Grasshopper Soup: Dances with bears, part two
TAHOE/TRUCKEE andamp;#8212; Last weekandamp;#8217;s column was dedicated to in-depth descriptions of real-life encounters with black bears in a unique situation in Alaska. Grasshopper Soup today elaborates on how the lessons learned from those experiences may apply to us in Tahoe.The main point of sharing those bear stories was to stress the importance of remaining calm in the presence of bears. If you find yourself close to a bear unexpectedly, take a deep breath, and remove yourself from the situation. Remaining cool, calm and collected near a bear is not easy to do, but it could save your life, and the life of the bear.Accepting the situation is the first step to remaining calm, and a calm approach to dealing with bears is not to be interpreted as an approval of encouraging bears to feel comfortable around humans.Not every bear will leave if you make loud noises from a safe distance, but most will.In Alaska we had no choice but to learn to live with bears. We had to mingle with them and manage them while going about our daily business because they came around so frequently. The nearest fish and game warden was hours away by float plane or boat.We were often caught off guard, especially when Ginger the dog, our bear alarm, was sleeping on the job, like the day the little mama bear, our most regular visitor, ran up to the barbecue pit and grabbed one end of the double-handled salmon grill I was holding over the fire. A fierce, but brief, tug oandamp;#8217; war ensued. Guess who won? She spilled 24 salmon filets on the patio and only ate two. We never intentionally fed bears.Bears are here to stay and so are we. Intentionally or not, we invite bears with food, because we cannot expect to keep our homes food-free if we live here year-round, and the presence of garbage in residential and business areas cannot be 100 percent prevented. Even if locals and visitors took all necessary precautions, encounters between bears and humans would be inevitable.Like humans, bears have different personalities. They donandamp;#8217;t all respond the same to humans, but, if we project dominance, a bear is more likely to become submissive. If we donandamp;#8217;t project dominance, the bear will be more likely to take the dominant role.Bear removal measures can be improved if the people involved remain calm and try to persuade onlookers to disperse for their own good and the good of the bear. If a highly charged mood of tension and anxiety among humans prevails around a bear, the bear can easily sense it, and will respond with more tension and confusion, or dominance. That is when bad things can happen to the bear and to humans. Working at cross purposes does not help the situation. Fighting among ourselves or showing fear and stress encourages bears and makes it more difficult to scare them away. Everyone involved in a bear removal effort must cooperate with one another, and remain calm to ensure the most positive results. You canandamp;#8217;t get a bear to come down from a tree or leave a culvert when a bunch of people are hanging around. Bears fear people, but will remain if they feel safe in a tree or a culvert. The best thing in that situation is for the people to leave the scene. The Sierra Sun and other local papers frequently run stories on the steps humans can take to discourage bears or to scare bears away and prevent trouble for bears and people.I fully support local bear control measures and efforts to deal with problem bears, as long as everyone exercises patience, cooperation and calm so that we can share a true live-and-let-live relationship with bears, even in the most difficult and dangerous situations.A reasonable amount of regulated bear hunting makes sense so that bears can remain in balance with their natural resources and habitat, and to minimize the risk to an ever-growing human population.Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.
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