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Grizzly bear featured in TV documentary film

Grizzly: the Shining Mountain PBS, beginning this week, 10:30-11 p.m. (check local listings for premi`eres and repeats). Documentary narrated by Rod McKuen. There he is - plunging through the snow or lumbering across a meadow - the most awesome animal in North America, the top of the food chain, the symbol of wilderness.

It's a good thing this solid documentary offers eye-catching glimpses of grizzlies. So much is packed into its informative 30 minutes - graphs, studies, talking heads, old photos - that it helps to be reminded what the show is about: a giant carnivore who is strangely stirring just to look at, as if he were a fugitive from the Pleistocene epoch of giant mammals.

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Yet this is not a ``nature show'' - in fact it's a little short on remarkable footage of the bear itself. It's a study - and a useful one - of the issues raised by his presence: Can this threatened species survive in the face of other interests - tourism, subdivision, mining, ranching?

Although siding unabashedly with the grizzly, the show gives you lots of competing views. It may picture Yellowstone National Park as faced with a ``slow-creeping yet ever-present army'' of forces such as logging or recreation - and may display satellite photos of clear-cut logging on Yellowstone's western boundary. But it also listens to a man from the Cody, Wyo., Chamber of Commerce talk about the million tourists a year who come to his city - usually to or from Yellowstone National Park. And you hear from sheep ranchers and see photos of sheep killed by grizzlies. At Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve - a breathtaking place and one of the grizzly's last strongholds - you hear a hunter's view.

At an outfitter's camp, Rod McKuen's narration even gets a little poetic in discussing the thrill of the hunt. ``One can almost forget'' what's really at stake, he says. Delivered in a tone of controlled urgency, his words are a combination of partisanship and frankness. It's refreshing, for instance, to learn of a dispute among authorities in wildlife management tactics - having to do with grizzlies and open dumps - and realize this program is not another bland recital of the naturalist's achievements.

But in the end it boils down to why the grizzly is important. Because he's the wilderness, the show suggests, and the wilderness is part of the American spirit. ``Do we want grizzlies?'' the program asks. It will take a sacrifice. ``Not everything of value concerns profit. One thing is certain, the grizzly will never yield to our will. And maybe, if we can learn to save the grizzly, we can learn to save ourselves.''

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