Letters from Charlie...

What I and Others Have Learned About Bears That Could Be Useful Toward Living In a Nicer Way With Them

May 10, 2008

What I And Others Have Learned About Bears That Could Be Useful Towards Living In a Nicer Way With Them

When I set out for Russia many years ago, my purpose was to work hard to understand bears and their capacity for coexisting with us. During many years of living with hundreds of bears I learned that they are definitely not unpredictable and not dangerous just because they should lose fear of people. It is impossible for people to trust bears if they believe these two wide held ideas so our false beliefs have been a huge problem for bears. Occasionally one does becomes dangerous, but it seems that a bear’s response to people could be a result of their previous experiences with man kind. I know now that it is possible to build a lasting trust with grizzly and black bears by being kind to them. It seems that they are much safer if their encounters with us are enjoyable rather than if they are always managed harshly.

This is a difficult concept when, until perhaps very recently, bears managers most inflexible beliefs has been that if a bear becomes “habituated” it eventually will have to be “destroyed”. (I use quotation marks with buzz words that I would not tend to use myself in that context). This has been a brutal concept because bears can very quickly become fond of people once people stop bashing them, so if we were to go the route that I would like to see, we would have to change the way they are managed.

In Russia I exhaustively explored what happens if grizzlies were allowed to like me and those working with me, as much as they wanted, with no discouragement from us except to keep them from getting into our food or destroying our things. The things that we wanted left untouched were protected very simply with non elaborate, electric fences with relatively weak voltages compared to what are used with controlling cattle.

Out in the real world where most people live, bears can and will be nuisances when they want our food but with a little care it is possible to not have them come into our towns. They do not really want to go into town where there are dogs and many harsh smells and noises, but they will do so when the rewards are big and they are getting fat for hibernation. If garbage is an only source of food, keeping bear out requires some effort on our part, but techniques and equipment are quite available to detail garbage so that bears do not have access to it. On years when there are sever natural food shortages for them they are particularly prone to venturing into our living areas and garbage and fruit trees are what they find. Important experiments are being done in the eastern US. In this situations infiltration by black bears can be discouraged by making available for them small quantities of food on the outskirts of town; what is called diversionary feeding. For instance clover can be planted in a secluded place or 3or 4 liters of grain such as corn can be put out each day, per bear, near water, then stopped when berries ripen or salmon are available.

The most important thing is not to let them into any garbage and if people do not want bears in their yards, they will have to consider not planting fruit trees there.

© Pacific Rim Grizzly Bear Co-Existence Study, 200