June 6, 2023

Is Labeling Bears a Nuisance Dangerous to Humans?

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BearTrapThis morning I was reading an article found at RGJ.com about one Nevada community that is working toward providing residents, at a cost, “bear proof” garbage cans in order to reduce human/bear conflicts. While I personally believe that having “bear proof” garbage cans can help in some cases of reducing conflicts with bears, it isn’t the answer to all the bear problems.

According to the article, within a 2,200-resident Caughlin Ranch subdivision, the bear proof garbage cans will be made available at a cost to residents of $6.27 per month, or on average an increase of about 41%, depending on the type of waste service residents now hire. The use of bear proof cans is not mandatory and one has to wonder what kind of participation will occur and even in those who opt for the new containers, will they use them properly? And, without full cooperation, how effective then does the program become? (Note: I am not necessarily advocating mandatory use of bear proof garbage cans.)

This may or may not help. The reason I say that is that bears are influenced by so many things in their surroundings and normal life habits, I’m not sure people realize a bear coming and getting into your garbage is but a small part of a bear’s life. The question should always be what caused or forced the bear to seek food from a human source?

In the article, the person described as the general manager of the Caughlin Ranch Homeowners Association, said:

“I think it will definitely help,” Olson said. “What (bears) are going to realize is we’re no longer a food source. Just like they learned to come, they’re going to learn not to come.”

As I have already stated, having available bear proof garbage cans might help, but it isn’t the answer to all or even most of the “bear problems.” I doubt seriously that providing some or a lot of bear proof cans is going to teach the bears it’s a waste of time to seek out food inside of the Caughlin Ranch community. That’s because there doesn’t seem to be anyone suggesting what the real reasons bears are coming there other than the food draws them out of the woods.

That’s not really how bears operate. They much prefer “natural” food, i.e. mast crops, vegetation, fruits, etc. One thing that might force them to seek alternative sources of food, i.e. human-generated garbage, is when their is a shortage of natural food. That’s not a problem caused by not having bear proof garbage cans. Studies readily indicate that even when giving bears options between human garbage/human food or their natural diet, overwhelming bears prefer natural food.

Another bear behavior influencing factor might be that there are too many bears competing for the same amount of food or in a worse case scenario a combination of too many bears and a natural food shortage can present very serious issues.

A hungry bear is a potentially dangerous situation. What people have done, with a misinformation campaign by environmental and animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is label these bears that rummage through garbage as “nuisance” bears. The bear is not a nuisance. What the bear does, like getting into your garbage, becomes a nuisance to the people who own the garbage cans. The bear is hungry.

The entire resulting act and mislabeling creates more problems than before people tried to “help.”

Here’s a couple of examples: Protectors of bears often say that hunting seasons on bear does nothing to stop the “nuisance” bears. Their thinking is that hunters don’t hunt these wrongly labeled “nuisance” bears. The question that needs to be asked is whether or not a “nuisance” bear is a new subspecies of black bears or grizzly or polar bears? Where did these bears come from if not out of the woods? Are they a subspecies of bear that is born, lives, hibernates, eats, dens, sleeps, and never sees the depths of the forest, all within ear shot of housing developments like Caughlin Ranch?

It is true bears prefer their natural food selections. If too many bears are competing for not enough food, an overall reduction of bears can provide less competition and bears, generally speaking, will return to the forest and/or stay there and never come out. Some may think this idealistic thinking but it’s not. Yes, there are always exceptions to everything and even with well-structured bear management plans, there are still bound to be some conflicts.

When bears are labeled “nuisance” bears, this can falsely give people the wrong idea that bears, regardless of what we have been told by some, and regardless of whether or not they have become “humanized” or “desensitized” to humans, they are a wild and big animal and can be extremely dangerous to humans under the right circumstances; many of those circumstances we humans don’t understand. To teach people that bears are “more afraid of us” or that they are “intelligent” and “sensitive” creatures is wrong on many levels, say nothing about irresponsible.

Perhaps an example of this can be found in the photographs provided in the article that I linked to above. In the first three photos, we can see a bear trap, on a trailer, on the back of a pick-up truck with the door opened. A bear is about to be released back into the forest. The caption says that officials with the Nevada fish and game are going to use “aversion training” in hopes of “teaching” the bear that humans are not nice people. They are about to use rubber bullets and dogs to chase and frighten the bear away. This isn’t really a problem and is often done by many fish and game officials. However, upon examination of the photos, to the right of the trap, left in the picture, a man is squat down, holding one of the pursuit dogs and next to him a small child.

In photos number 2 and 3, we see a man with what appears to be a rifle pointed in the general direction of the first man, dog and child. We can assume he is preparing to fire rubber bullets at the bear as the bear runs away. To the left of the man with the rifle, can be seen, in the back of another pick-up truck, an adult and another small child.

Is this all that responsible? Have even these “professionals” lost sight of the fact that regardless of any situation, a bear can raise some serious trouble. Have these men and the many citizens been unknowingly brainwashed to think bears are something they are not? Are bears now just a “nuisance” and not a wild animal that needs to be responsibly feared and respected? Isn’t labeling a bear a “nuisance” an attempt at putting human traits and characteristics on a wild animal? Isn’t this then a reflection of a lack of knowledge and understanding of wild bears?

I recall a series of photographs that made its way around cyberspace several years ago. A photographer was at a distance and planned to photograph the release of a grizzly bear from a barrel trap that was located in the back of a ranger’s pick-up truck. What the photographer captured was a series of pictures showing the bear jumping out of the barrel, turning, jumping up into the back of the truck and attacking the man who opened the door to let the bear go free. The man suffered some serious cuts but was okay. We just cannot always and consistently predict what wild animals will do.

Only time will tell how effective this Nevada community’s effort will be. It is hoped that nobody gets injured and it would be nice if people, especially the experts and the media outlets, would think a bit more about what they say and the words we use to label wild animals. Words can easily “desensitize” humans about bears.