creature so he’d get the idea he wasn’t welcome.

There were bears on many of the nights I spent out there in the backcountry. I didn’t get a lot of sleep that week, but I will never forget what I saw.

BearOne of the mornings when the other kids were already up and having breakfast—and I had just fallen into sound sleep—I awoke startled by a bear.  Apparently the day watch wasn’t alert and in front of me approached an enormous, cinnamon-colored beast.  I watched wide-eyed from a large boulder. The bear and I paused, quietly, breathing each other in. Finally, the clanging of pots and pans snapped the bear out of his interest and he bee-lined it to the forest.

My love for bears has only grown since that day. These childhood experiences and interactions with wild places and wildlife formed my values around nature. I am stronger, more courageous, and most importantly, have a deep reverence for all wild creatures because of the time I have spent in nature.

I am a Guardian to ensure that native carnivores and the special places that so many hold dear will be here for future generations. The fascination and reverence for nature that started on summer vacations as a young child has grown into my life’s work. As Aldo Leopold said, “I’m glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness”.

Guardians’ vision is a future where young and old will hear the howl of wolves in the wilderness. A future where the next generation and their children can seek and find wild places for solitude and know that the air and water in their communities is clean and protected. And a future where all bears have the freedom to be wild.

Thank you for your love of nature, for getting to know her beautiful species, and for supporting Guardians’ work to protect them.

For the wild,

Lori Colt Signature

Lori Colt Staff 2013 R1

Lori Colt
Communications Specialist
WildEarth Guardians

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photo credits: Sequoia with snow: Meg, Creative Commons, Flickr. Sierra Nevada bear sign: Julius Whittington, Creative Commons, Flickr. Bear in grass: Ed Coyle, Creative Commons, Flickr.