One can't think of Yellowstone National Park without thinking about bears.
But not the soft, fuzzy, cuddly variety my daughter loves. We're talking full-grown bears that can stand 6 feet tall and top 600 pounds.
Luckily, their favorite foods are nuts from white bark pine cones - not Davey arborists.
That's a good thing because I spent a few days this summer with Davey general foreman Greg Bennett and his two person crews from Billings, Mont., in Yellowstone, doing some pruning work for NorthWestern Energy. Spending 10-hour days in a remote location in the center of the park meant bear sightings were inevitable.
Usually Davey crews don't have run-ins with bears because they are making some noise with chain saws and tree pruning equipment, which scares the typically shy animals away. But one day when we were driving the pickup on a deserted stretch of road we turned a tight corner and stopped suddenly at the sight of a momma bear and her two yearlings. Surprised by the truck suddenly in her space, she charged us. "She was just protecting her cubs," Bennett says.
Luckily, the crews - and the bears - were fine. The truck, however, suffered a broken grill and headlight.
Working in a famous location like Yellowstone, the world's first national park with more than 2.2 million acres, means instead of gray office walls or suburban backyards, these crews had the honor of being surrounded by nature. In Yellowstone, "nature" means more than 1,100 native plant species, more than 200 exotic plant species, more than 300 geysers, one of the world's largest petrified forests, and more than 290 waterfalls. Additionally bison, moose, elk, pronghorns, 322 bird species, 16 fish species, gray wolves and, of course, bears call Yellowstone home.
Since the main work area was so far inside the park to go back and forth each day, the crews actually camped near the work area three nights a week and went home on the fourth night. Focused on their work from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., though, meant being aware and respectful of the tourists when moving through the park. After all, Yellowstone is a favorite to millions of visitors each year. "In Hayden Valley, a big portion of our work was where most of the bison were as well. So tourists would stop their cars in the middle of the road to see the wildlife and take pictures," Bennett says. "It became just another day on the job."
Some of the job's challenges included lots of hiking to final destinations and doing a lot of hand work and rope climbing since machines couldn't always make it in to help get the job done.
But don't let these crews fool you. In their off hours, they got a chance to see some of Yellowstone's best attributes, including Old Faithful, a cone geyser that erupts in a narrow jet of water 90 to 184 feet high every 35 to 120 minutes for one to five minutes.
"The men working on our crews have done a fantastic job," Bennett says. "For us to be asked to go back in there for a second year in a row is impressive. If we can preserve the park in its original beauty and keep it safe from fires caused by utility lines through proper tree pruning, then we are helping to keep a national park alive. And that makes my job a huge honor."