One of the things I valued about Alaska when I moved here more than 12 years ago was the fact that wild animals aren’t typically tracked down and killed after they injure—or even kill—a human. Unless they show a dangerous propensity for bothering people, the animals usually get credit for simply acting like wild animals.
That’s a refreshing change from the Lower 48 where, as soon as a bear scratches or bites someone, a posse of game officials hits the trail to slaughter it.
That attitude has always reminded me of the movie Jaws, in which a great white shark chomps a fat kid on an air mattress, and hordes of redneck fishermen head out to kill sharks. It’s a big damned sea holding a metric assload of sharks, any one of which could have munched the kid, but that doesn’t matter to the guys with harpoons.
So I’m usually one of the people opposed to capping a bear that has attacked someone who surprised it and sparked a natural, defensive response. I have no desire to sanitize Alaska’s forests, even those inside the municipal boundaries. I like riding in a place that is still wild.
But sometimes, bears have to die.
After two maulings and multiple charges this summer, state wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott decided there was enough evidence of dangerous behavior on the part of at least a couple of bears that killing them was the right choice. I agree with him. Biologists killed one sow a few days ago, and even though DNA tests indicated it was not the bear that mauled Petra Davis, they are confident this particular sow was one of the bears involved in a number of dangerous encounters this summer. Once that pattern of behavior is established, eliminating the bear is usually the only viable option.
Sinnott isn’t a guy who enjoys killing bears. This is the man who was suspended from bear duty two summers ago when his bosses penalized him for angrily—and correctly—speaking out against lazy and careless human actions that were turning wild animals into garbage bears and setting up situations that forced him to shoot the animals. His decision this summer to kill a bear or two isn’t some stunt to make the public feel better. Sinnott has been doing this job—and doing it well—for years. If he says the bears have lost their fear of humans and become too dangerous, I trust him.
Besides, this is a state in which bears are routinely hunted for sport by rich tourists who pay $15,000 to $20,000 who kill grizzlies because they think doing so will make their dicks look bigger. I think it’s far more justified to shoot a bear that is well on its way to developing a habit of charging and attacking trail users.
Another biologist was recently quoted in the paper as saying the people at the state Department of Fish & Game feel stuck in the middle of a controversy, and that no matter what they do, half the state will think they were wrong.
It’s been a tough summer around here, but most of our Hillside “bear problem” likely involves a only couple of bears, while the vast majority of them are minding their own business.
It’s time to take out a couple of troublemakers. Fish & Game will have my gratitude for doing it.