Research bears Faith and Hope
Part I of II
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” ~ Baba Dioum
Over the seven years of writing the Madravenspeak column, and 18 years since being elected to the so-called Conservation Congress, I have watched in despair as more and more hunters and trappers are recruited and trained, military-style, to wage war on the dwindling wildlife in Wisconsin. When ego is tied to killing wildlife, it is a tough nut to crack. DNR policies are emptying our woods and making them violent.
As one reader wrote in, “We need a Citizen DNR to monitor all the abuse going on.
The DNR and hunters further degraded themselves in 2003 and 2006 by pushing legalization of fenced enclosures where captive baby bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and rabbits have packs of dogs loosed on them 16 hours a day every day of their lives until killed by the dogs. This is family entertainment — dogs attacking helpless trapped wildlife, “training” to kill indigenous wildlife. There is no oversight and few of the supposedly required quarterly reports from the owners of these enclosures are filed.
Our wildlife are chased, tortured and killed out of sight.
Back in 2000, Tom Solin, lead special investigator for the DNR, invited me to be on the Captive Bear and Cougar committee to improve conditions for wildlife in this state. He told me that coyotes should never be included in captive hounding enclosures, as they cannot escape the fence or hide from the dogs. He told me they are torn apart on the ground. The improvements we made were gutted as soon as he retired.
Two bears can be put into a cement-floored 400-square-foot dog pen all their lives in Wisconsin (and many are). I met Jeff Traska while on the committee. He was a former bear hunter who had adopted a bear and pioneered the first open-top enclosure in Wisconsin, starting with one acre and a pond, now expanded to four bears in six or seven acres of woods. Traska describes himself as a “reformed sport hunter” who realized he was fascinated with bears. Part of his mission is “dispelling the myths and misconceptions that have led to the widespread, unnecessary persecution of bears.”
I asked Traska why the change of heart from bear killer to bear lover, and he said, “I realized I did not learn anything about bears after they were dead in the back of my truck.
Lynn Rogers, the famed bear biologist who has studied black bears longer than any person on earth, has made extraordinary compromises to try to help black bears. He wanted to be the Jane Goodall of bear research, observing them in their natural environments, and learning from them who they actually are. What he found astounded him. He found peaceful creatures, bluff-charging to try to get away from humans who have done them so much harm. He forged a fierce love of and close relationship with wild bears.
In 1968, Rogers, as a graduate student, started the first study of black bears in Minnesota. He wrote: “It was sponsored mainly by the Minneapolis Big Game Club and eventually by the NRA, the Wildlife Management Institute, the Boone and Crockett Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and various sportsmen’s organizations.”
Rogers describes the situation for bears when he started his study: “Bear numbers were low. They had been bountied for years. When the bounty finally was lifted in 1965, bear status became the same as rats. They were varmints to be killed at any time, in any manner, by any person 52 weeks per year (like coyotes are killed here now). The common practice was for residents to gut-shoot them so they would die away from residences, sometimes months later, without the need to bury the carcasses.”
Even as he was learning the peaceful, intelligent character of bears, Lynn worked with hunters to “elevate” the status of bears to trophy so that seasons would be established and rules set, rules that required powerful-enough weapons to kill rather than just wound. Lynn claims that he respected hunters and they respected his research.
It was a devil’s bargain that would come back to haunt him later as some of his favorite research bears, bears he and his students cherished, were targeted and killed by hunters with DNR approval.
Being killed for trophy taxidermy is still a death sentence. Now trophy-hunting bears is big business. In Wisconsin more black bears are killed annually than anywhere on earth. Some 60 to 70 percent of the males killed 2004-2014 were cubs 1-2 years old. That data correlate to a bear population crash, according to the top biologist in Minnesota.
Part II of this column, to be published Oct. 8, will explore how that cooperation with the DNR and hunters would change, from the hunter side, as the agency and hunters resented the growing knowledge of citizens learning the true nature of bears and falling in love with them.
Bear lovers can help create a Wisconsin bear sanctuary and education center on my property, 35 miles north of Madison. Several posts added to the Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic website over the past couple of months provide further information regarding plans for the bear sanctuary and education center, along with information on how you can help this project become a reality.
Please sign the petition to End Lion Farming in South Africa raising 8,000 lions for people to kill in fenced enclosures).
This column was originally published in the Madison CapTimes on September 24, 2017.