Are Bears More Important Than People?


Gary Gustafson, Bear Hunting Magazine
On rare occasions, some bears can be aggressive.
Relocation Of Bears Often Just Moves The Problem
Informing The Public Prevents Tragedies

Sunday's attack upon Robin Kochorek, a mountain bike rider in British Columbia, was terribly tragic. Making it even more tragic is the fact that wildlife officers had already known that a bear was acting aggressively toward humans in the area, but apparently did not fully understand the danger the bear posed. Or--they were in denial about it.

No Warning Given

While Kochorek's family doesn't lay blame on the bear for what it did, her family and friends have questions they want answered about the lack of a warning. Lindsay Stene was riding with Robin the day the alleged attack occured and could just as well have been the victim herself if she and Robin had not chosen separate routes down the mountain.

In an article in Tuesday's Calgary Herald Stene says that when they began the search for Kochorek: "Two staff people said 'not to freak you out, but there's been a curious bear in the area.' One of the people said this bear has been chasing mountain bikers," said Stene, 33. "I just about collapsed when I heard that."

Stene said neither she nor Kochorek had any inkling there may have been a bear on the hill. She said that if there had have been warning signs posted, the pair wouldn't have ridden the trails.

"We wouldn't dream of going to a place where there is a big sign saying there's a bear in the area," said Stene, who met Kochorek at grad school at the University of Alberta. "She wouldn't have done that. I wouldn't have done that."

Downplaying The Threat

Deciding not to inform the public of aggressive bears has been a pattern in many states and provinces in the past few years--sometimes with deadly results. Earlier this year in Utah, an 11 year old boy was killed by a black bear while sleeping at a campground. Just a few days previously, in the same area at another campsite, a bear had walked into a campers' tent and cuffed a man before being frightened off. It was likely the same bear, now emboldened by experience, that brought a fatal attack to conclusion on the boy. Wildlife officials in Utah said they were certain the bear was not intending to kill the young man, it was just attracted by a scent in his tent. Be that is it may, state officials still made a choice to downplay the increasing bear activity leading up to the fatal attack. "Campers should not be frightened by the recent bear sightings, which are not unusual for this time of year, and there is no need to cancel weekend plans," said Scott Root of the Division of Wildlife Resources in a May 26 story in the Provo Daily Herald. Considering that the young man was killed on June 17th, the victim's family considers this information to have been inaccurate, to say the least.

"There's never been a fatal bear attack in this state"

After the Utah fatality, the State Wildlife Agency announced "This is the first fatal bear attack in Utah". Are wildlife officials living in denial about the danger that some bears pose? Do they believe it is preferable to put humans at risk to preserve the life of one bear? Earlier this year, a Georgia man killed a marauding campground bear that was just a few feet from his young children. Georgia Wildlife authorities promptly fined the man for not keeping a clean enough camp. They also announced "There has never been a fatal bear attack in this state". Apparently, some wildlife officials don't listen to the news, or they believe that bears in their state are more civilized than others.

Sending The Problem Somewhere Else

Should bears be trusted to rehabilitate themselves over time? Recent findings indicate that relocating problem bears sometimes makes the safety risk higher because people may not be aware that a problem bear has been placed in their area. In 2005 Isabelle Dube was killed by a re-located grizzly bear near Banff National Park in Alberta. The bear, known as #99, was radio-collared and monitored because it was known to be aggressive toward humans. A study just concluded by the University of Florida reveals that close to half of re-located problem black bears get into trouble with humans again, and 34% cause problems again more than once.

Who is at the top of the food web?

In light of the recent tragedies, wildlife agents must re-examine their policies toward potentially dangerous bears. While the vast majority of bears are harmless, it is naive to ignore the fact that a rare one here and there can become a killer. And whether one believes in evolution or creation, the fact is--nature has not gifted bears with an inherent right to survive that is superior to a human's. There is a place for both species on this planet, but man reigns at the top of the food web, not the bruins. It's time for wildlife officials to face this difficult truth and change their policies to better educate and protect the public.

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