Learning to Live with Bears . . .

First, I would like to state that although I have a great love for the black bears of my Minnesota woods, I also have a healthy respect for them. I know that they are big and powerful and given the wrong circumstances, they can hurt people and property. Educating the public about bear behavior is key in finding a healthy and happy way for man and bear to exist together in the woods. That is why I support the education efforts of the Bear Center in Ely, MN. Uneducated people are a bear’s worst enemy.

This summer, there were two bear stories going on. One in the Great Smoky Mountains and the other in Ely, MN. The stories had two totally different outcomes and I am wondering … “What does this say about human/bear relationships?”

In the Great Smoky Mountains last month, a small female bear (60 lb. probably alone for its first summer) was fed by park visitors a few times and eventually got accustomed to the visitors supplying its meals. Visitors basically trained the bear to hunt for food from the visitors instead of hunting for the berries and nuts found in the woods. Some one got a minor bite as the bear got bolder about its food hunt and the visitors got braver and closer. Now the young bear is dead. Killed because humans fed the cute bear. (see story: The Bear Pays for Stupidity)

Obviously, feeding bears is a really bad idea (there are reasons why Yellowstone eliminated all the bear feeding by the public that used to be so common). There was an uproar on the internet about this … but, the execution happened quickly and public opinion did not win out. Check out the facebook site (Save-the-Black-bear-in-The-smokies-from-dumb-tourists) quickly, since the bear was killed, the site will be coming down soon. If anything good comes from this incident, it will probably be led by the Facebook fans who have started a new site to educate the public about bears and their Great Smoky Mountains.

In northern Minnesota we have a bear story, too. We have the story of Lily and her new cub Hope. (I think I have mentioned them a few times in past posts ;0). Their public story began in January when Hope’s birth was live on the internet and the public watched their lives unfold via the den cam and the work done by the research scientists all summer. Even when things got a bit controversial for the internet watchers when Lily abandoned her cub, the Bear Center in Ely worked extremely hard to educate the public on how to live with bears in peace and learn about them by observing them. And, even as bear hunting season has begun here in northern MN causing more controversies (someone shot Sarah a yearling, radio-collared research bear this week) the center is still educating and gathering area support … they are working to make things better. (the news stories are abundant). Bear education is expanding at the Bear Center and now includes an outreach program for schools.

Simultaneously, there was another story taking place on the internet about these same two places (northern MN and The Smoky Mountains). While these life and death bear stories were progressing, there was also an online contest sponsored by Coke … People were voting on their favorite state park. The winning park’s prize was $100,000.

Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely Minnesota is a whole lot smaller than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (4500 acres compared to 521,000) and has a lot fewer visitors … however, Bear Head Lake State Park won the contest by more than 600,000 votes. Many people are wondering how in the world a small, little known Minnesota State Park beat out the Great Smoky Mountains. (about the contest)

Could this have anything to do with how bears are treated in the parks? Could it have anything to do with the research into the lives of bears and how the public is being educated about bears? Or, is it just the power of Hope and Lily’s facebook fans? Personally, I think it is both … without the educational part of the Bear Center in Ely, MN … there would be no Facebook fans and hundreds of thousands of people would not be educated about black bears.

Congratulations to Bear Head Lake State Park, home of Lily and Hope for being voted America’s Favorite Park! I know the prize will greatly benefit park visitors and further everyone’s education into the lives of bears.

~ by bearyweather on September 11, 2010.

4 Responses to “Learning to Live with Bears . . .”

  1. Oh my goodness. So sad. When will we learn that respecting nature is allowing nature to flourish without our *help*?

  2. Great post…I always find it amazing that people ignore the signs like don’t feed the animal. I always wondered if they ignored them because they didn’t understand the repercussions or if they were just rebels.

    • I think it is the “cuteness” factor … I definitely know better, but I can see how it could be tempting to give a cute little bear cub a granola bar I had in my pocket just because he was so cute (and I would love to pet him) … it is important to make sure everyone in the parks are aware of the harm it can do.

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