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.


Sam L. said...

You could, if you wished to be thought perverse (and I suspect you don't, but wouldn't actually mind if yow were so thought), you could ask those who express such thoughts if they'd mind very much being eaten or chewed upon by such animals, being as they are, after all, in said animals' habitat, and after all, that is what they do, don'tcha know.

(Never thought I'd get thru that sentence without a semicolon!)

james said...

Why can't I do what comes naturally too? As a toolmaker sort, that means acquiring tools to turn nearby bears into steaks.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Hey Boo Boo, I think we definitely need to avoid this guy AVI's house pemanently and find our pickinic baskets somewhere else. Geesch, such a grouch.

Dubbahdee said...

Reading "1491" by Charles C. Mann. Explores new ideas and scholarship regarding pre-columbian Americas. Some similar questions here, eh? Who's hemisphere is it?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I loved that book. I reviewed it the first day of January 2007.

karrde said...

When hiking in bear-country (Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario), the group I was with were encouraged to store all food where bears could not reach.

The usual method is a satchel of food suspended from a rope strung between two trees.

In that picture, the bear looks like he wishes to tackle such a challenge.

Donna B. said...

Several summers of my early childhood were spent in the mountains of SW Colorado. We were definitely intruders in the bears' territory.

And they were curious about us. They were most interested in us as a source of food -- not necessarily our bodies, but our stash and our wastes.

Only once was there a confrontation and the bear lost to superior firepower. I gotta tell ya that hunting bear for food is not something that humans have pursued with gusto.

Bear meat is not tasty, but my parents and their cohorts believed in 'waste not, want not' and as much of the bear as we could stomach was put to use.

I also never liked venison much... until I compared it with bear.

Could it possibly be that our ancestors chose the animals they domesticated for taste?

Though I think bears were always out of their reach.

Dubbahdee said...

@Karrde, I always thought those park service diagrams showing how to rig a line between trees were drawn up by people who had obviously never every been near the woods and most certainly had never ever field tested their design.
In my experience, after walking 15-20 miles, that last thing you want to do (or are really able to do for that matter) is erect the woodland equivalent of the golden gate bridge while being restricted to 'no trace' practices.
Along the AT, you will see many bear poles - smooth unclimbable metal pole, 14 feet tall or so, with upturned hooks to hang packs. you hang the pack using a second lighter pole. It's kind of humans only thing.
Generally best to just hang it on a high branch about 10 feet out from the trunk and hope for the best. No guarantees.
NJ uses heavy gauge steel bear boxes bolted to concrete slabs.
Out west, many parks require hikers carry approved "bearproof" containers usually made of kevlar, abs or some combination. That would drive me nuts simply because of the added weight, but I guess it beats losing your food 3 days from supply.

Assistant Village Idiot's wife said...

At the Anniversary Party one of the people manning the Goffstown Fish and Game booth said there is a bear roaming from around our house all the way over to Parker Station on the other side of the river. He offered to loan me a gun, but I declined.

karrde said...

Dubba: The team I was with was in a hiking-and-canoeing group.

It was large enough that we always had a pair of hands wanting to work on the 'bear trap'.

I did discover one morning that I'd forgotten to move my bag of trail mix from my pack to the 'bear trap' at the end of the previous day. It didn't cause trouble, but I made a note to take care of that detail the next night.

james: I don't know about steaks, but maybe a new rug for the living room is in order.

AVI's wife: I don't know if you know this, but black bear (like the one in the picture) can range over many square miles.

They are trouble if they become habituated to finding food near humans.

Generally, bears avoid people. Some bears don't, but they usually are bears that are habituated.

If no one in the family has ever hunted game with a rifle (or shotgun), keeping a rifle/shotgun around is probably not a good idea.

On the other hand, you (or one of the boys) could try to find a local hunter who would be willing to offer some training, advice, and support...