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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Headline: "Everyday Hunter Tortures Fly!"

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 27, 2009.)

No president in history has so aptly combined
the hunting prowess of Teddy Roosevelt with
the buck-stops-here attitude of Harry Truman.
A recent news story from Cleveland reported that residents witnessed a black bear wander through their neighborhood. TV news is, of course, about pictures. But by the time the cameras arrived the bear had run away.

So, someone created a simulation for TV viewers, dramatizing how the bear “escaped.” A guy crouched behind a bear-shaped cardboard cutout and stumbled into a patch of woods.

Picture it: here’s a guy using a cardboard prop to illustrate a wildlife mystery: how the bear ran away. Yep. I get it now. It’s so much easier to understand. A bear. It ran. It ran away.

Does that strike anyone else as funny? How about pathetic? I pity media-enlightened Americans who get treated to “news stories” where there really isn’t any story.

Another case in point: President Obama recently took a little hunting trip, literally an armchair expedition, and slapped a fly that landed on his hand during an on-camera interview.

What surprised me most was how everyone was so impressed. “That was a big one,” reporters marveled. Certainly no previous President had the skills to act swiftly and prevail decisively against an invader while discussing the important issues of the day!

That’s right! No president in history so aptly combines the hunting prowess of Teddy Roosevelt with the buck-stops-here attitude of Harry Truman. Obama’s new mantra: “The bug stops here!”

I figured this incident would result in air time for PETA (not People Eating Tasty Animals, but the other one – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.) I was right. They revived the story (but not the fly) when they sent the President a deathless bug catcher contraption.

You can purchase the humane device on the PETA website. A gripping copy blurb makes it a must-have for every animal lover: “Are you the kind of person who wouldn’t hurt a fly? Is your motto ‘live and let live,’ …. Simply place Katcha Bug over the bug and slowly slide its plastic trapdoor shut. The bug will step onto the trapdoor as it closes, and you can carry Katcha Bug outside, where all you need to do is slide the trap door open, allowing the bug to walk away. ...you won’t have to get too close for comfort.”

That might convince PETA sympathizers, but it raises too many questions for me. What do you do if the fly avoids a nice flat runway and hides in a flower arrangement? Or gets behind the curtains? Or even lands on (heaven forbid) the back of a President’s hand?

You do what I do. You consider the Katcha Bug a waste of money, even if it costs only $8.00. Why? Because lots of people catch flies in their hands, not by slapping them, but by swiping at them while closing the hand. I could show the President myself (or show PETA, for that matter) how to do it. In fact, most any 10-year old boy could show and tell.

If you’re a PETA-type, you then open the window, relax your hand, and release the pesky fly to go annoy a cabinet secretary or bother a bureaucrat hidden in the bowels of Washington. Then wash your hands.

Or, if you’re not a PETA-type, you can stun the fly by dashing it against the floor. Then squash it in a tissue and waterboard it (just to be sure no one revives it) by flushing it down the toilet.

I can see the headline now: “Everyday Hunter Tortures Fly!”

I was thinking about PETA one evening while grilling a couple of burgers in my back yard. A Cooper’s Hawk flew by and nabbed a young robin. I wondered if PETA would think that was ethical.

The answer was clear to all the angry robins scolding the hawk: they thought it wasn’t.

I didn’t get the license plate of that raptor. Nor could I point to this murderous Cooper’s Hawk with its unregistered claws in a police line-up. But I briefly considered reporting the meanie to PETA.

Then I thought, maybe it’s better that I just forget the whole thing, or PETA might come after me for waterboarding a fly.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bears — Don’t Make Them Dangerous

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 13, 2009.)

Papa Bear doesn’t care
if Baby Bear gets any porridge at all.
It’s summertime… and the livin’ is easy for black bears. They’re showing up in residential areas, on campgrounds, at restaurant dumpsters, and lots of other places that aren’t their natural habitat.

Bears are ruled by their stomachs. They’re a slave to an easy meal, more so if that meal is the high carbohydrate fare they find wherever man has left his leftovers. What you throw away will attract black bears like a sumo wrestler to a smorgasbord.

We who live near black bear habitat need to understand a few things. First, bears can be dangerous. That should go without saying, but it never hurts to start with the obvious.

Second, when you see bears in residential areas, they are there for a reason. They show up where the food is. They pack on the pounds all summer so that they can survive in hibernation during the winter.

Third, out in the woods, Mama Bear and her little ones must compete with Papa Bear for food. And Papa bear isn’t the doting Papa of Goldilocks fame. He doesn’t care if Baby Bear gets any porridge at all.

So, it’s no wonder Mama thinks residential areas make good digs for her and the little ones. While you might see a male bear pass through town from time to time, you’ll see young bears and sows with cubs more often because they tend to go where Papa Bear won’t threaten them.

Getting close to people is bad for bears. Why? Because the most dangerous bears are bears that are habituated to people. It’s not natural for them to be familiar with us.

It’s not natural because bears are best served when they’re not being served by man. They’re best served when they get no encouragement to hang around people. They don’t need your help and in fact, your “help” will harm them. It’s a prescription for disaster.

The lives of wild animals change constantly – especially their diets. Squirrels stockpile food against scarcity in the cold months, deer transition to eating sticks, and bears go into hibernation – all because nature provides slim pickings in the winter.

On the other hand, people don’t hibernate. Our diets change little through the seasons. We generally don’t use our outdoor grills in winter and we don’t eat marshmallow peeps in July. (Unless you’re like me and toast leftovers over a campfire!)

I’ve had one encounter with a dangerous bear. A couple of years ago I was hunting deer in New York’s Allegany State Park. A big bear, probably accustomed to campground feeding, approached me to within seven feet. He was totally unafraid. I got lots of photos.

After I went home I reviewed a book by Stephen Herrero, Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. He said that black bears seldom show aggression when attacking. They display no warning. They approach slowly, during the day. They partly circle a victim, and then rush in, “trying to knock the intended prey down and inflicting injuries with jaws or paws and claws.”

If that bear had aggressive intention, he hid it. He displayed no warning. He approached slowly, during the day. He partly circled me. Fortunately he didn’t rush me.

Knowing what I now know, I have to wonder, “Was that bear sizing me up?” I can’t be sure, but I know for sure I was at risk. Why? Because bears that are accustomed to people are dangerous bears. Yes, I had a gun, a muzzleloader, but it was leaning against a tree four feet away. He had me if he decided to take me.

Here’s the truth: bears that have repeated encounters with people are being made into dangerous bears. They’re the bears that are not afraid of us. They’re the bears that expect something from us. When it’s a mother with cubs, she might expect trouble. If she does, she will defend them to the death.

So when you feed bears, you’re making them dangerous. They may have to be trapped and moved (almost impossible with a mother and cubs). They may get hit by cars. Or, the behavior they’re learning may ultimately get them euthanized. You may be signing their death warrant. That’s why people say, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

Bears aren’t supposed to be friendly to you, and you aren’t supposed to be friendly to them. Don’t feed them birdseed, or hotdogs, or even your marshmallow peeps. They might like you for it, but it’s bad for bears to like you.