My Turn: Black bears are a sadly misunderstood species
March 25, 2012
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. and#8212; A great deal of myth and misinformation surrounds the black bear. When Europeans first came to North America, the black bear terrified them, as did the gorilla when they ventured to Africa. The persecution of gorillas has subsided with education. But the black bears of North America still suffer from our deeply ingrained prejudices, and as a result, their current range in the lower 48 is now less than 15 percent of historic.
Our public officials tell us that bold and aggressive black bears need to be killed before they kill. Therefore it is understandable when people view bears as a menace and turn to the authorities for help, as was the case recently with Matchless Court. It is inexcusable, however, for wildlife professionals to actively promote and reinforce these myths when the scientific research and statistics on black bears paint a much different picture of this sadly misunderstood species.
Viewed through a lens of fear, John Richardand#8217;s video of the Matchless Court bear appears to show a creature that poses an imminent threat to the safety of surrounding residents. Something must be done before the bear harms an innocent person. Viewed through the lens of a rational understanding of bear behavior, the bear is playful, curious, smart, adept and doing what any bear would do under the same circumstances.
Myth: A bear that loses its wariness of humans is more likely to attack.
Fact: Predatory bear attacks on humans happen most often in remote wilderness areas and do not involve human-conditioned bears. There has never been a documented attack on a human in Nevada.
Denise Wong of KOLO TV reported on March 15, and#8220;NDOW says this was a bear that was a threat. and#8216;The bear was walking around showing no fear of human beings, which is a dangerous situation when you have a powerful animal that’s showing no fear of human beings and#8230; We rousted the bear from a culvert, chased it with a bear dog and instead of the bear running away and going up a tree, which it should, it did not. It stopped and turned and basically was displaying more attitude,and#8217; says Healy (NDoW spokesman).and#8221;
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Chris Healyand#8217;s first statement is disputed by overwhelming statistics, the second by witnesses on the scene who saw the bear being chased into the woods, keeping a good distance from the dogs until shot with a tranquilizer. Stopping and turning is not aggressive behavior.
But letand#8217;s put the chances of being harmed by a human-conditioned bear into perspective:
and#8226; A person is 150 times more likely to be killed by a tornado.
and#8226; A person is 374 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than to be killed by a black bear.
and#8226; 1 person out of 16,000 commits murder, but only 1 black bear out of one million does.
and#8226; There are about 750,000 black bears in North America, and on average there is less than one black bear killing per year.
and#8226; For each person killed by a black bear attack there are 13 people killed by snakes, 17 by spiders, 120 by bees, 150 by tornadoes, 374 by lightning.
The bears that made Matchless Court home were inadvertently welcomed there by the residents. Bears share surplus food with each other in the wild. When they come across food around our homes and in our cars, they assume it was left for them. When we leave food around, a bear assumes it is welcome in our territory and makes itself comfortable.
Bears need to be taught, consistently and before they are habituated, that they are not welcome in our territory. True bear aversion takes an investment of time and energy and must be done by properly trained people. NDOW, however, stopped funding its Bear Aware program several years ago, and on-site professional bear aversion is not used. And NDOW no longer permits citizens to employ aversion specialists (thought itand#8217;s unclear where their authority to do so derives).
So what can be done? Public education and garbage containment are the two most effective ways to minimize human-bear conflict. Fund again Bear Aware and enforce strict garbage regulations, levy fines for garbage offenders. Local bear aversion specialists must be allowed to practice and to use rubber bullets or paint-ball guns in the Tahoe basin (both currently prohibited by Washoe County ordinance). And NDOW must begin to engage in open, honest dialogue with the public and they must incorporate the values and concerns of their Public stakeholders into their wildlife management plans.
Non-lethal bear management has been used successfully in communities throughout the USA and Canada. We do not need to live in fear of black bears. The bear in John Richardand#8217;s video was beautiful, playful, curious and smart. He was not a threat and he did not need to die.
To learn more about black bears please visit these websites:
and#8212; Pamela Gartin is an Incline Village resident.