“Wisconsin has one of the largest black bear populations in the country and high hunter success rates — this combination makes it a great place to hunt.” ~ Dave MacFarland, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources carnivore specialist
In his new book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” award-winning journalist Sebastian Junger makes the point that humans evolved to bond together in crisis. We are tribal and need each other. He discusses his ideas in this YouTube video.
At this point of history, it would behoove us to realize we are all in this challenge of climate crisis and biodiversity destruction together. We need all the life of this world. We are the only species with the power to destroy all that is. We need to make shared purpose in survival, with less than half of wildlife left on earth.
Any and all who are interested in protecting bears are invited to contact Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic to help form the Bear Tribe.
Prior to the 1950s, bears were considered “vermin” and killed without limits. Now the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources treats them as a commodity from which it obtains hefty lottery and sales profits. Anyone can run packs of dogs on our wildlife without even buying a license. “A Class B license is no longer required to bait bears, train dogs to track bears, act as a back-up shooter, or assist hunters with pursuing bears,” the DNR notes. Youth of any age can join in the harassment.
Bears enter a period of hyperplasia, or intense foraging for, food in July. And that is just when the DNR has promoted running packs of dogs on them. Bears need to eat constantly to up their body fat by 20 percent in order to survive the winter, yet the DNR allows them to be run to exhaustion, separated from cubs when the babies are small and vulnerable, and tormented at whim. With no licensing, the DNR has no idea how many people or packs of dogs are terrorizing the woods.
In 1989, the DNR estimated the black bear population in Wisconsin at 9,000 bears. For the next seven years, the estimates remained 11,000 to 14,000 bears. That changed in 2006-2007, when following a study the DNR changed the estimation to 23,000 to 40,000 bears. On the basis of this one study, the DNR increased the bear kill by 60 percent. “The last 7 bear seasons represent the 7 highest bear harvest in Wisconsin history. Wisconsin continues to lead the nation with more bear harvest than in any other state,” boasts the DNR website.
David Mattson, a grizzly bear expert, gave a talk defending Yellowstone grizzlies from delisting on July 15, 2015. He spoke of bears with great love and respect, calling them “miraculous.”
Mattson makes the point that one of the ways that government bear managers skew population data is by changing the way that they count bears (as happened in Wisconsin). He also reports: “However large the population might be, and however fast it might have grown, tells us nothing about the unfolding present and impending future.” He cites the unprecedented and unpredictable effects of climate change as bears saw reductions in two of their major food sources in Yellowstone in just the past few years — cutthroat trout and whitebark pine seeds. These changes forced bears to turn to meat, which brings them into conflict with hunters in pursuit of elk and deer — and with wolves. Females forced toward meat consumption are putting cubs at risk from male bears, wolves and men.
Mattson reports that 80 percent of adult bear deaths are attributed to human violence. Bears’ predictable behavior leads to their vulnerability. They are no match for guns, traps and targeted “seasons.” He says that the destruction of 100,000 bears from 1800 to 1910 “demonstrated when we turn lethal, we slaughter bears like crazy.”
Over 26,500 black bears have been killed in Wisconsin in just the last six years. That is over four times the rate of historic killing of grizzlies that Mattson characterizes as genocide: “Our European ancestors were remarkably lethal to grizzly bears. … Fair to say that virtually every grizzly bear that encountered an armed European between 1850 and 1950 ended up dead. Besides having large caliber firearms, it had a lot to do with what was going on between their ears — and that had a lot to do with Manifest Destiny. It was a story of domination, use, and death. I don’t want to be overly dramatic here but it essentially gave European settlers permission in their minds to perpetrate genocides … bears, bison, native peoples being swept away.”
With the human population continuing to escalate and wild places disappearing, plus the unknowns of sudden rapid changes in climate and food supplies, drought, floods, wildfires and loss of habitat, there is nothing predictable here and now.
Mattson says: “Prospects (are) not good if we continue to tell ourselves stories of domination, use and death … if we told stories of respect and kinship and appreciation — (we have) room for a lot more bears than we have now … a good basis to be more humble and realize we have released forces we cannot control.”
The Grizzly Times reports: “According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), over 212,000 comments were submitted on the 2006 proposal to remove endangered species protections (“delist”) the Yellowstone grizzly bear. Over 99 percent of those commented opposed delisting. Particularly strong were voices of children, scientists, conservationists, and old timers. Many invoked spiritual connections to bears and the earth, stewardship and leaving a legacy for future generations.”
Bears are a public trust — not a trophy for the elite few. Who will stand in solidarity with the Bear Tribe of Wisconsin?