“The fear of bears comes out of the hunting culture. To feel good about killing these animals, we have to make them out to be ferocious. … They are misrepresented.” — Charlie Russell, bear man of Kamchatka
Wednesday, Sept. 9, the bear kill started, continuing for 35 days of what can only be called genocide (Webster’s: “the systematic extermination of a cultural group”). A record number of kill licenses, 10,690, have been sold with the goal of killing 4,750 bears, a 19 percent kill rate by Department of Natural Resources estimate. To put that in proportion to the Wisconsin human population, that will impact bears like killing more than 1 million humans in Wisconsin would impact us. It is horrifying carnage of a peaceful indigenous population, much like that inflicted on the American Indians.
In 2014, 70.7 percent of the male bears killed were less than 2 years old, as were 49 percent of the females killed. Of 4,526 bears killed, half were male, half female. Bears do not breed until they are 3 or 4 years old, yet the DNR continues to estimate higher bear populations.
Oddly enough, on a DNR survey polling only bear hunters, 69.9 percent agree or strongly agree that “bears are special animals that deserve our admiration” while only 8.7 percent disagree. Answering the question of concern about personal safety outdoors with bears (while killing them), only 17.5 percent agree while 60.8 percent disagree or strongly disagree that there is risk of personal danger. Evidently hunting culture has indoctrinated these people to think killing is a way to express admiration. Could they be enlightened to become bear champions since scientists are warning that we must cut trophy killing by 80-90 percent?
Three stories about bears can give a perspective on the character of men and of bears:
A children’s book, “The Bear Who Heard Crying,” was written by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, a descendant of the family whose story she tells. It is the true story of 3-year-old Sarah Whitcher, living in New Hampshire in 1783. Sarah’s parents leave their woodland cabin for the day, with Sarah in the care of her siblings and large black family dog. Sarah wanders off and is not missed until they return. The community rallies and for three days they search for her. On the third evening, the family and friends find the child’s footprints — and with them the footprints of a bear. They plan to come back the next day to find her body, but in the morning they find Sarah. She tells them she cried and cried and that a large black dog slept with her every night protecting her and keeping her warm. The tracks tell that a mother bear had protected her as a crying cub.
Charlie Russell and his wife raised a couple of orphan grizzly cubs in Kamchatka, Russia. He has enjoys companionable relationships with black bears. I treasure a picture of a large black bear walking beside him. The bear’s paw is resting on Charlie’s back as they seem to be in deep conversation. This short video of him talking about the character of bears reveals all that is lost by human misunderstanding and cruelty. He says that bears have so many negative experiences with humans, “eventually they do not like us very much, which is what can make them dangerous.” Russell says that bears want to get along with us: “We can do so much better than tolerating them. We can have compassion for these beautiful animals.”
We need to understand them just as we would listen to people from a different country and open ourselves to communicating in new ways, enriching all of our lives.
In early 2000, when bear hounding was being reviewed by the Wisconsin Legislature, over 2,500 letters and emails against continuing it came into the Legislature, dwarfing the few hundred lobbying to continue. Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud, a hunter with a large bear hide over his office couch (and the man who hosted a mourning dove roast in his office), was chair of the Natural Resources Committee. He was under enough pressure against killing bears that he told me that he thought that shortly hunters would be allowed only to shoot bears with paint balls to identify their “trophy,” leaving them alive. (This is a very good idea.) Reading through the 400 hand-written letters, I found one letter particularly touching.
The letter was written by a retired homicide detective who had followed a truck carrying a dead bear into the registration station. He wrote that the bear was so small that he was sure it was not legally killed. (It is legal to kill any bear 42 inches from rump to nose, which is any spring cub.) While the men went in to register the bear, he examined the body. He found 11 holes in the bear from arrows and he could tell that the bear had not died a humane death. The bear weighed less than 90 pounds. When the men came back to the truck, he asked them about the killing. They said that they had let dogs loose on the bear. They shot it a few times with arrows, and it climbed a tree, but fell back to the ground. They “let the dogs have some fun with it” and then finished it off with more arrows. He asked them what they would do with the bear. They said, “It is too small — we are throwing it in the trash.”
Another wrote, “If you have ever heard a bear crying in the woods all night, you know this should be ended.”
Citizens can sign and network a new Wildlife Ethic petition against trophy killing Wisconsin bears.
Please contact your federal representatives and ask them to oppose the bills attacking the Endangered Species Act, compiled by the Center for Biological Diversity.