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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Bigfoot Breakdown

Although crudely written, still is worth reading
Have you been to the Bigfoot Trap? It's located in the Siskiyou National Forest in Jackson County. Tourists visit the trap to see if a Bigfoot can be caught. Since it was completed in 1974, the legendary creature has yet to be captured in it.

Yet, the hunt for Sasquatch continues intensely today, among experts and folks in southern Oregon.

Bigfoot has a dedicated research organization, the "Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization," that documents sightings across the nation. Bigfoot even has a dedicated television series called "Finding Bigfoot" on the Animal Planet channel. They try using modern technology to find it.

But it's the scientific community at large who doesn't believe Bigfoot exists.

Dr. Matthew Johnson is out to change that. Eleven years ago, he says he encountered a Bigfoot and since then he's aimed to prove their existence.

Johnson's research is well known his work can be found in local articles and websites.

"As far as my credibility is concerned, I had some people who accused me of making this whole thing up, as a way to drum up business as a psychologist, like 'come see me, I'm the psychologist who just saw Bigfoot.' Like, yeah, that's a good marketing strategy." Johnson said.

Johnson has marketed things before not dealing with Bigfoot.

He's done seminars across the country and sells a book he wrote on parenting.

On his website, www.family-rules.com, you won't find any mention of Johnson's Bigfoot encounter.

"Immediately following the year after my family's encounter, I attended the Oregon Psychological Association's annual conference." said Dr. Johnson, "The president asked me to stand up to 300 of my peers and said, 'this is Dr. Matthew Johnson, and he's the guy who saw Bigfoot with his family and had the courage to come out and say it.' and I got a standing ovation from all 300 psychologists there. It was a real coming out to say these beings exist."

There are many others who believe Johnson.

Karl Haekler is a Grants Pass native, a veteran of Iraq's Operation Freedom and a lifelong outdoorsman.

"There is something that makes human-like tracks in our forests." Haekler said.

Within 20 miles of Grants Pass is an area where Dr. Johnson says a family of Bigfoots may live.

That's one of the many research/interaction sites where Doctor Johnson and his team camp for a couple days. Their goal is to interact with the creatures at night.

To gather data, Dr. Johnson will spray paint tracks and use a parabolic microphone to capture sounds.

"They may try and imitate owls and make more 'whoop' noises." He said.

Johnson said the best way to interact with them is in darkness. No flashlights. No campfires.

"Bigfooting is like fishing. Some days you get lots of bites, lots of action. Other days, you get nothing."

Another sound he captures is wood-knocking -- the sound Bigfoot allegedly makes when hitting an object against a tree.

"It happens at the time of day when they're calling the others in. Cause it's time to start bedding down." said Johnson.

Johnson's girlfriend, Cynthia Kreitzberg, is part of the team and plays tunes with her recorder -- hoping to invite the creatures.

"I'd always believed that Sasquatch was real, but I thought they were extinct. Finding out otherwise has been fun." she said.

In the mornings, Dr. Johnson spray-paints and finds prints to make cast of the footprint.

"You see the heel here on the dirt. It comes up here and you can see, kind of lightly, the impressions of the toes working its way up here and back down like right there." said Johnson pointing to the tracks.

Johnson says the creatures have a mid-torsal break, where the front of their foot can bend forward curling down to grip.

Johnson says the Bigfoots can scale steep mountain sides "with great ease."

To prove authenticity, Johnson shows off some his most revealing foot casts.

"I think they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. Early on, my goal was to get them identified, protect their habitat, but I think they have things under control. My goal now is to come out and interact with them. Get to know 'em."

However, anthropologists from the University of Oregon and Wildlife biologists from Oregon's Fish and Wildlife hesitate to conclude that Johnson's findings prove the existence of Bigfoot.

"Dermal ridges... if you really wanted to could probably be faked." said Dr. John Lukacs, a longtime professor of Anthropology.

Lukacs is more familiar with the Asian version of Sasquatch, known as the Yeti.

He spent three field trips to Nepal where natives still report sightings of the Yeti.

It's in Southeast Asia where fossil evidence dating back over 300,000 years shows the existence of a giant ape known as Gigantopithecus.

Scientists say they are extinct, but Bigfoot researchers believe those giant apes are the ancestors of Sasquatch.

Lukacs is skeptical.

Citing evolutionary biology and population dynamics, Lukacs said primates typically travel in groups of at least 25 individuals.

"The fact that the evidences seem to pick up a footprint or a footprint track or a sighting of an individual, seems to me, contrary to the idea these animals exist, in reality." said Lukacs.

Another University of Oregon anthropologist, Doctor Stephen Frost agrees with that critique.

"All of the evidence that's ever been put forward is always a trace sort of evidence. It's unclear whether it could be faked or not. You know there are very clever people out there." said Frost.

Frost takes his criticism further, discounting the ways current bigfoot researchers prove the beast's existence.

"No one has found any visible scat, or tooth, or hair -- anything that could be verified in a scientific manner." Frost adds.

Johnson had recordings of what he says were bigfoots roaming around his campsite near Grants Pass.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife biologists hesitate to really separate those sounds from the sounds of what could actually be animals.

"It's difficult to distinguish sounds from far away. Especially with all the different types of vocalizations our wildlife can have. You know bears from a distance can make different noises, deer, elk...some birds can make some really interesting noises. Just to hear a sound and confirm somethin' it would be very difficult for me to prove."said Mark Vargas, a local district Wildlife Biologist.

A book review in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology sums up the take on Bigfoot today in the academic world.

Written by Matt Cartmill at Duke University, he compares the work of two scientists with differing views on Bigfoot.

Jeff Meldrum, from Idaho State University, agrees with Johnson in saying some of the footprints show anatomical features "that are too subtle and technical to have been generated by inexpert lay pranksters."

But University of Florida anthropologist David Daegling says pranksters can be experts too.

Fake Bigfoots like the Bardin Booger, Cripplefoot, and the Minnesota Iceman Cadaver are all examples of the length some folks have gone to prove its existence.

Daegling's fundamental question: Why do people report encounters with an animal that doesn't exist?

Try asking that to folks like Johnson.

"Just had a visual three weeks ago where one walked up during our night-sit area, where one walked up to the three of us, and walked right by me, and bumped me, spun me around, as it walked by and back into the trees and brush on the other side of our night-sit area." said Johnson.

Cartmill said it's hard to demonstrate that something doesn't exist.

Some philosophers say it can't be done.

Perhaps that's why folks continue their fascination with Bigfoot today.

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