October 1, 2022

Wildlife Officials Spouting Bear Talking Points in Explanation of Child Death From Bear Attack

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A 6-year old girl was killed this past week, her brother mauled and injured and mother seriously hurt by a black bear in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. The 2-year old brother has been released from the hospital, the mother remains in stable but serious condition. One report says they were swimming when the attack occured.

Now officials are making an attempt to explain why the bear attacked the three. Most of what they are saying are the same old talking points when it comes to bears – “rare occassion, bear must have been sick, bear confused people with normal prey, etc.”

DNA evidence is still not available yet to confirm whether a bear that was captured and killed was the same bear that attacked the family. It is also thought that this bear had been transplanted into that area from another area where the bear was being a “nuisance”. Officials state that dangerous bears are killed, nuisance bears are moved around within the half-million acre forest.

Duncan Mansfield, of the Associated Press, has an article this morning trying to explain why the bear attacked and what are the “normal” habits of black bear. I fully understand the need for officials to tout the “official word” when it comes to incidents like this one but isn’t it time that wildlife experts begin educating people in a different way? Bears are not the cuddly little things we give our kids to sleep and play with as children. They don’t talk and dance, nor do they live in Jellystone Park. They are a wild animal with wild animal instincts and as smart as we would like to think we are, we don’t know many things about wild animals. Heck, we don’t even completely understand our pet dogs. They attack and kill people, sometimes for no apparent reason.

In the article, mixed in with all the right talking points, is a comment made by Laura Lewis, a Cherokee Park wildlife biologist. Her comments seem to go by the wayside. Here’s what she said in response to a statement made by Joe Clark, bear expert with the U.S. Geological survey. Clark said there are more people and more bears that’s why there are more human-bear contacts.

“I don’t know that increasing population or increasing recreation in the national forest has anything to do with it. There is just not a clear link,” Cherokee Forest Service biologist Laura Lewis said.

“People don’t want to think it is a natural behavior on the part of the bear” to attack a person it views as food or a threat, she said, “but I really think it is.”

Bingo! I agree. What is wrong with telling people that this may in fact be a “natural” habit of the black bear. We certainly don’t know for sure one way or the other. People deserve to know what possible dangers might befront them, especially with children.

Maybe there’s something more to it. Maybe there’s money involved. What would happen to the revenue generated from all the National Parks that had bears in them if we began telling people no bears are safe?

Mansfield goes on to write about all the statistics that prove that bear maulings are so rare.

These are the only black bear fatalities recorded in the South in the past century and are among only 12 cases in the contiguous United States. Forty-five other black bear killings reported in North America were all in Canada or Alaska, according to the Minnesota-based North American Bear Center.

That’s not many out of a North American bear population of 750,000, said center director Lynn Rogers. “One in a million becomes a killer. There is no way you can manage for that,” said Rogers, who has spent 38 years studying black bears.

The article continues telling of the vast numbers of bears in the southeast region of the U.S. including Tennessee and then goes on to explain why the number of bears in this area has swelled so.

Conservation programs have swelled their numbers since the 1970s. Hunting is banned in the Smokies and in six bear preserves covering about a third of the Cherokee National Forest.

David Brandenburg, of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and bear expert, says that bear populations are reaching “cultural capacity” within the preserve but claims it is not out of control. Perhaps by park standards it’s not out of control and maybe cultural capacity is estimated a little bit too high.

Lynn Rogers, director of the North American Bear Center, explains black bears this way.

Black bears naturally fear people, and their first defense is to flee and climb a tree. While some may yearn for people’s food, those aren’t the bears that typically kill, Rogers said.

“It is interesting that where you have the most contact with people, you will see the fewest killings,” he said, pointing to the number of deaths in the Canadian hinterlands.

From this statement are we to assume that we would all be safer visiting our national parks if all the bears were more familiar with humans? If this statement is true then the following statement made by Kim DeLozier, supervisor and wildlife biologist in the Smokies region, is a major contradiction.

Kim DeLozier, supervisor and wildlife biologist in the Smokies, said the key is to keep the bears wild by moving them quickly at the first signs of habituation….

Is it any wonder officials don’t know what caused this bear to attack. They can’t reach consensus on how bears act normally and how best to deal with bears in the parks. You have one expert saying that statistics prove that most deaths of humans caused by bears happens in the wilds away from civilization. Then you have another saying that the best way to deal with bears in the parks is to keep them as wild as they can. This makes us safer? I’m confused.

The opening statement in the article by Joe Clark, the bear expert says,

“I think it is probably just a matter of there being more bears and more people in bear range than ever before,”

That statement is immediately followed by the one from Laura Lewis.

“People don’t want to think it is a natural behavior on the part of the bear” to attack a person it views as food or a threat, she said, “but I really think it is.”

So, who you going to believe? What will be on your mind the next time you venture into lands inhabited by black bears? Will you rest assured that as long as the bear is wild, it will run and climb a tree or will you wonder whether it has seen enough humans that it’s ready for a meal?

I am not a sufferer of bear phobia. I have encountered bears in the woods on several occasions and I have an absolute intelligent respect for them. I treat people’s pet dogs in a similar manner, realizing that both are animals and are subject to unexplained and unusual behavior.

I just think it is time to rethink what we are telling people about wild animals and in this case, the black bear and revisit “cultural capacities” and policies in dealing with nuisance bears.

*Previous Posts*

Mother, Two Children Attacked By Black Bear

Bear Captured Believed To Be One That Killed 6-Year Old Girl

Update on Nuisance Bear

Tom Remington