Timothy Treadwell was an alcoholic and recovering drug addict in the summer of 1987 when he first set off to spend some quality time with wild bears in western Alaska. It was that or a nearly certain death in the L.A. drug demimonde. On virgin Pacific shoreline south of the Arctic Circle, in an area legally off-limits to human hunters, he found a reason to live.
Befriended by a golden-colored bear he named Booble, Treadwell made two vows: to give up drinking and to protect the grizzly and its habitat. He attained the first, but the second may prove beyond his grasp. Today the grizzly, which needs wilderness lands and rivers to survive, is endangered by its most lethal aggressor, modern man. Of the more than 100,000 grizzlies that roamed west of the Mississippi (in the lower 48 states) just two centuries ago, fewer than 1,000 remain, thanks to hunters and land developers. Just 2 percent of the bears' original habitat remains.
Treadwell wisely cautions readers not to imitate his field methods. He has survived countless brushes with death and has come close enough to brother bear to smell his salmon-spiked breath. The grizzly can bound along at speeds up to 35 m.p.h. and decapitate foes with a single swipe of its paw. To calm riled bears, Treadwell walks backward and sings. When encounters turn aggressive, he huffs, snarls and growls as he charges forward. Don't try it.
Although not a trained scientist, the Australian-born, California-bred Treadwell, 36, is a keen observer of bear life. Among Grizzlies is a heart-stopping eco-adventure, a testimony to both the grizzlies and their courageous protector. (HarperCollins, $24)