Archive for August 27th, 2007

Sharing your world with bears

August 27, 2007

We have come to expect strong alternate opinions on problem wildlife management when it happens in urban areas. There is always a strong and vocal contingent who are appalled when a problem animal is killed by conservation officers. If it is a bear, they inevitably argue that the animal should be trapped and relocated rather than being shot.

I wouldn’t normally think of a community like Ocean Falls, on the central B.C. coast having those same problems. But their situation is even more complex.

Ocean Falls’ problem with bears isn’t the occasional one that wanders into town and decides that foraging through the human garbage is the easy life. Their problem is that they are smack dab in the middle of bear country with an old townsite that is overgrown with berry bushes and has a salmon spawning river nearby.

There are obviously mixed feelings within the community regarding the bears and how they should be handled.

Even within our community the issue of bears is contentious. One local went to jail for 8 months for assaulting someone else from the community for shooting a bear on his property. The bear was a trouble free and welcome regular guest on his property and in the berry patch next door. Up until this point the community mostly dealt with bear problems on its own without conservation officers becoming directly involved. Because of the animosity created over this unfortunate incident local people capable of dealing with problem bears became hesitant to take on the responsibility and subsequently conservation officers took direct responsibility.

But there were problems with bringing the COs to do the work as well.

The times the conservation officers were here they proceeded to kill all the bears in the vicinity. The number of bears killed on their last trip varies according to who you talk to, the officer involved says 12 bears, others say 18 to 35. No one went to jail on this occasion but the officers created such animosity with their methods and interaction with the community that people eventually stalked them to warn off the bears.

Once you bring in the COs and tell them you want them to solve your bear problem they have only one viable solution. You shoot the obvious bears and it sounds as though there were lots of obvious bears in Ocean Falls. If they try to pick and choose and someone gets chewed by a bear that they left standing, where does the liability lie?

But the crux of this story turns out to be a couple of orphaned cubs that were in their second year of hanging around the townsite, one of which was shot by COs when they were called in a second time to deal with problem bears.

From my point of view, this is the silly part of the story.

Ironically a few hours after the cub was shot and just as the float plane with the officers on board flew past my house on its way out of town the surviving cub came onto my property. For the first time I felt it was a threat to me as it was ill tempered and aggressive. I would be to if my twin had just been shot. I hope this bear settles down again or it to will need to be shot. If the issue arises hopefully we can deal with it from within the community.

These cubs were probably guaranteed to become a problem in the community as they never were “bush” bears. And the writer’s comment about the agressiveness of the remaining cub seems to confirm that. But it was aggressive because the other cub was shot? Give me a break.

I don’t know what the solution is for the Ocean Falls’ community when it comes to their bear problems. No matter what the writer says they could probably use a better system to control the accessibility of their local garbage. Regardless of the draw that the salmon resource and the berry patches have in bringing bears into the area, local garbage is just going to exacerbate the problem.

Before this situation turned ugly, during my discussions with the officers they agreed that someone local who was licensed for firearms could deal with bears that were deemed a danger to the community as long as the Conservation Office was informed.

But that might not be a solution either as it sounds as if the community is quite polarized on the issue and any individual who takes on the role of bear control will no doubt end up being the villain.

The final paragraph in the posting leaves one with the feeling that the whole issue has gone beyond community safety and problem animals.

Unfortunately the common use of genocidal brute force to protect *our* territory is not restricted to Ocean Falls or towards other species. The aggressive military control of humans felt to be a threat to other human communities both historically and in the present day glaringly displays the deplorable moral state of humanity. I don’t know what the answer is but I do know that attempting to kill all perceived threats just increases the scope of the problem. If we hope to survive as a species we need to do better.

We are now into management of problem wildlife through philosophy. That will work until someone gets chewed.