You’d be hard-pressed to find a Durangoan who doesn’t have a bear story. You’ve either come into contact with them on a hike, pulled into your driveway after work to find one eating apples in your front yard, sleeping in a tree, heard one climbing your front porch to pilfer the bird feeder, or discovered evidence of their foraging –like trash cans overturned or restaurant dumpsters rolled away in the middle of the night. You might even wake up to the sound of your car horn honking to find a bear locked inside. They can sometimes open a car door, but if the door closes behind them they get stuck and can ‘re-decorate’ the interior in no time.
In 2011 a team of wildlife researchers set out on a six-year investigation of how humans and black bears can co-exist, and how human expansion, food shortages and other factors change the behavior of the bears. The findings of this team inspired the documentary film Bears Of Durango. It’s currently making a big impression on the film festival circuit with Best Human-Wildlife Interaction, Spirit and Audience Choice awards, and a significant portion of footage is actual video and cell phone bear encounters filmed by locals and donated to the project.
In order to locate and study the bears, team leader and biologist Heather Johnson needed an expert tracker. She found her crackerjack bloodhound in a Colorado Parks and Wildlife researcher who plays a large part in the film, with a bigger than life personality on and off the screen. His experience in hunting and tracking animals made him the perfect candidate, and describing him as outdoors-y is a glaring understatement. He used to hunt bear, but after his experience with the making of Bears Of Durango he’s had a change of heart. We are pleased to introduce, Lyle Willmarth …
The questions are always the same. The answers are always unique.
SWD: How did you find your calling to work in your field?
Lyle: As a child I loved to hunt and fish — I was mostly self-taught. My grandpa took me out occasionally and taught me a few things. It was a passion. I used to bring hunting magazines to school and read them inside of my school books (until I got caught)! Because of the amount of time I spent in the field following animal tracks (backward) I came to be an “expert” (or at least a really good) naturalist. Carnivores (big and small) are particularly smart and were particularly interesting to me.
SWD: Soft tacos or crunchy?
SWD: What are your favorite adventures or getaways in the Southwest?
SWD: What is your favorite margarita?
SWD: What is your favorite Southwestern National Park?
SWD: Red or Green (or Christmas?)
SWD: What is the most satisfying aspect of what you do?
SWD: What is the most challenging aspect of what you do?
SWD: Is there a place outside of the Southwest you would like to visit? Some intriguing spot around the world?
SWD: Is there a Southwestern destination you’ve been wanting to visit?
SWD: Who are the people you most admire?
SWD: Corn or flour tortillas?
SWD: What do you absolutely refuse to eat? Any particular reason?
SWD: This may have just been answered, but … What are your thoughts on menudo (and no, we don’t mean the boy band)?
SWD: Where is your favorite Green Chile Cheeseburger?
SWD: If you hypothetically moved away from the Southwest, what would you ask people to send to you in a care package? What would you miss the most about the Southwest?
SWD: Do you have a life mantra?
Lyle: If you say that “someday” you’re going to ________, you will never do it or go there. If you want to go/do – make a plan and go do it!