Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Not in Valier, not recommended.

A malfunctioning PA system and the echoes from the vast gymnasium made most of what was said at the Valier Grizzly meeting last night almost totally unintelligible.  Anyway it was clear that the audience and the speakers were not exactly on the same page.  Such events are always overloaded with speakers and this one did not have as many attendees as the previous meeting.  The audience was mostly older and their desire, understandably, was to go back to the past when bears stayed in the mountains.  As nearly as I could tell, no “bear-huggers” were present and that was probably a good thing.

Four remedies were suggested from the floor and speakers.

1.  Drop the Endangered Species Act and allow bears to be shot.
2.  Use gizmos:  this time not bear spray but an electric fence.
3.  Vigilante hazers of bears
4.  Call the bear managers or at least the sheriff IMMEDIATELY when a bear is spotted.

No one said anything about the automated phone tree for notifying people of bear sightings.  I’ve only had one call.  When grizzes came within a couple of blocks, the phone never rang.  

Bureaucracies and bears are not a good match and never will be.  Governmental bodies are rule-based, often managed from behind a desk, and locked into generalities and definitions.  Bears are each unique, live only in the moment though they learn from experience, and don’t have to show a profit so long as they get enough to eat.  What to do when faced by a grizzly cannot be generalized beyond a few basic principles.  One must “wing it,” which is formally called “situation ethics.”  Many of our most intractable social problems require situation ethics: personal, timely, alert ability to see what options there are and choose the right one.  It all comes down to “you’re the one there, Charlie.”  

Some bears are mellow; some are in a rage.  Some can be hazed off with a broom and others can be pumped full of bullets and still kill you.  Consider the deadly situation on the West side of the Rockies when a man on a bike came plummeting down a steep path cut into heavy brush, traveling with a friend, headed home after a relaxing good time.  Suddenly there’s a griz in the path.  WHAM!  The outraged bushwhacked bear kills the man and plunges back into the brush.  It was never located, evidently not hurt.  Simply witnessed.  No options for any creature present.

The Endangered Species Act is one of the well-meant and — admit it — effective bureaucratic law-enforcement strategies that is meant to preserve species that are dying out.  Since such writing on paper is usually done by academics, politicians, and other urban types, it tends to over-reach.  But the pressure where the bears are is to survive the reality of the creatures on the front porch trying to eat your dog, or sneaking up on you while you’re hanging clothes on the line.  That’s one level.

Maybe the more aggravating level is restrictions on crops, compelled but pricey measures meant for prevention, and an onerous procedure to put in a claim for lost livestock or defend oneself against a heavy court fine after already defending oneself from a bear attack by killing it.

Most white citizens are not inclined to see a bear as a kind of human being, which was one way that the indigenous people interpreted incidents.  Indeed, a grizz can be like a human on meth with the same high level of treacherous danger.  “Empathy” with either is pretty useless, but what the scientists call “Theory of Mind” can be very helpful.  It means predicting what the other animal is going to do, being able to see whether this bear (or drunk) is just making fake threats to run you off or whether it intends to tear you apart.  Is it scared or angry or confused?  Only past experience and present alertness can supply likely answers.

But a lot of people lose their minds, their cool, and maybe their sphincter control when they see a bear as an overwhelming, inescapable, monster on a sci-fi horror film scale.  Maybe it would be a good thing to watch a lot of National Geographic nature films about bears.  Avoid Walt Disney, “fights to the death” staged by violence-mongers, and Bart the Bear, who was an unreal big old softie who acted in movies.

When the Manhattan subway system became infested with incorrigibles, too many in groups for the underfunded police to handle, a spontaneous response was “The Guardian Angels” vigilantes.  Considering Montana’s history of vigilantes (all the best people), it was inevitable that the idea in regard to bears in town would show up.  They want to patrol the streets (few as they are and hard on tires as they are) in the middle of the night and then haze ursine intruders back up towards the mountains.  There’s talk of “harmless rubber bullets” (which aren’t as harmless as advertised).  I’m not sure loud noises and bright lights would be all that welcome at 3AM.  But the vision of heroic and protective retired ranchers responding to a challenge is seductive, even without real bullets or a little liquid fortification.

In Montana a bear enjoying a crop in a remote place might very well end up as compost under the wheat.  But the suggestion of bringing back “range riders” might discourage the practice of planting and ignoring fields to the point of not knowing what’s going on out there, maybe neglecting livestock carcasses not created by bears.  All-terrain vehicles might help, though a good horse is like radar, smelling and hearing beyond the ability of a human.  Gizmo-lovers might find the new small drones useful, even for hazing bears out of the alfalfa.

The situation now drives even more of a wedge between citizen and government, encouraging secrecy and deception to the point of crippling the very people who are supposed to help and who WANT to help.  People say,  “Oh, there was a bear in my field but I’m not going to tell Fish and Game.  They won’t do anything anyway.”  That’s a self-fulfilling prediction.

The mantra now gaining strength is “the plan for after the Endangered Species Act is rescinded.”  This appears to be real, but incomplete and will probably need work once it’s on the ground.  The pattern is supposed to be Wolf Recovery, but that is only similar, not the same.  Wolf minds, habitats, and ability to cooperate with each other are not like bear character.  But the most intractable creatures of all are still human beings.

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