Bears and people need protection |

Bears and people need protection

Alan Braunholtz

Vail is considering laws to prevent bears from getting into trash. No, we’re not going to fine the bears, just the people who are irresponsible with their garbage.

Laws are unpopular especially since we still fantasize about the frontier mentality of no limits, “a man’s gotta put out the garbage when a man wants to.”

But if you drive too fast and create a danger to others, you can expect to get a ticket. A speed limit isn’t only a law; it’s a reminder to think of others.

A frontier mentality only works when no one else is around and the land is large enough to dilute your mistakes.

This bear law is motivated by the desire to protect both people and bears. The danger for humans is that bears are big, incredibly fast and well armed. Sooner or later someone is going to be stupid or unlucky enough to get themselves on the wrong end of a scared bear. The danger for bears is that if a bear gets the garbage habit, it is deemed a problem and we kill it.

Support Local Journalism

I have a huge soft spot for bears. Perhaps because of my childhood Teddy bears and stories I give them a cuddly persona they don’t deserve.

They act it out well, though. Big and round with soft, rippling fur as they amble slowly along unfazed by all the attention they generate. They gaze back with calm intelligent eyes, a big dog’s nose under a pair of comical stuck on ears belying the powerful predator they are. I’ve seen families walking their toddlers out to see the “neighborhood” bear. It’s probably not the smartest thing in the world, wheeling the walker over to a 400 pound wild beast. But with a bear it seems OK, at least in our urban settings.

I recently met a bear way out in the middle of nowhere and she did the right thing, scurrying off, apparently acknowledging the innate superiority of humans. Then, in an exciting development, she came back and followed me. Human superiority is often a state of mind, and this bear wasn’t buying. I began to change mine, too, realizing that out here, she is the top dog.

Calvin, the wimpy “run away for another day” poodle, backed this view up by hiding behind my legs while Numu, an Akita who has yet to concede top dog status to anything (well maybe the garbage truck), strained at her leash and barked in frustration.

Soon enough the bear got bored of us and wandered off somewhere more peaceful, but I got to appreciate the less cuddly attributes of a bear.

We are proposing a law that will consider the interests of a bear. This is good. Humans are historically very bad at considering at any level the interests of anything but humans. Slaves were considered subhuman to ease consciences.

Fish have no water rights. If you want to save fish, you have to argue from the human point of view regarding aesthetics, recreation, economic benefits of fishing, etc. Asking for even basic water conservation measures merely for the happiness of a fish or a lot of fish will not get you very far in the court system.

In recent years we have progressed a little on environmental and animal-rights issues.

Laws such as the Endangered Species Act do provide some consideration in special circumstances, though opponents regard these laws as almost blasphemous – God gave the earth to man only.

It’ll be interesting to see how much resistance any responsible trash law will meet. Comparing the hardship of putting out the garbage in the morning versus the suffering of a captured, relocated and killed bear is a tough argument to make.

It amazes me how much effort and money we can put into preserving buildings, paintings and other human artifacts and so little into saving the wild objects of beauty. The sense of awe and reverence an old-growth forest or a verdant river gorge instills in me has yet to be matched by any painting, building or statue I’ve seen.

People who can do the Sistine chapel in 10 minutes, the cultural tour of Europe in a week and have plenty of time to shop will stop for hours to watch a bear basically do nothing.

After the fire in Glenwood I saw a traffic jam on a dirt road as a mother bear and three cubs played and explored the burnt remains of their forest. Strangers exchanged smiles and expressed concern for the cubs. The “wow!” feeling demanded to be shared, something rare indeed.

Over the years it looks like we are valuing “our” wild treasures more than ever before. Hopefully, our ethics and laws will continue to reflect this growing appreciation and empathy.

Alan Braunholtz, raft guide and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily.

Support Local Journalism