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A bear of a project

A male grizzly bear sits on a table in James Gilman’s classroom at Powell High School. The bear thawed on Monday night and was skinned Tuesday. A male grizzly bear sits on a table in James Gilman’s classroom at Powell High School. The bear thawed on Monday night and was skinned Tuesday. Courtesy photo/James Gilman

PHS students take on taxidermy challenge

Art students at Powell High School could smell a rare opportunity as they walked in to school Tuesday morning.

The male grizzly bear euthanized on the east side of Heart Mountain Sept. 7 was waiting for them in James Gilman's classroom at the back of the school.



The bear was put down for becoming too habituated to humans, and therefore a potential danger. The Game and Fish Department contacted Gilman to see if he would want the bear for a taxidermy project for high school students.

Gilman originally declined due to the cost of such a project, which he estimated at $1,000. But after community support helped raise funds, the grizzly was delivered to the high school Monday afternoon.

The bear arrived frozen and spent the night thawing.

Students began skinning the bear Tuesday morning. And that's when things got smelly.

Gilman has performed taxidermy — as part of both class and personal projects — on animals that range from ducks and geese to foxes, coyotes, mountain lions and bighorn sheep.

But the bear, well, the bear was different.

"It's more smell than we've ever had," Gilman said.

The smell, along with the blood and guts, had some passing students curious, others disgusted and some genuinely excited.

"What am I getting myself into?" asked freshman Robert Muecke, who was wearing blue latex gloves smeared with blood.

It was Muecke's first time performing taxidermy, and he was excited about his rare opportunity.

"It's pretty cool to have a (grizzly bear) because you're not allowed to kill a bear legally," he said.

As for the smell, "You just get used to it," Muecke said.

The owners of El Tapatio restaurant on Bent Street did not get used to it, nor did they want their customers getting used to it.

Junior Alvaro Acevedo said he was kicked out of the restaurant, owned by his parents, for smelling like he had his hands inside a dead bear earlier in the day.

"It ain't the best, but the smell's horrible," Acevedo said.

Acevedo spent more than half of his Tuesday in Gilman's classroom, trying to soak up as much of the unique experience as possible.

The rarity of the circumstances also didn't fall past senior Paul Bridges.

"Me and my dad hunt all the time. He said maybe once more in your life will you be able to cape out a bear," Bridges said.

But even an avid hunter like Bridges wasn't prepared for this particular scent of education.

"I didn't think it was as bad as an elk," Bridges said. "But then I took it back."

Acevedo, Bridges and Muecke all helped skin the bear, alongside many other Powell High School students.

The hide will be tanned at Timber Ridge Taxidermy in Ralston. Once the hide is returned to the school in a couple months, the students will be involved in forming and mounting the bear, Gilman said.

The finished project will be displayed in one of the wings of the high school.

Anyone wanting to donate funds to support the taxidermy project can contact Powell High School principal Jim Kuhn or art teacher James Gilman.

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