We heard there were elk present, but saw none until late in the year, and even then only a small herd of 6 or 7. Of mountain lion and bear we saw no sign, and came to doubt any respectable predator would linger long in such an impacted land. Locals spoke of bear sightings, up around Grassy Lake and sometimes descending the canyons out of the high country to the villages below. But it was hard to believe.
In addition to the conservation projects, the Utah Conservation Corps had us take a course in sustainability, that we might exercise our minds as well as our bodies, that we may build knowledge as well as trails and fences. In short, that we might be more than mere grunts. We were also to give a presentation from a list of topics to our crew, and I chose the wolf reintroduction controversy in Yellowstone and Idaho, a thing I was already interested in and a great supporter of. The world needs more predators.
It was on one of our last fence-builds of the year, in among a mixed stand of aspen and ponderosa pine, when I had wandered a short distance down the trail, looking for a suitable choke-point at which to build our barrier. Glancing down at the needle-strewn ground at the edge of a small clearing, I saw fresh tracks in the soft mud. Bear tracks, and big ones. They led off into the grass-floored aspen woods standing adjacent, leading up and over a rise and out of sight. I called the crew over to look at and admire the signature of a wild brother, and fought hard the urge to follow wherever they might lead.
No, I had to stay. We had 'necks to stop.