A Bear on the Roof and Something Worse on the Ground

CROWDED-TO-DEATH NATURE

“The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.”                        Carl Sagan (1934-1996)  “The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men’s apples and head their cabbages.”                               Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655)                                    “Nature: a place where birds fly around uncooked.”           Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

On any given day, I’ll enjoy an abundance of wildlife on my ten minute morning commute to the nursery where I work. In fact, it’s not unusual for me to see blue heron, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, coyotes and even a few deer. I do my very best to stay out of their way and for the most part, they do theirs – although as soon as a new traffic barrier goes up at the side of the road, it is almost always christened by roadkill. Occasionally, the original inhabitants of the land that we live on do make personal visits to our places of work or homes, but when they do, it’s usually because we have left them no where else to go. One such occasion happened about a year ago, when a black bear cub decided to spend the night on a nice comfortable bale of peat moss at the garden centre I manage. He received a rude awakening in the morning once the staff and customers arrived, and in a desperate attempt to flee, climbed from the top of the peat moss bale pile onto the glass greenhouse roof. Thankfully, he didn’t fall through as he ran from gutter to gutter, looking for any way down. He finally found a nearby weeping yellow cedar, made a five-foot flying leap, hastily climbed down and headed for the nearby hay fields – that was the last I saw of him. I wish I could say the same about another young black bear I came across while on my regular cycling route. It takes me past abandoned farms, rivers, empty lots and public parks that were once the forested home to many animals, at least until we decided to slice it up with roads, houses, picnic benches, berry farms and even bike trails (I know, I’m a bit of a hypocrite). Of course, none of these things by themselves are inherently bad, but when we build them with no regard for the animals that we are displacing, the consequences can be deadly. Getting back to that young black bear, I had to come to a screaming stop (as did the car beside me) as he lumbered across the road unexpectedly. He was obviously scared and injured, as he limped quite badly. I saw him again about a week later, maybe two miles away, near a river where bears have probably been eating spawning salmon for thousands of years – again, he seemed afraid and ran with the same injured gait. Not long afterwards, I read a local newspaper article about how this same injured juvenile bear had been shot dead by conservation officers while it was treed in a nearby park. Apparently, his addiction to garbage and existing injuries (he was probably hit by a vehicle at some point) made him a poor candidate for relocation (and he was too high in the tree to use a tranquilizer gun) – so we just executed him. Local officials stressed that the only way to avoid this was to keep our garbage inside or in bear-proof cans, but I wonder if this is really the case. What excuse do we give for the dead deer on the side of the road…are they getting into our garbage too? The truth of the matter is that we have no contingency for wildlife as our urban planning sprawls into their forests. We simply cut down their natural foods (I.e. salmonberry, Indian plum , chokecherry, Nootka rose, red elderberry, wild hazelnuts) to make way for the new and limit their access to salmon-bearing streams…in essence, we not only starve them but we also condemn them to death for eating what we throw away. I could be mistaken, but something seems wrong here.

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