Bears don’t kill people, people kill bears
We are now at the end of another summer season, which, as usual, took its toll on our bears. Let me ask you, my readers, how many people do you think were killed this summer by bears in Tahoe? Or in California for that matter? Actually, I’d like to expand on that and ask instead, how many people have ever been killed in California or Nevada by black bears (the only species left alive in either state)? Some of you will be amazed when I tell you that no person has ever been killed in either state by a black bear – ever.
Now I want to share with you something I find extremely disturbing. Just this summer alone, so far, we humans have killed at least seven bears. Two were accidentally hit by cars, but the others were deliberately shot and killed. I hear over and over again how dangerous these bears are. But they are, in reality, the ones whose lives are in danger. They are dying at our hands while we have not lost a single one of our species at their paws. Who is the dangerous animal?
One of our mother bears was shot by a part-time resident across the river from the entrance to Squaw Valley a couple of weeks ago while trying to get into someone’s garbage. She had two 6-month-old cubs. They were still nursing. They keep coming back to the area where their mother was killed, looking for her.
I remember getting the call, early this spring from someone who lives in Squaw Valley, telling me “We have a mama bear with two adorable cubs! I just saw them passing through and I wanted you to know about them so you can make sure to keep them safe.”
We never had a single report, all summer long, of them getting into any trouble. One time, acting like a very normal mother bear, she swatted at someone’s dog up near a hiking trail for chasing and tormenting her cubs. What kind of dumb animals would they be if they didn’t defend their babies? (Once again, please make sure your dog is under voice command or on a leash while in the bears’ territory.)
In Homewood, another part-time homeowner leaves a window wide open with a bowl of peaches on the dining room table just inside. A hungry bear (bears are always hungry) passes by and starts to come in the window for the irresistible treats inside and is immediately scared off by the husband who awakens while hearing him trying to come in. One week later these same human beings, believe it or not, leave their summer cabin unattended for two weeks with another dining room window wide open, even after knowing first-hand what comes natural to a bear.
So, of course, a bear comes right on in and raids the kitchen, eating just about everything he can find. No one is there to chase him off and so he thinks he’s got some great friends. He’ll be back. It’s an old cabin and the owners haven’t felt it was important enough or worth the expense to put in a bear-proof garbage enclosure, even though Environmental Health, the DFG, the BEAR League, the Sheriff, their caretaker, and the neighbors recommended it highly. So the bear tries to get the garbage in the 1920s wooden garage and that is simply more than these people can tolerate. After all, we just can’t be expected to be bothered with this anymore – these bears have to go!
So a trap is set one week later in the yard, which is a natural pathway to the lake for many of Homewood’s bears. Two nights later our gentle old male bear, Brutus, enters the trap and is shot and killed by a trapper.
Brutus was a very large bear. The bear that entered the house left small muddy footprints on the outside wall, no bigger than what a 2-year-old could make. This same 2-year-old was caught attempting to enter other houses. Since Brutus was killed, five additional houses have been raided by the 2-year-old. Brutus never entered anyone’s house. He never would, and he never will. He is dead.
I remember getting calls about him from the people who live here in Homewood when he was first seen in our area. Everyone commented on how big and beautiful and shy he was. He would pass through in the night on the way to the lake, never bothering anyone or anything. People would call just to say how magnificent he was and how much they appreciated seeing him, and to ask us to please keep him safe.
I wrote my ‘tips’ in the newspapers and I spoke at numerous meetings all summer long (but it was mostly ‘locals’ listening and they already know). The BEAR League hung posters up all over the basin (but tourists stole them to take home because they were ‘cool’).
Since the year 2000, 24 of our bears have been deliberately shot and killed by depredation permits and 27 have been hit and killed by cars. I don’t have statistics on how many were killed by hunters (because it sickens me to think about it) but I know there are many.
It’s time to permanently cast away our rampant, ignorant, blatantly false misconceptions about who the dangerous creature is. We need to wake up and take a look at the real picture.
Who is killing whom?
Ann Bryan is director of the BEAR League. The BEAR League can be reached by calling 525-7297 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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