Bear vs. people: How can we avoid killings?

Reporting in the Wall Street Journal implicitly challenges the endangered species narrative of wildlife* by bringing up the important fact that across vast regions in these United States, the forest has recovered from utter devastation at the hands of 19th-century Americans. With the forest has recovered a host of iconic species in vast numbers, including geese, deer, and beaver. 

The figures from the WSJ are jaw-dropping: 

Today, the eastern third of the country has the largest forest in the contiguous U.S., as well as two-thirds of its people. Since the 19th century, forests have grown back to cover 60% of the land within this area. In New England, an astonishing 86.7% of the land that was forested in 1630 had been reforested by 2007, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Not since the collapse of Mayan civilization 1,200 years ago has reforestation on this scale happened in the Americas, says David Foster, director of the Harvard Forest, an ecology research unit of Harvard University. In 2007, forests covered 63.2% of Massachusetts and 58% of Connecticut, the third and fourth most densely populated states in the country [cut] 

In the Ojai area, without question the most dramatic human-wildlife species conflict is bear vs. people, especially when as happened a few years ago, a wild bear was killed by Fish and Game, and this month a sow attacked a woman walking outside town, and Fish and Game promised to kill her if they found her. From the Los Angeles Times

If they are successful, the bear will be euthanized.

"Public safety is our No. 1 priority," said agency spokesman Andrew Hughan. "There is scientific evidence that when an animal attacks a person, there is a chance they will do it again."

This is very troubling to many many Ojai people, who do not want the state killing a local bear. I speculate that they would no more want the state to wantonly kill a local bear than they would want it to kill a local person, even if that local person turned aggressive.

The matter has been hotly debated on the Ojai Post, where former mayor Suza Franchina has challened the aggressive approach of both the press and Fish and Game towards the accused bear. Interesting that in the East, hunters are posited by the WSJ as the heroic answer to this wildlife problem, and out here in the blue West we will not accept hunting bears with guns — except by state authorities. 

Are we seeing more incidents between wild bears and people in and around Ojai? The consensus is yes, and the suggestion is that bears are coming down from the mountains for water and food.

A friend, Tim Teague, trained in ecology, working as a photographer, points to fascinating numbers, showing that bear populations in California were estimated at about 10,000 in the l980's, about 22,000 in l999, and about 31,000 in 2000.

What if we're seeing more bears because there are more bears to see? 

And what is the bear population now? Funny that our policy towards bears has changed so little officially since we drove the grizzly to extinction, even if times (and bears) have changed.

(Here's Monarch the bear, the last of the state's grizzlies, and the model for the CA flag). 


Lots of folks in Ojai eager to find an alternative to shooting bears. Could they work? Are we on that path already? Worth a few calls to find out…

[*the cliche narrative of across-the-board decline is, unsurprisingly, not the whole story, as most people know] 

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