Charlie Russell grew up in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, just outside of Waterton Lakes National Park. His father was famed guide and outfitter Andy Russell. Charlie and his brothers inherited their father’s fascination with wilderness and its inhabitants, including grizzlies. His brothers became biologists, studying bears and caribou. Charlie, however, was interested in studying bears from a sociological perspective, seeking to understand bear behavior — particularly grizzly behavior vis-à-vis humans. He studied bears informally for many years on his ranch in Canada and elsewhere; then formally for more than 10 years in Kamchatka, Russia. Now over 70 years old, Charlie continues to live among bears today.
He is the author of four books — Spirit Bear: Encounters with the White Bear of the Western Rainforest; Grizzly Heart: Living Without Fear Among the Brown Bears of Kamchatka; Grizzly Seasons; and Learning to Be Wild: Raising Orphan Grizzlies. He is also the subject of the PBS documentary Walking with Giants: Grizzlies of Siberia and the 2006 BBC documentary Bear Man of Kamchatka. He is currently at work on a fifth book with co-author Gay Bradshaw, Ph.D., Ph.D., founder of the Kerulos Center, entitled The Buddha and the Bear: Living Well with Grizzlies.
The MOON: Please tell us how and why you’ve spent 50 years of your life living with bears. Also, what does it mean that you “lived with” bears? How close to bears have you lived?
Russell: It started in 1960 when my father decided to make a film about grizzly bears — grizzlies in the wild; not in captivity, the way Disney was doing it. My father wanted my brother and me to be cameramen. I was only 20 at the time. I didn’t know much about filmmaking, although I did know a fair amount about being in the wild because my father had been an outfitter and hunting guide and I’d assisted him. We’d take people out into the wilderness on horseback for three to four weeks at a time. He also took people hunting in the fall in the wilderness area near our home. My grandfather had actually started the business back in 1905, and my father took it over.
However, that wilderness area had become despoiled through mineral and natural gas extraction, which put…