Bears and stink bugs get the bad press, but, really, who are we to judge?
Over the last couple of weeks, the Twin Cities media have kept us informed of the ways of “nuisance” bears. And now we learn of more pesky wild critters. After the execution of the black bear that had been previously wounded by the poor marksmanship of a nuisance-getter, we learn that there are now “homely, smelly and destructive” brown marmorated stink bugs in our state. Not just an ordinary stink bug, but, as the Star Tribune noted, “the very definition of the unwelcome guest.”
Profiling or labeling is one of the great embarrassments of being human.
Sadly, we not only profile individuals based on how they look, eat or believe, we have stooped so low as to unfairly judge hungry wildlife. And why not? Of all species on the planet, humans are not only the most judgmental but, arguably, the sloppiest.
An article was published recently in a local newspaper about a hungry black bear wandering into the city limits of Cambridge, Minn. Even though the paper noted that the bear was “taken care of,” the situation did not end well for the bear.
Bruins learn early that us human types have a propensity to be messy with food. Why wouldn’t a winter-hungry bear roam into a neighborhood following the promising smells coming from open garbage cans, torn garbage bags, open compost bins topped with yesterday’s leftovers, and BBQ grills soaked in bratwurst and burger fat?
Bears are wise in avoiding humans. But once in a while they get used to us. Such bears are called habituated. They learn to ignore folks and basically become unafraid of humans. But that doesn’t mean that we become unafraid of them. Most folks have a deep-rooted fear of large mammals with sharp teeth and claws. They are convinced that the bear will kill them.
Ignorance goes a long way in delivering a fear package. Black bears are expert omnivores. They eat a lot of plants and protein. But note that much of their protein is garnered from insects such as ant eggs and larvae. Every spring I watch black bears unabashedly slaughter heaps of dandelion blossoms as they graze roadside ditches near our outpost in the Yukon Territory.
As an avid hunter, I have come to learn that things are far more complex in the natural world than I can imagine. The passage of time — teamed with the genius of place and the inexplicable intricacies of the web of life — has me surrendering to wonder.
I have no desire to ever shoot a bear. Mostly because I don’t see the sport in sitting perched high over a pile of rotted human garbage and sweets to wait for a bear to come in for the easy pickings. It’s not my idea of hunting.
What if the recently executed West St. Paul bear had been visiting such a bait station last fall and had managed to avoid getting shot? Now spring comes along and it smells all of those delicious odors again. Hurrah! Easy-picking calories just down the street!
Getting into improperly stored human “food” (trash, etc.) even just once can start a bear down the path of securing the title “habituated.” It’s far too easy to label such a bear as a nuisance bear. It makes it easy to justify its removal.
Given that bears, raccoons, skunks, crows and other critters were here first, should we not consider who the real nuisance is? In all fairness, the newspaper did go on to give good instructions on the need to keep your premises clean of food temptations for wandering bears.
All I ask is for us to take responsibility for the death of a bear that was looking for an easy meal. You know, kind of like when we dash to a fast-food joint for a quick and easy meal.
This is a case where we have met the nuisance and it is us.
Tom Anderson, of North Branch, was a professional naturalist and director of the Lee and Rose Warner Nature Center (associated with the Science Museum of Minnesota) for 30 years. He is the author of “Things that Bite: The Truth about Critters that Scare People.”
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.