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Northern Colorado english instructor offers in-depth look into bears with book

By Kelsey Hammon
On October 29, 2012

  • Marie Dahlberg (left), Nicola Jones (middle) and Nicole Thompson (right), all freshmen undeclared majors, speak with English professor John Lofttis at Wednesday's Dare to Declare Major Fair. Students had the opportunity to get information from representatives of 31 majors. Ryan Joy


It's early morning when Laura Pritchett looks out the window of her house and sees a bear huffing and pawing about her yard. For Pritchett, who lives on a ranch, this isn't anything out of the ordinary - neighbors spotted bears climbing in the trees or even coming close enough to the houses to leave a trail of bear snot on the window. 
This early morning sighting is special, though, because Pritchett, a UNC instructor in English, sees the bear and feels a calling to write "Great Colorado Bear Stories."
"My approach for this book was different because it was something I had been asked to write," Pritchett said. 
And Pritchett's approach was hands-on. As part of her research, Pritchett snowshoed several miles to climb inside the den of a hibernating, tranquilized bear.
"Bear dens smell good," Pritchett writes in her book. 
"Bears don't defecate while in hibernation, so the smell comes from the environment - you smell the pine and aspen trees and the earth and winter," said Pritchett. 
This is quite the opposite of an awake bear, which Pritchett describes as smelling rather rank.
Not only does "Great Colorado Bear Stories" detail Pritchett's investigation of a bear den, it also reveals to readers how to get to know and understand bears, while raising concern for the future of bears in Colorado's wilderness. 
Bears used to live on the plains of what is now Greeley. However, due to a growing human population, the bears were pushed from their habitat. Still, if people learn more about bears and how to respect them, it may become possible for both humans and bears to live in the same habitat peacefully, a concept Pritchett approached cautiously when she put her face next to a hibernating bear.
"We want to live alongside the bears and be aware, curious and protective," Pritchett said.
Pritchett was entranced by bears after a year and a half of researching.
"When you love something, you learn to protect it," Pritchett said.
And out of her love comes a deep respect for the animals. Pritchett wanted to address in her book some of the misplaced fear of bears as dangerous, people-ravaging creatures, without taking the other direction and writing a romanticized book of cute and cuddly bears that could fit right in with the bear mugs at the gift shop.
Pritchett's hard work and hands-on research paid off.
"A valuable and wide-ranging work of scholarship, love and respect, Pritchett's book is a great source for the history of bears in Colorado - black and grizzly," said Rick Bass, author of "Why I Came West."
Pritchett describes herself as a student of Colorado's backcountry, a place she has been fascinated with and wonder-struck by since she was just a girl. Growing up on a ranch in LaPorte, Pritchett felt right at home.
"Being in the natural world is a huge part of who I am," Pritchett said. "I learned that I needed a lot of space to be happy, kind of like a bear."

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