Bears’ Lives Undervalued

Bears have been in the news lately. The reality is we could say that just about any day between March and November. Recently there were two incidents that warrant examination and comment.

An adult man was apparently attacked by a male grizzly bear while walking along a logging road on B.C.s coast. Media coverage, including the mans account of his encounter, indicate the man stood his ground, but the bear persisted until it began biting him, much as one would expect in a predation event.

This category of attack, where the bear could be interpreted as viewing the human as prey,  is not common.

On the other hand, the man did not, according to media coverage, have or deploy bear spray; $65 for a canister and holster, and a track record of 95% in deterring bear contact in over 200 known examples of close encounter in which spray was used, many of which would fall into the category of an attack. Simple, you’d think!

Because of this indifference, or naivete, another bear is dead, in this case at the hands of conservation officers. So who’s responsible?  I’d argue that lies largely with the human that was injured. He had all the time in the world to deal with the bear, according to his own account, but fell short by not being prepared.

What did this cost the public?  Perhaps tens-of-thousands of dollars, if we low ball the value of a destroyed grizzly bear, add medical costs, and conservation services costs.

Then there’s aggravation to the public perception of indifference, or nonchalance, about not having to be prepared when in bear country, and finally the acceptance that a bear was the culprit and should be almost automatically dealt a death sentence!

I’m not as forgiving! Perhaps a bill for medical services, one for destruction of a living object of public trust value, and a fine for failure to take precaution to protect the pubic interest, would be in order!

Then there’s the distasteful event around four black bears being destroyed in one week in relation to improper garbage storage in a residential area on the lower mainland. There are several unpleasant elements to these events, not the least of which was the aggressive behavior of conservation officers towards citizens who were present when the former attempted to capture the bears.

After urging the officers to not kill the bears, and putting them on cell phone coverage, they were arrested for interfering with the put down.

I got the impression from media coverage and interviews that this was a case of uniform-authority overreaction, something that is not pretty, alienates the public, and negatively shades the publics view of conservation officers.

Some parts of their job are not that much fun – this was an example – but much of the conflict with bears and friction with the public is contingent upon the CO Service not valuing bears enough to lay down the law with people who persist in leaving garbage where it is accessible to bears. It’s not ecology or brain surgery.

Keep garbage containers in the garage, always, or you get to lay down $300 or $400 each time the you miss the point.

Add local bear proof containers every block or two (tack it on property tax) in which it is mandatory to deposit waste. Some municipalities have bylaws about not leaving garbage pick up on the street before or after hours, yet its almost unheard of that anyone is charged or ticketed.

The solutions, even though not all encompassing,  are there; if we, and on-our-behalf, government agencies like the conservation officer services, do not value wild animals enough to take decisive action to enact and enforce safe-wildlife regulations, these kinds of destructive and sour events will only repeat themselves and carry on making unfavorable news.

These costly losses may seem insignificant, but as evidence clearly shows, they are part of a much larger lack of preparation for dealing with and saving wildlife, all of which are linked to a fundamental failure to value the Public Trust.

Who could not be angry that it keeps on happening!

This column originally appeared in the Penticton Herald.