Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bears and Prairies

by Scott Hall

A conservation officer with the Minnesota DNR shot and killed a collared black bear on Thursday, Aug. 2, in Eagle Nest Township between Tower and Ely.  According to the DNR incident report, the bear had entered a garage where children were present and refused to leave the area.

The agency received a call from upset residents whose children were in their garage when the bear entered it. The residents reported they made repeated unsuccessful attempts to scare the bear away, including using an air horn, and that the bear snarled at them.

Two conservation officers arrived to find the bear still in the area. The bear appeared to have become accustomed to humans through hand feeding. After the bear refused to leave the residence, despite attempts by a conservation officer to frighten it away, the officer killed it.

This story with an unhappy ending got a lot of public attention statewide.  Bears are close to the top of my list of favorite wild animals in northern MN, and I understand the outpouring of sympathy for this bear.  But are we more concerned about this bear than maintaining habitats that insure healthy wildlife populations?  The easy answer is we have concern for both.   Easy to say.

Prairies aren't the preferred habitat for bears, but they are home for a lot of game and non-game wildlife like the prairie chicken (left).  Most of the native prairies in Minnesota disappeared a long time ago.  The DNR sent out a news release about a new prairie conservation plan the same week of the bear shooting, but the death of this single bear generated more headlines than the future of the state's last prairies. 

When corn and soybean (or timber) values go up, the importance of habitat takes a back seat. We expect public and private natural resource managers to maintain a balance, but in good and bad economic times there is the constant pressure to extract more.

1 comment:

Gord said...

I take your point, Scott, but I am not concerned about Minnesotan's lack of interest in restoring habitat for wildlife. Whether it is forest, wetland, potholes, or prairie. Just look at all of our new sales tax conservation money flowing for 25 years into clean water, wildlife, parks and trails, and culture (-ology?).

Plus the extra-cost license plates we display - with deer, loons, fishermen, and ladyslippers are for RIM, Reinvest In MN. Restoring habitat.

But I took away from KAXE-KBXE two stories this week that did concern me. "Breakfast with Bears" Friday Morning Show with Marshall Helmberger at the Vince Schutte attraction near Orr.

Why should wild bears be habituated in this way? They have to be baited to be shot by hunters. So this DNR killing story with its discussion by KBXE-KAXE hosts John and Heidi, who decried the killing of the garage bear, led me to object to the Schutte taming of wild bears.

What a difference at the Bear Museum south of Ely where we can get some scientific knowlege about bears. And just east of Ely is the International Wolf Museum, where we learn about the long-time relationship between humans and canids.

Was there ever any consideration for MN citizens who oppose rushing into a hunting season on wolves?