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V.I. Legal Counsel Argues Persuasively With Grizzly

Sept. 20, 2004 – She's been a cop, a park interpreter and a lawyer. It all came in handy when the V.I. Legislature's chief legal counsel took a scenic stroll in an Alaskan ice field and had a close encounter she will never forget.
For the past few years attorney Yvonne Tharpes has been helping the Virgin Islands bring its commercial code into conformity with the rest of the United States. To gain more exposure to the latest legal thought on the subject, she traveled to Oregon in late July to take part in the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
After the conference was over and before heading home to the Caribbean, Tharpes opted for a side trip to the Mendenhall Glacier, 1,500 square miles of Arctic wonderland, part of the Juneau ice field. To make the most of sightseeing, the chief counsel read the guidebooks.
The East Glacier Loop Trail promised a short, easy walk from which visitors could enjoy different views of the Mendenhall Glacier without straying too far from the main parking lot. Tharpes set out, admiring the glacier, the mixed aspen and spruce forest and lots of red squirrels.
She said she walked quietly along the trail, hoping to spot a Sitka black-tailed deer. But as she approached the head of the trail, there was an unexpected sight — a "grizzly" sight.
Alaska's national forest is also home to bears, the black bear and the brown bear, also called the grizzly bear. After a couple of good meals, like the ones available during the summer salmon spawning season, the grizzlies can weight up to 1,400 pounds and stand 9 feet tall on their hind feet.
"All brown bears should be treated with respect and can be safely observed only from a distance of at least 100 yards," according to an online advisory from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
When Tharpes heard a noise on the trail and turned to see what it was, she found herself face to face with a head of a bear poking his nose through the bush, the better to see her.
Given a popular tourist attraction frequented by so many people, so close to a major city like Juneau, she said she never expected to see a bear on this trail. Besides, there was nothing in the readings about Mendenhall that had raised the possibility.
"I wasn't even thinking about a bear," she said. "I looked up and there it was."
The bear seemed just as startled to see her as she was to see it. Scanning her mental stock for some tips from a guidebook on Alaska, she remembered some advice: To keep a bear at bay it's best to put your hands up, which she did.
To her surprise, so did the bear.
Then it came down on all fours and started to charge.
Tharpes said her first impulse was to run, but that didn't seem like a good idea. Quickly she thought about what to do next.
There are two schools of thought about what to do when faced with a charging bear. One is to yell and make noise. The other is to talk calmly to the bear.
The chief legal counsel of the V. I. legislature chose the power of persuasion.
"Please, bear don't come over here. Please go away," she said, hands still high in the air. The big, brown grizzly took the hint, and took a hike, back in the woods.
Thapes could still see the bear through a thin blind of foliage and decided not to move. After ten minutes or so, she decided it was time to ease on down the trail.
Not so fast, her woodland companion seemed to say, as it stepped out on the trail once again. This time it had brought two friends.
Arrested by circumstances, Tharpes again put up her hands and found herself wondering how to get away from not one, but three bears. That's when she remembered her cell phone and eased one of her upraised hands into her shoulder bag and dialed 9-1-1.
"I said, 'Oh, no.' I was trying to figure out how to get away from one bear, but when I saw three bears, that's when I called 9-1-1," she said.
The 9-1-1 operator was knowledgeable about the trail and about bears. She told Tharpes it was a good idea to put some distance between herself and the bears, which she was more than willing to do.
As she softly beat a retreat, and after what seemed like the longest span of time in the cosmos, Tharpes saw two law enforcement officers armed with high-powered rifles, heading her way. They led her down the trail and back into the parking lot.
A few days later, while talking to some other tourists Tharpes found out the East Glacier Loop trail had been closed as a bear hazard. But when she told the tale to a colleague who also attended the conference, Tharpes said she got a sense of what a rare experience she had had.
The Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws draws representatives from all over the United States, she said. This particular one was from Juneau and was also an avid hiker. In 30 years of living in Alaska, he said he had never seen a bear, except at a distance from a designated trail.
And lucky her — she got to see three!
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Sept. 20, 2004 - She's been a cop, a park interpreter and a lawyer. It all came in handy when the V.I. Legislature's chief legal counsel took a scenic stroll in an Alaskan ice field and had a close encounter she will never forget.
For the past few years attorney Yvonne Tharpes has been helping the Virgin Islands bring its commercial code into conformity with the rest of the United States. To gain more exposure to the latest legal thought on the subject, she traveled to Oregon in late July to take part in the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
After the conference was over and before heading home to the Caribbean, Tharpes opted for a side trip to the Mendenhall Glacier, 1,500 square miles of Arctic wonderland, part of the Juneau ice field. To make the most of sightseeing, the chief counsel read the guidebooks.
The East Glacier Loop Trail promised a short, easy walk from which visitors could enjoy different views of the Mendenhall Glacier without straying too far from the main parking lot. Tharpes set out, admiring the glacier, the mixed aspen and spruce forest and lots of red squirrels.
She said she walked quietly along the trail, hoping to spot a Sitka black-tailed deer. But as she approached the head of the trail, there was an unexpected sight -- a "grizzly" sight.
Alaska's national forest is also home to bears, the black bear and the brown bear, also called the grizzly bear. After a couple of good meals, like the ones available during the summer salmon spawning season, the grizzlies can weight up to 1,400 pounds and stand 9 feet tall on their hind feet.
"All brown bears should be treated with respect and can be safely observed only from a distance of at least 100 yards," according to an online advisory from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
When Tharpes heard a noise on the trail and turned to see what it was, she found herself face to face with a head of a bear poking his nose through the bush, the better to see her.
Given a popular tourist attraction frequented by so many people, so close to a major city like Juneau, she said she never expected to see a bear on this trail. Besides, there was nothing in the readings about Mendenhall that had raised the possibility.
"I wasn't even thinking about a bear," she said. "I looked up and there it was."
The bear seemed just as startled to see her as she was to see it. Scanning her mental stock for some tips from a guidebook on Alaska, she remembered some advice: To keep a bear at bay it's best to put your hands up, which she did.
To her surprise, so did the bear.
Then it came down on all fours and started to charge.
Tharpes said her first impulse was to run, but that didn't seem like a good idea. Quickly she thought about what to do next.
There are two schools of thought about what to do when faced with a charging bear. One is to yell and make noise. The other is to talk calmly to the bear.
The chief legal counsel of the V. I. legislature chose the power of persuasion.
"Please, bear don't come over here. Please go away," she said, hands still high in the air. The big, brown grizzly took the hint, and took a hike, back in the woods.
Thapes could still see the bear through a thin blind of foliage and decided not to move. After ten minutes or so, she decided it was time to ease on down the trail.
Not so fast, her woodland companion seemed to say, as it stepped out on the trail once again. This time it had brought two friends.
Arrested by circumstances, Tharpes again put up her hands and found herself wondering how to get away from not one, but three bears. That's when she remembered her cell phone and eased one of her upraised hands into her shoulder bag and dialed 9-1-1.
"I said, 'Oh, no.' I was trying to figure out how to get away from one bear, but when I saw three bears, that's when I called 9-1-1," she said.
The 9-1-1 operator was knowledgeable about the trail and about bears. She told Tharpes it was a good idea to put some distance between herself and the bears, which she was more than willing to do.
As she softly beat a retreat, and after what seemed like the longest span of time in the cosmos, Tharpes saw two law enforcement officers armed with high-powered rifles, heading her way. They led her down the trail and back into the parking lot.
A few days later, while talking to some other tourists Tharpes found out the East Glacier Loop trail had been closed as a bear hazard. But when she told the tale to a colleague who also attended the conference, Tharpes said she got a sense of what a rare experience she had had.
The Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws draws representatives from all over the United States, she said. This particular one was from Juneau and was also an avid hiker. In 30 years of living in Alaska, he said he had never seen a bear, except at a distance from a designated trail.
And lucky her -- she got to see three!
Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much -- and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice.. click here.