In a recent edition, there was one letter to the editor claiming, in short, that people should stop naming bears, stop taking photos of bears, and just chase them away. In some contexts that’s excellent advice. But if taken literally and universally it is ill-advised. Here’s why.
First, bears are in town not because of photographers, not because they’ve been given names, but because people leave their trash or pet food unsecured.
If you have bear problems, then you or your neighbor have created an attractant. The first and final answer to the urban bear issue is to take personal responsibility by eliminating or properly securing attractants.
Second, bear aversion requires some expertise. Doing it wrong can make matters worse. I live on the edge of a Forest Service wildlife corridor. If I chase away bears every time I see them, I’m actually conditioning them to stay out of the forest, and the only other option is town.
Averting bears closer to the heart of town can have other complexities. Moving a bear needs some planning. When you chase a bear, you really can’t know which way it might go. If you do this during the day, you might move it from a relatively safe enclave directly onto, for example, the elementary school playground or across a busy road.
If it’s a hot summer afternoon and the bear is just looking for a quiet place to lie down, maybe letting her do so until she’s ready to move is the right answer; then when she’s ready, it will be easier to guide her in the right direction.
As to photos and names, this is another topic where there’s more to the story. Interacting with bears can condition them to humans, and that can aggravate problems.
While a conditioned bear is actually less dangerous than a woodland bear, conditioning does increase the likelihood the bear will be on the wrong end of a tranquilizer dart or steel trap, both of which are lethal far too often.
On the other hand, the better we know the bears the better we know how to manage them, both in terms of the overall population and individually.
If you call the BEAR League and say “there’s a bear in my trash,” they’ll give you sound generic advise. If you say “Clyde is in my trash” they’ll be able to give you much more specific and possibly better advice.
Photos and names also help residents and visitors learn about our bears. The better we know our neighbors, the easier it will be to live in harmony. We’re the ones who chose to live in bear country; shouldn’t we be responsible for learning about our environment?
Mark Smith is an Incline Village resident and creator of the Facebook group Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame.