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Treadwell's Mistakes Printed Again

Authors' Lies Do Readers No Favors

Craig Medred / Outdoors / Anchorage Daily News / February 6, 2006

The memoir of the drunkard or druggie who finds salvation in some strange or mysterious way has become such a cliche of modern American literature that one can't help but wonder if there is much difference between disgraced writer James Frey and many other scribblers out there -- except that Frey hit pay dirt with a guest appearance on Oprah and a best seller.

Frey is the author of "A Million Little Pieces,'' a lurid, jerkily written tale of drugs, sex, crime, personal decay and recovery that publishers wouldn't buy as a novel. The book was subsequently transformed into a memoir that made Frey one of the more successful storytellers of the day until the Web site www.thesmokinggun.com revealed that key parts were not true.

What, you must be wondering by now, does all this have to do with the outdoors?

Ballantine Books is re-releasing "Among Grizzlies: Living with Bears in Alaska.''

This is a book written by the late Timothy Treadwell. And Ballantine, in reprinting the book, hasn't bothered to fix any of the mistruths, half-truths or scientific errors in Treadwell's book. They all remain, right down to the grizzly bears digging "razorback'' clams from the beaches along the Alaska coast.

Queried about this, a spokesman for the publisher e-mailed a defense of "Among Grizzlies," in which he pleaded ignorance.

"So far, no one recalls our being alerted to errors in the book,'' wrote Tom Perry, vice president, associate publisher, director of publicity for Random House Publishing Group, Ballantine's parent company.

Apparently the people at Random House don't follow the news about their authors very closely, because after Treadwell and girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and eaten by a grizzly along the Katmai coast in 2003, Treadwell became quite the story.

As it turned out, he had several fictitious persona, only one of which appeared in "Among Grizzlies.'' That would be the character eerily similar to Frey's: The troubled child despite good parents, the runaway, the alcoholic, drug addict and criminal, and finally the phoenix.

For Treadwell, as for Frey, there was a kernel of truth. Treadwell, at least, limited most of his prattling on about his personal problems to a single chapter that set the stage for his being scared straight by Alaska's grizzly bears or reborn in their wild magnificence.

And whether Treadwell was scared straight, or changed his life out of some confused desire to protect bears already protected in a national park, or simply made up the whole tale of alcoholism and drug dependence really doesn't matter, because the bigger problem with "Among Grizzlies" isn't the petty lying but the scary truth:

"I could have run (the bear) off, but it just didn't feel right,'' Treadwell writes in the book. "Peanut tilted his muzzle and poked it at my outstretched fingers, delicately licking them. I returned the favor, leaning forward to kiss him on his damp nose.''

This, unfortunately, is known to be true because Treadwell videotaped some of these encounters with grizzlies.

His book, of course, doesn't even hint that petting and kissing grizzlies might be dangerous, wrong or even illegal in a national park.

The National Park Service, needless to say, wasn't happy when "Among Grizzlies" first appeared. Park officials are even less happy now, knowing that putting additional copies of this book in circulation is only likely to increase the likelihood of a copycat showing up in Katmai National Park and Preserve looking to become the new bear whisperer.

"I hope people don't read it and want to go and behave like Timothy did,'' said Alaska regional park spokesman John Quinley. "That would be bad for the people and, as Timothy showed, bad for the bears.''

The only thing new in the re-release is a page and a half introduction in which "co-author" Jewel Palovak almost nonchalantly dismisses Treadwell's death.

"In October of 2003, Timothy died in the field among the bears he devoted his life to,'' she writes.

That's it. There is not even a mention of Hugeunard, a poor innocent in this mayhem, or of how the couple died. It's not because Palovak is unaware.

Treadwell's partner in an organization called Grizzly People, Palovak moved quickly after his death to seize his property, including photographs, diaries, videotapes and a gruesome audio recording of the last six minutes of the lives of Treadwell and Hugeunard. Pavolak took much of this material and contracted with filmmaker Werner Herzog to make the film "Grizzly Man.''

Palovak became a co-producer on that sometimes scripted "documentary'' and got a featured role in the film.

The popularity of "Grizzly Man" in the theater may have provided the impetus for the re-release of "Among Grizzlies."

Herzog paints a far more honest and bizarre picture of Treadwell than is found in "Among Grizzlies.''

Treadwell, of course, can no longer be called to task for manufacturing a fictional "memoir.'' But you have to wonder about Palovak. A former girlfriend of Treadwell's and possibly his oldest California friend, she knew many of his secrets.

And she only added to the deceits in the re-release.

In the new introduction to the book, she makes the claim that Treadwell's "presence along the Alaska coast protected (the bears) from poachers. ... In 2004, the first summer without Timothy's presence, six bears were poached in the park.''

Well, there were three bears illegally killed in the park in 2004, but they were killed in the Funnel Creek area, some 60 to 70 miles away on the far side of a mountain range from where Treadwell used to hang out at Hallo and Kaflia bays.

Linking Treadwell's summer forays to the Katmai coast to the prevention of some shootings at Funnel Creek would be tantamount to claiming that hiring a policeman in New Haven, Conn., will stop crime in New York City.

So does the truth matter?

To a bunch of people in California, apparently not. In the wake of Treadwell's death, some of them confessed to Herzog's camera that they knew Treadwell was in significant parts a lovable fraud, but it didn't matter because, as Palovak writes in her new introduction, "he was a preservationist, an educator and a friend to all species.''

And who knows that the same can't be said about Frey?

Daily News Outdoors editor Craig Medred can be reached at cmedred@adn.com.

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