Air Date: Week of July 3, 1998
For the first time in more than a decade, a bear hunt is proposed for southern New Hampshire this fall. Commentator Sy Montgomery wonders why. She says people should just get used to idea of living with bears. Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire and is author of Nature's Everyday Mysteries.
CURWOOD: For the first time in more than a decade, a bear hunt is proposed for southern New Hampshire this fall. Commentator Sy Montgomery wonders why. She says people should just get used to the idea of living with bears.
MONTGOMERY: No one knows how many bears live in New Hampshire. They've never been counted. No matter; some folks think any bears are too many. They're the folks who call the Fish and Game Department: "Come get your bear out of my yard!" they'll whine. A shocking number of people hate bears because sometimes bears raid their bird feeders. They put out food for wildlife and then get mad when wildlife shows up.
Some complaints sound more legitimate. This year one was about a bear frequenting a school bus stop. But wait. What was a bear doing at a school bus stop? Turns out there was an open garbage dumpster there. Rather than move the bear, it's a lot easier to move the dumpster.
It's true that today all over the eastern US there are more black bears than 100 years ago. Thanks to curbs on hunting and regrowth of forests, black bears have made an astonishing comeback from the edge of extinction. Unfortunately, we have lived without bears for so long that most of what people know about them is wrong.
The fact is, black bears, unlike grizzlies, aren't aggressive. I know. With biologists I followed bears in 3 states. I once stuck my face into a bear den inches away from an alert mother with cubs. She didn't even snort. The last time a bear killed anyone in New Hampshire was 200 years ago, and that was a drunken hunter who thought the bear he shot was already dead.
When we don't train them to be foolish or tempt them with our garbage, bears can be almost ethereal. Mark Ellingwood, the Bear Project Leader for New Hampshire, told me about following a radio-collared mother bear with cubs through the forest. Even though he had a clear radio signal and the bear was very close, even though they did catch glimpses of her, she kept disappearing as if into thin air.
To have wild bears among us again is a blessing beyond measure. Every Indian nation on this continent considers the bear a sacred animal. Many tribes recognize the bear as the original medicine woman, who taught people the secrets of the healing herbs. Bears still have much to teach us. The most important lesson may be tolerance. If we cannot make room in our world for bears, we will have made an astonishingly foolish trade. We may save a few plastic bird feeders or not have to bother securing our garbage, but we will lose a significant part of the wildness and wonder of our woods.
CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire, and is author of Nature's Everyday Mysteries.
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