Opinion

Bear encounter a lesson learned for all concerned

A number of conflicting thoughts come to mind when reflecting on the recent case of a bear mauling a bicyclist in Banner Forest. But at the end of the day, we can’t help thinking the best possible outcome was the one we seem to have ended up with — the animal eluding capture and hopefully ambling off into the forest never to be heard from again.

By all accounts, it seems as though the bear was provoked to attack by the bicyclist’s dogs, which were running off-leash in the forest — something they are not allowed to do. That said, though, we don’t agree with the theory espoused by some nature lovers that any bear attack on a human is by definition the fault of the human, since he or she is responsible for any development that encroached on the bear’s territory.

Frankly, anyone who believes there isn’t room for bears and humans to peacefully coexist has evidently never been in an airplane and seen just how sparsely developed this region actually is. There’s plenty of space around here for man and beast, which explains why attacks of these kinds are so rare.

Still, there need to be rules of engagement, and in this case both parties share some blame.

One assumes the bicyclist in question learned a valuable lesson from his encounter and won’t be so cavalier about flouting the regulations and letting his dogs roam free in the future.

The bear, however, will logically come away from the incident thinking he got the best of the brawl and that attacking humans is an acceptable form of behavior. And while you can argue all you want to that the bicyclist got exactly what was coming to him for breaking the rules, what about the next person who comes face to face with this animal?

The Department of Fish and Wildlife makes it a policy that a bear that’s shown the inclination to attack humans cannot safely be left where it is or relocated to another area. Consequently, it must be destroyed.

That seems harsh, but ultimately it’s the most practical solution in a case such as this.

Which isn’t to say we were rooting for the bear to be trapped and killed, because we weren’t. Among other concerns, we wonder how officials could ever be sure they got the right bear. A Fish and Wildlife spokesman said they would test the bear’s fur or its stomach contents, but it seems as though you’d probably have to kill whatever bear you caught just to run those tests.

Also, the longer it took to trap the bear the more likely it was that the evidence would disappear and the less confident you could ever be that you caught the actual attacker.

Ultimately, it isn’t especially comforting to know a bear with a track record of attacking humans is wandering around in a park many humans are inclined to use. But if the encounter spooked the bear as much as it spooked — or should have spooked — the park’s human inhabitants, maybe there’s a useful lesson in all of this for everyone concerned.

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