Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bear biologist Chuck Jonkel cuts through snow to build an igloo in 2004 during a trip to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, known as the “polar bear capital of the world.”

Pioneer bear biologist documentary will be screened 7 p.m., May 15 at LBHC

A pioneer bear biologist will be the topic of choice this coming Monday when Frank Tyro shows a free screening of his 2017 documentary, “Walking Bear Comes Home: The Life and Work of Chuck Jonkel.” The screening is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Library Programs Room of Little Big Horn College.
Tyro, a semi-retired filmmaker continuing in media-related pursuits, worked for nine years to document the life of Chuck Jonkel, who in 1966 began the first organized study of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic.
“[He] established all the protocols and techniques used with polar bears, then came to Montana in ’76 to work on what was called the Border Grizzly Bear Project,” Tyro said, referring to a project dedicated to the preservation of grizzly bears. “His life is just very, very interesting. He’s such a versatile person, in addition to having a monumental knowledge on bears.”
Jonkel, Tyro said, was instrumental in getting the five countries where polar bears reside – the United States (Alaska), Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway – to agree on hunting limits. Through their conservation efforts, he continued, polar bear populations have increased from an estimated 5,000 to 20,000.
In watching the 57-minute film, Library Director Tim Bernardis wants students and other audience members to gain a new understanding of “bear ecology” and “why it’s important to preserve the bear population.”
“This is really his big thing outside video productions,” Bernardis said of Tyro, who worked more than three decades as media and public TV director at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Mont. In September 2016, Tyro also aided Little Big Horn College students in camera use.
Jonkel introduced Tyro to the Arctic in 1984 – his first year working at SKC – when they and a group consisting mostly of students took a trip to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, known as the “polar bear capital of the world.” They continued these trips together until Jonkel retired in 2012, then Tyro became co-leader of the trips through the Great Bear Foundation.
Jonkel died in April 2016 at the age of 85, which Tyro said drove home the importance of his project.
“Because Chuck was such a mentor and friend, it was sometimes quite difficult,” Tyro said of finishing the documentary. “He meant so much to, not only myself, but the other people who worked on the film.”
In addition to the bear advocate’s work, Tyro will remember Jonkel as a humorous man with the ability to communicate well with both “kindergarteners and advanced graduate students.”
Before his trip to Little Big Horn College, Tyro screened his documentary at the International Wildlife Film Festival, held April 15-22 in Missoula, Mont. It sold out three times.
The packed rooms were fitting, as Jonkel had founded the festival about 40 years earlier.