A Three-Legged Bear’s Encounter With a Wildlife Agency’s Culture of DEATH
By Bill Lea
A small bear with its right lower leg dangling by only an outer layer of flesh was first observed in a Western North Carolina gated community in November 2011. The young bear may well have been a victim of a possible gunshot wound from the recently concluded phase one of the state’s bear hunting season. Approximately four to five months later a spring sighting of the same bear revealed the lower leg had dropped off and the severed leg appeared healed. The young bear was understandably underweight having suffered such a traumatic injury the previous fall and having just emerged from its winter den. Unfortunately, he soon discovered human sources for food. Construction workers began feeding the bear, which eventually led the small bear to begin investigating cars and homes for easy meals.
Something had to be done. The local North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) biologist suggested killing the bear, but instead a group of folks from the community began searching for a sanctuary where the bear might live in an open natural-habitat enclosure. After eliminating several possibilities, a well-known and accredited facility in Western North Carolina indicated their willingness to accept the bear and place him in one of their spacious natural habitat bear enclosures. However, the local state wildlife biologist and his superiors decided it would be in the best interest of the bear to simply kill him.
The NCWRC has a policy of not relocating so called “nuisance bears.” In defense of the agency and as a bear expert I agree with this policy in most cases. Moving a “nuisance bear” usually means another area inherits the problem and/or the bear is killed while traveling through unfamiliar territory on its way back home. Although the policy is basically sound, it should not be the law. Every case should be examined on its own merits and when a non-lethal alternative is available it should be seriously considered. This young three-legged bear could have been easily trapped and moved to the natural-habitat enclosure where he could have lived out his life while serving as a valuable educational tool in illustrating how bears can recover from serious injuries and how feeding bears has negative consequences. Instead everyone within the agency agreed the little bear was better off dead than living in any wildlife sanctuary (a God-like attitude of “we the professional always know what is in an animal’s best interest” permeates throughout many state wildlife agencies).
North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton personally called and asked the local wildlife biologist in charge to work on behalf of the three-legged bear in allowing him to be moved to a permanent sanctuary. The Lt. Governor’s request went all of the way to the NCWRC Executive Director’s office but his request was denied – DEATH remained the agency’s best solution. The NCWRC ‘s power is absolute. Evidently the agency has no one else to answer to other than its own hierarchy. When management of the community asked if an exception was going to be made per the Lt. Governor’s request, the local wildlife biologist wrote these exact words in an e-mail: “There has not been any communication between the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and the Governor’s Office concerning this bear.” It was a flat-out lie. It was later confirmed that the Lt. Governor had spoken directly to this particular wildlife biologist – absolutely no doubt! (Aside from a culture of DEATH a culture of DECEIT also pervades these state wildlife agencies when needed to promote their agenda or to protect their employees – this comment comes from more than one personal experience.) Left with no apparent alternative, the tiny three-legged bear was shot and killed by management of the gated community.
Obviously education needs to play a much greater role in teaching people how to co-exist peacefully with bears as more people move into bear habitat, but is DEATH always the only answer when people act inappropriately and create so called “nuisance bears?” Bears are killed for what people THINK they will do, not for what bears ACTUALLY do. The policies of the NCWRC typify and reinforce this sad fact. Yes, killing is the easy, expedient, and inexpensive solution for state wildlife agencies, but it is not always the right or only solution. There were viable alternatives for the tiny three-legged bear, but his life would not be spared by the NCWRC. We should expect more thought, consideration, and effort from our state wildlife agency – the agency given the task of providing prudent stewardship over our wildlife resources. The culture of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission along with that of other state wildlife agencies needs to change and we, the people, can make it happen if enough voices are heard.
It is time to change this culture of DEATH, which drives the thinking and policies of state wildlife agencies across our country.
Bold Visions Conservation