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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Barney (Fife) v. BooBoo (Bear): The Shootout

Winston-Salem, NC Police gunned down a black bear in a neighborhood on the night of July 13th. The Chief of Police, Scott Cunningham defended his department’s actions saying, “We didn’t think it was worth it to wait for the bear to become hostile.”

Newsflash: Hostility is not an inevitability in Black Bears, especially not this one. The victim in this tragedy was a juvenile female weighing around 100 lbs. She was small, thin and on the move, looking for a new range with adequate resources to support her – certainly not what she was finding in a suburban neighborhood in Winston-Salem, NC. This bear had not exhibited ANY aggression other than that perceived by the ignorant suburbanites who attribute aggression to all bears (and all wild animals for that matter) as some sort of inherent trait. You don’t have to take my word for it though – Colleen Olfenbuttel, a NC Wildlife Resources Commission Biologist offered the Winston-Salem Journal the following:

“Bears won’t stay [in a suburban neighborhood]. It just doesn’t offer the habitat they need. They may show up for a few days or a week, and as long as people aren’t feeding them incidentally, they’ll keep moving on. I’ve never heard of a situation where a bear walks into a neighborhood and it escalates into aggression.”

The ignorance regarding bears has been rampantly apparent in the piedmont of North Carolina lately as there have been numerous black bear sightings in the areas of High Point, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, an urban and suburban area of North Central North Carolina at the intersections of Interstates 40 and 85 often referred to as the “Triad.” During the last few weeks news reports have included such ridiculous discussions as whether or not residents should purchase bear spray, and closures of community pools and playgrounds for fear that bears would be attracted to such areas to have easy pickins on the children playing there (because everyone knows that juvenile black bears can eat up to 5 elementary school children before their appetites are satiated).

According to Olfenbuttel bears are moving through the Triad this time of year for several reasons:

□ Young bears have left their mothers and are trying to establish new territories. Forsyth County is on the edge of prime bear habitat, so it's no surprise to Olfenbuttel that a few bears are passing through.
□ Food is not as abundant in late spring and summer, and that forces bears to venture south and east in search of soft berries, such as cherries and blackberries.
□ When such food isn't readily available, bears rely on their keen sense of smell, which could lead them to garbage cans or grills.
□ Male bears are more active this time of year because it is the breeding season.

These bears have always moved through this area from points east, west and north, all of which host prime bear habitat. The only difference is that humans are moving into the forest and river corridors previously used by the bears for these migrations and the uninhabited corridors are vanishing. The result is that people are reacting with, “what the hell is this bear doing in my neighborhood?” While the bears are thinking (more justifiably), “Dang, where’d all the woods go, and where’d all these cars, fences and barking dogs come from?”

The bottom line is that this is another sad reminder of how far removed form the real world that modern Americans have become. The majority of people are so disconnected from anything outside of their TV and blackberry that they have no idea what is or isn’t indigenous to their own backyard let alone anything about the flora and fauna of their home state. This bear posed no threat and was killed needlessly out of pure ignorance and sensationalism. Get your kids, yourself, your friends and family outdoors and off the couch, out of the mall and away form the Blackberry and go pick some blackberries. Otherwise we’re headed for Wall-E….

(Click here for photo credits for bottom picture of juvenile black bear)


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