WOODS BAY — When “Jungle Jack” Hanna tells you that people donate money to people, not causes, you might think he’s tooting his own horn — especially since the TV talk show regular is hosting a fundraiser at his farm between Woods Bay and Bigfork next month.
Instead, Hanna — who says anyone who watches him bring exotic animals on shows such as “Late Night with David Letterman” probably considers him “a walking encyclopedia of misinformation” – is referring to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks grizzly bear management specialist Tim Manley.
“You mention Tim’s name anywhere in this country, and people who know grizzly bears know who he is,” Hanna says. “I’ve traveled the world and met a lot of researchers who are studying the elephant, the tiger shark, the snow leopard, whatever – a lot of these experts you can’t talk to, they’re the guru, but Tim is just this unassuming guy.”
The “Grizzly Bear Rendezvous” – now in its seventh year and scheduled for July 11 at Jack and Suzi Hanna’s place overlooking Flathead Lake – raises money to pay for interns and technicians to work with wildlife biologists such as Manley, who concentrate on managing Montana’s grizzly bear population.
It’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation’s party, but when Hanna – the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio – lets them throw it at his place near Flathead Lake, “It brings an added dimension to it,” Manley says.
That “added dimension” talks a mile a minute, leaps from subject to subject, sometimes in mid-sentence, and is thoroughly entertaining every step of the way.
“I have AT&T, ADD, whatever it is,” he explains at one point.
Hanna has had a place in Montana for almost 30 years, first in the south-central part of the state near the Absaroka Mountains.
“We saw lots of bears, but there were no grizzlies down there back then,” he says.
An assignment with ABC-TV at some point brought Hanna to a fire camp near Libby, and when he drove back down through the Flathead Valley and along Flathead Lake he says he knew he’d found where he wanted to live.
“I’ve seen the world, and there’s nothing like this,” Hanna says. “I still consider Glacier Park one of the wonders of the world. For me, this is not just home, it’s paradise.”
He’s been in the Bigfork-Woods Bay area since the 1990s.
It’s in Glacier that Hanna had one of his most frightening encounters with the wildlife he loves, and there were no TV cameras around to record it. He’d just done a public service announcement promoting the carrying of bear spray, and was on a hike to Grinnell Glacier in the park with Suzi.
The encounter was with a momma grizzly and her two 2-year-olds, and “Thank God they weren’t babies or it probably would have turned out differently,” Hanna says.
They’d come across three other hikers retreating from the bears, and were joined by two more who came up behind them when momma bear came around a bend and into view.
“There was no time to run or act big,” Hanna says. “I said, ‘Sue, get me the bear spray.’ ”
Hanna had the group retreat up the trail without turning away from the grizzly and her cubs.
“We walked backward for what seemed like an hour, but was probably five minutes,” he says. They came to a “grassy wall” that Hanna told everyone to scale. The momma and one of the younger grizzlies passed, but the second 2-year-old wasn’t so easygoing.
Hanna made the decision, and fired the pepper spray in the aggressive bear’s direction.
“It just blew off in the wind,” he says.
The grizzly kept advancing. He waited until it was just a few feet away and sent another stream the bear’s way. That one found its target.
“That momma bear’s gonna come back and eat me now,” he said he told the group.
There’s much more to the story, which may get a retelling or two at the July 11 fundraiser. It ends at the Two Sisters, a bar and café in Baab, where the owner asks Hanna to sign the used bear spray canister so he can display it.
It’s taken outside and emptied first – right next to, it turns out, an intake fan into the kitchen.
Soon, all the employees and customers have been driven outside, their eyes watering.
Like most everything the affable Hanna brings up, something he says reminds him of something else, and the story includes or leads him to relate:
• A side story of a rhinoceros that once picked up and moved a Jeep Hanna was in.
• Why such stories should be called “encounters” rather than “attacks.”
• Why there is no such thing as a man-eating grizzly or tiger (“They’re just consuming food”).
• A recent lunch he had with Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, at Buckingham Palace (“Are you a bunny hugger?” the Prince asked him).
• His reaction to being handed a separate menu for bottled water in a New York City restaurant ($22 for one from Switzerland).
• How, when they changed oil in vehicles back in his native Tennessee when he was a kid, they’d let the old oil pour out onto the ground (“My generation has done more damage to the planet than any other,” he says).
It’s easy to see why the fundraiser at the Hannas’ has become popular.
Jane Ratzlaff, outreach coordinator for Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation, says it began as “a very exclusive, small event” that has grown each year.
In six years, approximately $400,000 has been raised to help grizzly management efforts that include augmenting grizzly numbers in places such as the Cabinet Mountains. Last year, 240 people attended the event.
“Jack and Suzi let us open it up, and it’s become a great way to spread word about grizzly bear work that’s going on,” Ratzlaff says.
Executive director George Bettas says it’s helped fund three bear management technician positions, purchase equipment used to collar and track bears, and help protect the bears and people’s property.
Most programs have focused on FWP regions 1 and 2, but the foundation hopes to raise enough to fund management technician jobs in regions 3 and 4, in southwestern Montana and along the Rocky Mountain Front, as well. Money raised may also help fund mountain lion studies, since mountain lion and grizzly habitat often overlap.
Just as some Americans may be interested in the panda bear of Asia, Hanna says people on other continents are fascinated with our grizzlies.
“When I’m in Africa – and I’ve been two times in the last six months – the children there want to know about our ‘monster’ bear,” Hanna says. “You’d think it was King Kong, the way they describe it.”
“They’re magnificent,” he goes on. “We do six 50-mile hikes in Glacier every year … now, I film animals all over the world … and I’ll tell you, you see a grizzly at a distance in Glacier, it’s one of the most spectacular sights there is.”