Bears not worth the effort and expense

Anyone using our national parks would soon become aware of the fixation the park overseers have with bears.

Anyone using our national parks would soon become aware of the fixation the park overseers have with bears. There isn’t a hiking trail that doesn’t seem to have some dire warnings about coming into contact with bears at large. The park information machine seems to grind out endless brochures, signs, and internet warnings about bear encounters. Hiking trails are routinely closed so that bears can freely roam about without the annoyance of human activity. One ponders at all the time, effort and costs that must be expended by Parks Canada on bear awareness programs. It causes one to wonder why bear welfare has become such a single purpose focus of Park officials. Some rationale does come to mind.

There is the tourist appeal factor that folks in that industry would appreciate. Bears have become a Canadian iconic image particularly to foreign visitors who see it as symbol of the natural wilderness. Certainly government and tourist industry boosters zealously use the bear image to entice tourists. It certainly has been a highly successful approach if one considers the traffic jams created by any bear sightings on roadways. Which causes one to ponder why not just have captive bears on display where tourists can safely observe them, some ski resorts have done just that much to the dismay of those that prefer free-range bears.

But keeping wild animals captive for display purposes seems to go against the grain of the Parks Canada establishment; they are trained in the philosophy of supporting natural conservation measures. That attitude has seen the bison paddock closed in Banff and the paddock in Waterton Park reduced to a paltry half dozen on display. Those same park folks are now promoting the creation of a free-range herd of bison in a remote part of the park.

The bear preservation fixation by government environment officials reached heights of absurdity a number of years ago on cutblock grazing projects in the BC. Those projects involve using thousands of sheep to graze down competing vegetation on recently replanted forestry cutblocks. Shepherds who managed the grazing flocks were not allowed to even possess firearms for fear they might use them to protect themselves and their sheep from marauding bears and wolves. They were supposed to use guard dogs and bear bombs to deter predation, that works to a point until the bears figure out the system and dead dogs are usually the result.

It does raise the question as to why do we need bears around at all, outside of being majestic looking animals what critical purpose do they serve. Bears used to be more widespread, there even used to be a prairie grizzly sub-species, but is their absence missed? What do they actually contribute to the environment? Bears are omnivorous and scavenge but there are plenty of other scavengers around. They consume roots and berries, but have little impact on plant life. Perhaps if they consumed more noxious weeds and invasive brush they would be serving some purpose. I would suggest that from past evidence the absence of bears have little impact on the general health of the ecosystem.

To ranchers in the foothills and parkland areas bears present a real nuisance and cost factor. Being opportunists no self-respecting bear would pass up taking down easy prey like cows and calves. Grizzly bears are even making a comeback onto the prairies, grain farmers in the Pincher Creek area have seen them breaking into grain bins and menacing livestock and poultry in farm yards.

I would suggest that we need fewer bears in areas that are used by the public, particularly in residential and hiking areas of parks. Shooting them on sight presents a bad public relations image, so why not step up removing them to where they seem to be appreciated the most – that being certain areas of BC. Residents of that province seem to be prepared to sacrifice economic development, like pipelines, to protect their precious environment. Alberta needs to help all those caring BC folks with that attitude by relocating nuisance bears to the BC spirit bear rainforest and lower mainland areas. It’s far enough away that the bears would probably not come back to Alberta. It would also give comfort to BC folks that they are making a contribution to saving bears from those awful people in Alberta who are destroying the entire planet with their energy industry. I would suggest that it would be a most noble way for BC residents to display their dedication to preserving their environment.

AHEAD OF THE HEARD