Editor column | Welcome to Lake Tahoe: We may threaten to kill you
I clearly remember my first up-close experience with a Tahoe bear. It was the summer of 2008. My friend Ryan and I opened the back door of our Tahoe Vista condo, and there, less than a foot away, was a bear. It was small, maybe 150 pounds, and it was very brown, almost tan.
For roughly one full second, I froze, and so did the bear. My immediate reaction: “Holy cow, it’s a bear!”
I imagine the reaction inside the bruin’s head was roughly along the lines of, “Holy cow, it’s a human!”
For that brief moment, we just stared curiously — and nervously — at each other, and then instincts took over.
“Hey bear, get out of here!” Ryan yelled as he stomped his feet.
The furry creature quickly obliged and bounded away. From a safe distance, it turned and looked at us, and as we yelled again and starting clapping, it had had enough and sped off.
There’s a certain rite of passage new residents to the Lake Tahoe Basin must endure. For me, when it came to the most important things one must know to live here responsibly, learning how to be “bear aware” fell somewhere in between being told that we live in the Sierra (NOT the “Sierras”) and understanding the fact that 4-wheel drive doesn’t make you invincible.
Shortly after that encounter, and throughout the many other bear sightings I’ve enjoyed over the years, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
1. While I might be nervous, I do not fear for my life when I see a bear. I know they are just as scared, if not more, as me.
2. I never, under any circumstance, let that first conclusion deter my ability as an intelligent human to understand that anything can happen.
3. With both those thoughts in mind, if I see a bear, I distance myself from it, and shout for it to go away.
4. I can do my best to properly contain my trash and food, but have little control over neighbors, second-home owners and visitors.
5. Not once have I felt the need to call wildlife or police officials to deal with a bear — nor have I contacted the BEAR League or other wildlife advocates.
6. I do not for one second blame people who feel the need to call the BEAR League to help shoo a bear — or for those who contact authorities to deal with the situation.
I’d like to believe that I fall into the majority when it comes to residents of the Tahoe Basin and our ability to live with the black bear population here.
A casual observer, however, likely would think otherwise. As we continue to read and report on instances of bears being killed for increasing numbers of interactions with humans, more and more stories include commentary surrounding threats against humans’ health in response to how they deal with their individual situations.
It’s truly unfortunate that someone can sit at a computer and type a Facebook statement for the whole world to read that says residents or wildlife officials should be shot or trapped and starved.
Is this the image we want to portray as a community? That some of our residents promote the maiming (or murder?) of humans because of the way they choose to deal with a wildlife issue?
Just imagine a billboard that says, “Welcome to Lake Tahoe: Depending on how you deal with bears, we may threaten to kill you.”
As I write about and read stories of death threats, I can’t help but think about how, if people are so passionate about an issue like this, our energies could be better focused on putting forth some sort of greater good.
Then again, deep down, we all know that we can educate, educate, educate — and enforce, enforce, enforce — until we’re blue in the face, and certain people still won’t “get it.”
But if other people who feel they are doing the right thing are ridiculed and threatened over their decisions, then what, exactly, is that accomplishing?
About the only thing I can foresee is a worsening divide within our communities. And in the end, those people doing the ridiculing — I feel comfortable calling them bullies — are no better than the animals we’re trying to protect.
In an era when bullying and cyber bullying is skyrocketing to dangerous levels, and we see more and more cases of crime and even suicide stemming partly because of it (especially among America’s youth), to think it is OK to bully people with statements and Internet posts that belittle them and threaten harm, well, it’s just plain wrong.
Just think of the example that’s being set here. I shudder, meanwhile, to wonder if an unfortunate precedent already has been established.
Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza newspapers. He may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin1MacMillan
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