The American Black Bear
All About Bears
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Compared to other bear species, the black bear is considered medium-size; males range from 200-500 lbs. and females l50-300 lbs. They come in a variety of colors ranging from black, brown, cinnamon, red and blond. Patches of white are sometimes found on their chests. They may have a tan or black muzzle. Black bears measure about 3 feet high when on all 4’s or about 5 feet tall when standing upright.
Black bears have strong muscular necks, and a heavy body supported by short powerful legs. The highest point of a black bear is the middle of the back. There is no prominent shoulder hump as there is on a grizzly bear. You can recognize a young bear from an older bear by the appearance of the large ears in comparison with its smaller head.
Black bears have long been viewed as forest-dwelling animals. However, an unbroken expanse of forest doesn’t provide enough food for black bears. They need berry patches and stream bottoms to satisfy their appetite for plants and insects. You can find black bears in virtually all forested areas of New Mexico. Females usually maintain a home range of five to seven square miles. Males on an average occupy an area of 25 square miles, although they can extend their territories to as much as 50 square miles if habitat quality deteriorates.
Under ordinary conditions black bears display mutual avoidance of each other rather than territorial aggression. A sub adult female’s territory will overlap her mother’s range. Sub-adult males sometimes disperse over great distances, which help maintain the viability of the gene pool by reducing the incidence of inbreeding. When habitat becomes limited or degraded, sub-adult males may encroach on the territory of sub-adult females and force them into marginal areas near human population. This is precisely what happened in 1989 when 23 bears came into Albuquerque. All were sub-adult females driven from their range during a period of drought.
Hunting And Feeding Habits
Bears are omnivorous, which means they will eat just about anything around. Plants compose the overwhelming majority of their diet. Their diet varies according to seasonal availability of foods. In the spring, the diet consists mostly of young grasses and forbs, young succulent shoots, roots, insects and carrion and cambium, the nutrient-rich part of a tree just under the bark. In summer, young grasses, forbs, dandelions, sweet clovers, a variety of mushrooms, watercress, insects, chokecherry, wild raspberries, wild strawberries and wild plum and apples are primary sources of nourishment.
Like humans, bears cannot convert cellulose into an absorbable form and so the mature plants and grasses of summer cannot be properly digested. Rocks and stumps may be overturned in search of grubs, and yellow jacket nests may be invaded. Another favorite in the Sandias is the calorically high “bear corn” or “squaw root," the yellow-red root that grows abundantly underneath oak trees.
In late August, black bear are trying to fatten up for winter hibernation. During this period, they may actively feed for up to 20 hours a day and may ingest 20,000 calories daily. Acorns makes up the bulk of a bear’s fall diet with additional pinon nuts, juniper berries, kinnikinnick (bearberry), and prickly pear eaten to help store fat for the approaching winter. If necessary, they will feed on small rodents, maggots and anthills. True to popular belief, bears do raid beehives for the honey and the bees. They have been known to raid chicken, rabbit, and hamster coops. Males may kill and eat cubs. Such behavior may not fit our image of Pooh or Smokey, but it does maintain a balance between population and available habitat.
The black bear is not a threatened or endangered species. However, it is vulnerable to extreme population fluctuations because of its mating habits and reproductive cycle. In New Mexico, breeding doesn’t begin until a sow is almost six years of age, and mating occurs only once every two years. Consequently, BearWatch is concerned that wildlife management policies must take care to protect the population of our black bears.
In New Mexico, black bears breed between mid-May and July. Gestation takes seven to eight months. Delayed implantation of the eggs enables the female to breed in the summer and give birth in the winter. This delayed implantation has been termed “an effective means of birth control”. If it has been a good feeding season and the sow has plenty of fat reserves going into the winter season, then all the fertilized ovum will implant, meaning a large litter (up to 3); if it has been an average feeding season, maybe just one or two ovum will implant, resulting in 1-2 cubs. And if it has been a sparse feeding season, the ovum will not implant at all, so that the female bear can use all her fat reserves to keep herself alive. Therefore, even though a bear mates in June, it could be as late as November before the fertilized eggs are implanted. Cubs will stay with their mother 1-2 years. Therefore the female mates about every 2 years, shortly after “evicting” the cubs.
Signs And Sounds
Black bear tracks are very distinctive--the hind footprint resembles that of a human. All bears have 5 toes, with the front foot short and about 4-5 inches wide. The hind foot is long and narrow, measuring about 7 inches. Claw marks may or may not be visible. The claws are non-retractile, meaning they can be seen at all times. The black bears’ tightly curved claws are ideal for tree climbing and digging for insects, tubers, and making dens. They are also strong swimmers. Like a human, a bear’s feet are made for a browsing lifestyle, rather than one of pursuit. However, while bears may appear awkward and clumsy, they are actually very agile. They can run twice as fast as man (up to 25 M.P.H.) and have been known to outrun a racehorse for a short distance.
Bears use trails just as people do, since it's easier to travel on a trail than through underbrush. Be aware of tracks, droppings and other bear signs. Claw marks on trees, rotten logs ripped apart and hair on tree bark from rubbing will allow you to determine better the presence of bears. It's easy to recognize a black bear’s sizable droppings of plant leaves, partly digested berries, apples, assorted seeds or animal hair.
Adult bears make a variety of sounds. The most common is woofing and jaw-popping. Young bears whimper or bawl. Black bears use the same vocalization and body language toward people that they do toward each other. Knowing these sounds can help people react to any bear they may encounter.
The sound most heard by people is a loud blowing, which means a black bear is nervous or afraid. Campers or hikers hear this when a bear retreats or bluffs. Three types of bluffs are common, and all include sudden, explosive blowing. The most common is blowing with clacking teeth---the defensive display of a scared bear. Another bluff is blowing with a short lunge and slapping the ground or an object---an uneasy black bear’s way of saying, “move back”. A more emphatic version is blowing and bluff-charging. Any of these blustery displays can occur when a black bear feels crowded but is reluctant to leave food or cubs. However, displays usually end with bears turning and retreating, perhaps to repeat the performance. Research has shown that these displays are not normally preludes to attack and aggressive behavior by people [yelling, waving arms, making short rushes, throwing things to scare the bear] is almost certain to put a bluffing bear in retreat.
A less common sound is the resonant voice of a bear. This is used to express intense emotions (fear, pain, and pleasure) including strong threats. Black bears with ready escape routes seldom use this threat toward people.
Of all the senses, it is the sense of smell that is the sharpest and that the bear relies upon the most. In fact, with proper conditions, a bear can smell a human approaching from up to one mile away. While a bear’s sense of sound and sight are not its strongest, these senses still exceed mans capabilities. When a human sees a bear and the bear stands on its two hind feet, it is most probably not trying to see better, but to smell what is going on around it.
Black bears are considered the most intelligent North American mammal after man. They are more curious than a chimpanzee and have very good memories. A bear that has learned that ice chests contain food may curiously approach a car, peek through the window, see an ice chest and break into the car. One account tells of a female black bear learning to use rocks to trigger traps. She would wait in a nearby tree for the traps to be set, coming down when humans had left to trigger the traps and eat the bait. Look at your beloved dog that you find so intelligent and be aware that he would lose paws down in an I.Q. test with a bear.
Black bears select a surprisingly small den that has one or more openings. The most important aspect of a den to a black bear is that it is in a protected area. The den is small, so that the bear’s own body heat will warm the space. Den openings are often so narrow that an adult human would find it difficult to squeeze through them. In New Mexico, dens are frequently located under outcroppings of large rocks or under tree roots.
It was believed dens were chosen for their thermal properties, but most dens are nearly as cold as the surrounding countryside. Bears gather leaves, grass, and twigs to make insulating beds on which to curl up, leaving only their well-furred backs and sides exposed to the cold. They sleep alone with the exception of mothers with cubs. Most bears use a different den each year. In bad years, a small percentage of black bears die in dens. Unfortunately, some young underweight bears will die while in torpor in drought years. Since urination and defecation don’t occur during hibernation, odor is not produced. This significantly decreases a mother bear and her cub’s chances of being found by predators which include mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and other black bears that sometimes prey upon the cubs.
Bears And Winter
For black bears, hibernation is more an adaptation for escaping winter food scarcity than an adaptation for escaping winter cold. Black bears do not officially hibernate but enter a state of "torpor", which is a modified form of hibernation. Torpor in New Mexico normally occurs between mid October through the end of March and sometime later. Pregnant sows enter the dens first, with sow with cubs next, followed by younger bears and the last into the dens are adult males. Males usually appear first in the spring, followed by female’s without cubs and finally female’s with cubs. Bears may move from den to den in winter months so it is possible to see them when they are supposed to be in torpor.
The black bear’s metabolic and digestive processes undergo an amazing transformation during its stay in the den. Rather than excreting, the bear has evolved the capacity to reabsorb its waste products and convert them into useful proteins and other nutrients. To survive long winters without eating, drinking, exercising, or passing wastes, hibernating bears cut their metabolic rates in half. Sleeping heart rates drop from a summer rate between 60 and 90 beats per minute to a hibernating rate between 8 and 40 beats per minute.
Rectal temperature drops only slightly, though, from 99-102 degree F in summer to 88-98 degree F during hibernation. Bears can maintain this high body temperature despite their lower metabolism in winter because they develop highly insulating fur and reduce blood supplies to their limbs. Only the head and torso are maintained at higher temperatures. Maintaining the brain at a high temperature enables bears to maintain brain function for tending newborn cubs and responding to danger. Most parasites of bears are adapted to their host’s hibernation cycle and reduce their demands in winter.
Medical researchers are studying black bear hibernation to learn how bears cope with conditions that are problems for people. These findings are aiding studies of kidney disease, gallstones, obesity, anorexia nervosa and other human health problems. Researchers hope that knowledge of bear hibernation/torpor may someday even aid space travel.
Living with Bears
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DON’T FEED A BEAR—EVER … A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR!
Keep trash in a bear-proof garbage container or stored in a sturdy metal shed or closed garage. Put out garbage only on morning of pickup.
Don’t feed pets outdoors or leave pet dishes or store pet food outdoors.
Hang seed feeders from wires between trees high enough off the ground that a bear can’t reach it. Bring in hummingbird feeders at night. Feed suet and peanut butter only in winter when bears are in hibernation. Store birdseed in a closed container in a sturdy shed or the garage.
Keep barbeque grills clean.
Keep kitchen windows and doors closed on summer nights.
For small livestock and chickens use a sturdy metal shed and/or a 5-strand electric fence using an approved fence charger with alternating current. Be sure to check with the county inspector for guidelines and/limitations.
Put an electric fence around beehives.
Don’t plant fruit trees or berry bushes near your home. Remove fruit before it ripens to stop bears climbing and breaking branches. Remove fallen fruit. Don’t add melon rinds or fruit to compost pile except in winter.
Don’t leave food, groceries, pet food or birdseed in you car overnight
Don’t feed other wildlife as it will attract bears too.
If a bear is drinking from your swimming pool or hot tub, put water out as far from your house and neighbor’s homes as possible.
Keep all poisons inside your house; also many bears die from ingesting garbage bags.
Keep woodpiles and junk away from the house. Bears will hunt for rodents that live there.
Please understand that a trapped bear does not transplant well. There are no pristine, unpopulated relocation areas left in New Mexico. A large percentage of bears die from being relocated.
Some tips for feeding birds, not bears
BearWatch believes that if birdfeeders are hung and maintained properly, you can enjoy your feathered friends and in the process help protect our dwindling bear population.
Tip One: Hang your seed feeders and hummingbird feeders 10 feet up on a sturdy metal line suspended on poles or tree branches. Position your feeders 10 feet from each end of the poles/limbs. Stop feeding for a time if seed is accumulating on the ground.
Tip Two: If you have high eaves, or second story eaves, you can hang feeders from them.
Tip Three: Feed small amounts of seed that will last only several hours in the morning. This will work only if you’ve had no bear visitors. If a bear is in your feeders, you will need to stop feeding for a time and go to tip one, two.or four.
Tip Four: Stop feeding birds from July 1 thru Oct. l. Last summer many people called NMG&F to complain or ask for trapping of bears for being in their bird feeders were told to stop feeding birds during these recommended dates.
Apples for Bears
Dear Neighbors, In drought years, some of New Mexico’s bears become problem bears. The reason is three-pronged:
hungry bears eating unprotected, available garbage
foraging in fruit trees
mountain residents calling NMG&F to trap these bears.
None of us have the power to change our climate. Unfortunately, in 2001, 2002 and 2003, East Mountain residents asked NMG&F to trap and remove a very large percentage of our bear population.
You may ask why? Those of you who have requested trapping don’t want the bears killed; you just want them off your property. Unfortunately, a trapped bear is tagged and a tagged bear is one step closer to being destroyed. How many more times do you think NMG&F officers will tag a bear before destroying it? Trapping bears for apples and unprotected garbage is extremely time consuming for the NMG&F. In 2001 alone, over $40,000 of a slim department budget was spent on trapping and relocating bears. And most important, it doesn’t work. Most of the surviving bears returned to the same open, unprotected garbage cans or apple trees that still had apples. In drought years there is scant to non-existent acorns for fall forage. Apples can be the only food left for a bear facing a five month long winter hibernation. What other alternative does this animal have in bad years?
NMG&F said that a large percentage of the bears they trapped in the in 2001-2003 came from resident’s requesting that bears be removed from their fruit trees. BearWatch and I, along with NMG&F Officers and most of the people who live here, believe that living in the mountains comes with a special responsibility; to do everything possible to not negatively impact our wildlife.
Apples in a drought year are an attractant just as is available garbage and birdseed. People are responsible for that attractant, not the bear. If you don’t want to share your apples with a hungry bear, you can (1) pick and remove all apples from your trees to avoid visiting bears and broken tree limbs, (2) put up a 1 to 5 strand electric fence around your trees, (3) Leave your unused apples on the ground for our hungry bears (4) have patience and realize that this is a drought year and that future years will bring us more moisture so our remaining bears will chose to stay higher on the mountain.
For the very first time in 19 years, I had a bear in my large, very old apple tree. I could hear branches breaking and it was also breaking my heart; I love that beautiful old tree! There was some damage but this is what comes with living with bear in our small mountain range.
Without a real effort on behalf of all mountain residents, our bear population will be non-existent in a few short years. How very sad to have a sterile mountain with no bears. Please choose to save a bear. Don’t call for trapping unless there is a safety issue with the bear trying to come into the house or a bear is hanging around your home and won’t leave.
Please feel free to call your local Wildlife Steward or me at any time if you have questions. We care about our mountain neighbors and about the wildlife living here.
Hiking In Bear Country
Make noise by talking or singing while hiking to keep from surprising an unsuspecting bear.
If a black bear is visible, but not close, alter your route so that you will move away from the area.
Always carry Bear Pepper Spray
Signs that bear could by nearby:
Bear Scat (very large round piles with assorted seeds, fruit,etc.)
Rubbed, clawed trees
Turned-over rocks, torn-up logs, disturbed soil
Ripe Summer Fruit and Berries
Fall Oak Groves with acorns and/or pinon nuts on the ground
If you Encounter a Bear While Hiking
DON’T RUN!. This causes the bear to instinctually chase you down
Stop, back away slowly
Do not make eye contact - the bear considers eye contact to be aggressive
If a bear acts aggressive, he may charge several times, snapping his jaws. Stand your ground and try to scare the bear away by using pepper spray and/or by shouting at it. Most encounters end in bluff charges. If the bear attacks, use pepper spray, rocks, sticks or your fists. Most black bears will not continue the attack Do not play dead. An attacking black bear, unlike a territorial grizzly, wants to eat you.
Camping in Bear Country
Select a Campsite away from berry patches, oak groves, animal trails.
Place sleeping tents at least 100 yards from food storage and cooking areas
Store all food, including pet food and garbage by hanging at least 10 feet from ground and 4 feet from top and side supports or put food in car trunk
Don’t store food in the car passenger compartment since bears can pop windows out and do major damage to the interior of your car
If a bear-proof receptacle is available, use it
Keep a clean campsite at all times.
Use a designated camping area
Set up tents with reasonable space between
Keep pets on a lease
Keep sleeping area, tent and sleeping bag free of food and odors
Don’t sleep in clothes in which you have cooked or handled fish or game
Don’t use perfumed hair sprays, gels, shampoos, lotions, etc.
Spit your used tooth paste away from camp or in the campfire
Women, change sanitary napkins often, burning used ones
Keep a flashlight and bear pepper spray readily available at all times
Dogs in Bear Country
Be Responsible for your dogs:
Fence Your Dogs:
Dogs can pose a serious problem for a multitude of wild creatures while wildlife can cause devastating problems for dogs. Bearwatch recommends invisible fencing - an electric underground cable transmitting to a dog collar. It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and it really works!
The following are the reasons you should fence your dogs:
It is the county law that all pets be fenced.
When left to roam freely, dogs can often form packs and harass or kill wildlife. This is especially true in mountain and foothill subdivisions. A pack of dogs… well fed or not… will often kill or mutilate deer and domestic livestock (as we have recently read about in the East Mountain Telegraph). Lone dogs also, when not fenced, can kill an enormous variety of wildlife.
Unfenced dogs can spread diseases to wildlife especially if the dog’s vaccinations are not up to date. Even if the dog’s vaccinations are up to date, a dog could infect wildlife with diseases that are not covered with vaccinations.
When left unattended, dogs can be potential food for coyote, bobcat and mountain lion. The East Mountains are mountain lion country. Your dog should be kept in a sturdy, covered kennel or inside your home.
Dogs that are not fenced can pick up fleas from wild animals. These fleas could infect the dog with bubonic plague. If the dog comes into human contact, the fleas could infect the person with the plague, or if the dog is infected with the plague, the dog could give it directly to the person.
Vaccinate Your Dogs:
Dogs can spread rabies, distemper, mange and other canine diseases to wildlife.
Likewise, wildlife can infect dogs with these diseases and the dogs could then infect you with these same diseases.
Other Responsibilities You Have For Your Dogs:
Respect nature and your neighbor’s space by keeping your dogs quiet and under control.
Dispose of dog droppings to prevent infections.
Cats in Bear Country
Be responsible for your feline friends too.
Keep your cats indoors:
Cats should be kept indoors if at all possible. If this is not possible, they should not be allowed to roam freely when out of doors. The reasons are as follows:
Cats kill millions of song birds a year as well as preying upon small ground dwelling wildlife. It is important that you keep your cats under control, especially during the spring nesting season. Leash them or put a bell on them.
Cats can become part of the food chain when allowed to roam. They are easy prey for mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, owls and hawks.
Cats that are not kept indoors or kept under control when outdoors can pick up fleas from wild animals. These fleas could infect the cat with bubonic plague. Iif the cat comes into human contact, the fleas or the cat could infect the person with the plague.
Cats can hunt and kill rodents which are carrying Hantavirus and bring it back to your home. If a human comes into contact with the infected rodent, they could then become infected with Hantavirus.
Vaccinate your cats:
Cats can spread distemper and that can have a devastating result on a wildlife population.
A cat that does not have its vaccinations up to date could become infected by wildlife.
Black bears are being hunted in unsustainable numbers!
Read more about the cause of
this issue by reading more in our
Game Commission Reform section!
Stop any consideration by the Montana Game and Fish Department to open a hunting season on grizzlies. Continue to fight those at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that promote such ill-informed rhetoric. Continue to educate the public on the important role Grizzlies play in keeping nature in balance. Work with federal agencies, to see their recovery zone areas expanded across the West.
Grizzly bears are suffering from management plans designed to produce elk farms, not allow a healthy environment. In addition, global warming is impacting food sources, making their protection even more important.
Nothing compares to hiking and backpacking in grizzly country, it defines the freedom we all seek, and it represents some of the world’s wildest and most important country. Expanding their refuge means protecting more land, allowing for the true diversity that nature demands.
No animal be symbolizes wild America more than the reclusive Grizzly Bear. Though the years it has suffered horribly at the hands of man. Strung up, held in cages, shot, tortured and finally extirpated from many of their former lands, by fear, ignorance, the power of the livestock industry and an ever-expanding population. In fact, even the National Park Service used bears much like circus performers, in Yellowstone National Park, the bears preformed shows by the trash dump for tourists in the 1920’s.
The first Europeans to come in contact with the Mexican grizzly bear were the conquistadors in the 16th century when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado went on an expedition to find the Seven Cities of Gold. His trudge began in Mexico City in 1540 and went north to New Mexico and the Buffalo Plains in the modern-day U.S. states of Texas and Kansas. Because bears hunted the cattle from time to time they were considered a pest by farmers.
The Mexican grizzly bear was trapped, shot and poisoned, and had already become scarce in the 1930s. Its former range decreased to the three isolated mountains Cerro Campano, Santa Clara, and Sierra del Nido 80 km north of Chihuahua in the state of Chihuahua. By 1960 only 30 of them were left. Despite its protected status the hunting continued. By 1964 the Mexican grizzly bear was regarded as extinct. After rumors of some surviving individuals on a ranch at the headwaters of the Yaqui River in the state of Sonora in 1969, American biologist Dr. Carl B. Koford went on a three-month survey but without success.
Write Montana’s Game and Fish Department, tell them No to a proposal for allowing a hunting season in Montana for grizzlies.
Write Montana’s Senators, tell them this beautiful animal needs more protected lands, not a hunting season.
Write other Western Senators asking for Grizzly reintroduction in their state.
Continue to push for more education on the role grizzlies play in a healthy environment.
Continue to push Government agencies on the impacts Global Warming is having on key grizzly foods.
Our pledge is to continue to highlight grizzlies in the Wild and to educate people on their importance.
Grizzly Recovery Does Not Require Hunting
by GEORGE WUERTHNER
In their December 29th editorial in the Billings Gazette, Scott Talbott of the Wyoming Game and Fish and Harv Forsgren of the U.S. Forest Service wrote that hunting was another step towards grizzly bear recovery.
To read their editorial, go to this link: Guest opinion: Hunting another step toward grizzly bear recovery.
Specifically, the authors claim that regulated hunting will recover grizzly bears. Boy is that a leap. We haven’t hunted grizzlies for several decades now, and the bears appear to be doing fine without being shot or trapped. There is no legitimate reason to indiscriminately kill any predator.
Those, like the authors, who advocate the hunting of grizzly bears continuously, proclaim that state management will not cause the extirpation of bears (or wolves, mountain lions, etc.) This is a straw man they construct so they can knock it down. Few opponents of predator hunting/trapping are worried that these animals will be completely eliminated from the West.
By trying to frame the issue this way, proponents of bear killing misrepresent the real concerns of those who question state wildlife management of predators. The concern of opponents of bear hunting, wolf hunting, mountain lion hunting has more to do with ethics and how we should be treating other living creatures—a concern to which the authors and others appear tone deaf.
They further claim that state agencies use the “best available science.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The best available science is disregarded by the authors as well as all state wildlife management agencies that manage predators because it would challenge the validity of many of their management prescriptions.
With regards to grizzly bears, conservation science suggests we need many more bears in many more places to sustain their populations over the long term. There is plenty of unoccupied bear habitats in the Northern Rockies. Many parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming that could support grizzlies where they are currently absent, including Wyoming’s Salt and Wyoming Ranges, the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho, and the Centennial Mountains of Montana to name just a few.
The best available science also suggests that many predators including bears, wolves, mountain lion and coyotes have intricate social interactions that are disrupted or damaged by indiscriminate killing from hunters and trappers.
At best hunting and trapping are blunt tools to address what may be in some rare instances legitimate conflicts such as the surgical removal of a food-habituated bear–though I hasten to add that many conflicts are self-created by humans who exercise sloppy animal husbandry or camping practices.
Hunting, and most trapping, does not specifically target any particular offending animals—such as a bear that might be killing livestock. Rather the majority of bears (or wolves, mountain lions or coyotes) killed are not causing any conflicts at all. They are innocent by- standers who happen to be caught in the cross hairs of predator persecution.
For instance, dominant bears will occupy the best habitat and prevent other bears from occupying the territory. Yet in many cases, if a bear has lived long enough to become a dominant animal, it is not one that causes troubles for humans. Yet it is the biggest bears, in other words, the dominant bears that hunters seek to kill opening up habitat for occupation by another bear that may not be so friendly to human desires.
To suggest, as the authors do, that hunting will reduce human conflicts directly contradicts the best available science which they profess to use, but obviously ignore. This growing body of research suggests that hunting of predators actually increases human conflicts. For instance, there are many predators that live among livestock without ever killing cattle or sheep. Yet because they inhabit the territory, they keep other members of their species from occupying the area. If a hunter should kill this livestock-friendly bear, the habitat, if it’s any good, will be filled quickly by another bear that may or may not be so livestock friendly.
Indeed, one study of black bears in the eastern US found that as states increased the killing of bears to “reduce conflicts”, the number of bear-human conflicts increased.
Similar studies of mountain lion have documented exactly the same pattern. As mountain lions are killed, and even as the population is declining, the number of conflicts increases—the exact opposite of what state wildlife agencies predict will occur. Hunters tend to kill the dominant toms (male) mountain lion opening up space for immature young lions, who like human teenagers, are bolder, less cautious, and more inclined to attack livestock and even humans.
Thus the typical “management” approach advocated by state wildlife agencies exacerbates, rather than reduces human-wildlife conflicts.
To suggest that regulated hunting is a “solution” to perceived problems with humans is like arguing that the best way to address crime in our cities is to shoot all young men since the majority of crime is done by youths. Obviously you might eliminate some of the criminal element by such a policy, but you would be unavoidably be killing many innocent people.
Why aren’t Fish and Game agencies using that science in their management decisions? I will answer it. Because they are a regulatory agency that has been captured by the very group they are supposed to regulate—namely hunters and trappers.
Follow the money. State wildlife agencies run on the sale of licenses. Anything that contributes to greater license sales is looked upon favorably.
To be fair, it should be acknowledged that these agencies are not immune from political pressure from the hunting and trapping community. Many western state Fish and Game agencies are already under duress from ill-informed hunters and trappers and legislatures ignorant of ecology and animal behavior.
Some of the more extreme predator killers even go so far as to suggest that that these agencies are coddling predators and god forbid bowing to the wishes of animal rights advocates. Thinking that any animals have “rights” is heretical to these folks who believe wildlife exists for their sole pleasure and exploitation.
So these state agencies practice a vicious cycle; whereby predators are indiscriminately killed, which disrupts their social organization, which leads to greater human conflict, and thus more demands for predator control.
Worse, the authors as well as many state wildlife agencies eulogize the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. That model, among other things, specifically requires the highest ethical behavior from hunters. What is ethical about killing a bear for self -aggrandizement just because you are so insecure the only way you can so you can prove your manhood is by killing a bear? Most hunters are not going to eat the meat—isn’t that wanton waste? Is killing a bear just to have a “trophy” rug on the wall a legitimate and ethical use of wildlife, especially when that destruction of a wild creature denies the rest of the public of its wildlife heritage?
Others argue that we “need” to permit hunting and trapping of predators to reduce the anger of some members of the hunting and trapping community. Is killing any animal justified just to address the emotional problems of some members of the public? These people need counseling, not a license to kill.
I am a former Montana hunting guide. I studied wildlife biology and currently work as an ecologist. I believe that hunting can lead to some valuable insights about wildlife and individuals. Some of my hunting experiences have been almost transcendental experiences—ironically more often when I did not kill an animal. If one is going to take the life of another creature, one must be absolutely certain that killing is justified.
Unfortunately that high bar is not met by advocates of grizzly hunting and/or trapping. The unnecessary and indiscriminate persecution of predators is what fuels public opposition against all hunting, not to mention it does not help grizzly or any other animal’s recovery.