'Bear in the Back Seat: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger' is available through Amazon either as paperback or in downloadable format.
When Kim DeLozier was chief wildlife biologist for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, writing a book was the last thing on his mind.
For 32 years DeLozier hunted wild hogs and darted nuisance bears all over the Smokies. During his tenure, the black bear population increased fourfold from an estimated 400 to 1,600. Efforts to reintroduce the red wolf in the Smokies in the early 1900s proved unsuccessful, but river otter, elk and peregrine falcons all made comebacks under his watch.
By the time DeLozier retired in 2010, he had some stories to tell — enough to fill a book.
“Bear in the Back Seat: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger” is DeLozier’s salute to a career he never stopped loving despite its frequent frustrations and occasional heartaches. Cowritten by best-selling author Carolyn Jourdan, the book’s title refers to the time DeLozier had to transport a sedated bear from Silers Bald in the back seat of a helicopter. There was no clear place to land on top of the mountain, and the takeoff was delayed because of high wind. Foremost in DeLozier’s and the pilot’s minds was the very real possibility that the bear would awaken midflight.
“I didn’t want to give the bear another dose of tranquilizer because I was afraid she might die,” DeLozier said in a recent interview. “The noise inside the helicopter was deafening. It made for an interesting trip.”
DeLozier said the book is filled with offbeat adventures that simply came with the job, like the time park wildlife managers use blowguns to tranquilize a gang of skunks in Cades Cove Campground that had become tame from eating visitors’ food and garbage.
DeLozier writes about how bear management in the park evolved from simply moving nuisance bears from one place to another — the park once moved 32 bears from the Chimneys picnic area during a three-year period — to the realization that the main problem is people leaving garbage where bears can get to it, especially at night.
DeLozier recounts how in 1989 a middle-age woman from Ohio named Phyllis Murphy was mauled by a bear while walking along a stream in the Chimneys picnic area.
To find the guilty bear, wildlife officers went back at night with spotlights and were shocked to find 12 bears foraging through garbage cans. Food and scraps were everywhere.
“It was worse than we realized,” DeLozier said. “That one instant changed bear management in the park.”
DeLozier and Jourdan currently are wrapping up a second volume of wildlife anecdotes that will expand the focus to the park’s elk, wild pigs and white-tailed deer.
Some of the most captivating reading in “Bear in the Back Seat” comes early in the book when DeLozier describes his first days on the job. He was 23 and fresh out of college when the park hired him as a seasonal wild hog hunter. Raised on a farm in Sevier County, he’d been around animals all of his life, but this did little to prepare him for his first assignment. It was 1978, and there was no blueprint for managing wildlife in a mountain setting like the Smokies, where 9 million tourists were part of the equation.
DeLozier’s supervisor gave him a backpack and a shotgun and placed him under the command of a mountain man named Buck Branham, who happened to be a poacher as well as an expert on killing wild hogs. It was DeLozier’s dream job.
DeLozier provides a harrowing but steadfastly professional account of May 21, 2000, when Glenda Ann Bradley, a 50-year-old Cocke County schoolteacher, was killed by a bear attack near the Little River Trail not far from Elkmont.
“That was an extremely rare case of predatory behavior where a bear ran someone down and killed her for food. Black bears had done that before, but never in the Southeast,” DeLozier said. “I still keep her funeral announcement on my desk at home. I never want to become complacent about what happened.”
“Bear in the Back Seat: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger” is available through Amazon either as paperback or in downloadable format for Kindle or PC. The book is expected to be available at the park’s visitor centers soon.