Friday, August 26, 2011
It's Their Territory
Ben, this would have been a much better science project than squirrels.
We’re thinking the bird feeders got ripped down by a bear. We haven’t had a bear recently. It could be a raccoon, I suppose, which would be a relief.
It reminded me of my annoyance with the declaration by some, whenever there is danger to humans because of wild animals, that of course there is danger from coyotes/elk/bears/mountain lions. We are in their territory, and they are only doing what comes naturally. I can see some sense in the idea, but I think it bears thinking about.
Our town is celebrating our 250th anniversary this summer, and even our particular area has had human habitation (also sheep, cow, pig, chicken, and horse habitation) for more than 150. My house has been here 50 years. So if it’s their territory, these are bears with considerably enhanced abilities to do title searches – or keep genealogies, as they seldom live 20 years.
Come to think of it, I don’t know what inheritance rights among bears even are. How do we know that this isn’t some other bear’s territory that our bear is horning in on? Or do people mean that lands that bears used to live on before humans came – that would be 11,749 years this November – are theirs? That they belong to the bear community somehow?
I’m not just being cute here. If you try to pin down what people mean by a bear’s right to be in particular territory, you run into these questions. Are we saying that any environment which might conceivably support a bear, that she might wander into from an adjoining area, that has at some time in the past had a naturally-occurring bear in it, is therefore Bear Land, to be entered by humans at their peril?
As I said, there is some sense to this. If the naturally-occurring bear was kicked out a few weeks ago in order to put up the house you just built, then yes, I do grant that you are entering at your peril. But not, as we might think, because I believe the bear has the superior right to it, but because in my experience, it is hard to explain boundaries to bears, or indeed any mammals, including many humans. It would be rather a work in progress, I think.
That the animal is only doing what is natural to it is not a persuasive argument to me. Bears are naturally attracted to dumpsters, and alligators to small creatures near rivers, including toddlers. Doesn’t make it right. When you really press this idea, it turns out to be another one of those preferences that the whole region be made into a theme park dedicated to the speaker’s imagination of what things looked like in the year 1000 AD. Which ignores not only those successful exploiters of their environments, the Indians, but that change in nature is ongoing.