The April 30 death of a Durango woman who was attacked by bears was a tragedy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, her death and the subsequent euthanizing of the bears have been widely covered in the media nationwide and sensationalized on social media.
Without regard for the feelings of the woman’s boyfriend, who discovered her body, and her family and friends, who are no doubt traumatized, posters on social media sites have made outrageous statements, including blaming the victim and the wildlife law enforcement officers forced to hunt and kill the bears.
Let’s be clear: The woman did nothing wrong. She went for a hike with her dogs, as thousands of Coloradans do every day. She was less than a quarter of a mile from houses when she was killed. We will never know exactly what transpired. Our hearts go out to those who cared for her.
And let’s be clear about the wildlife officers: They did nothing wrong, either. In fact, they just did their jobs, following their agencies’ protocols for protecting human life. We know that not one of them took pleasure in killing the bears. The people who work for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service and other such agencies do so in great measure because they love wildlife. To have to euthanize an animal is heartbreaking for them.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife employees have received critical and threatening emails and phone calls since the event, said Rebecca Ferrell, branding and communications manager for CPW. People have even called demanding to know the names of those who fired the euthanizing shots, presumably so they can demonize them. A number of the most offensive communiques have come from people who don’t live where wildlife and humans interface.
“Let bears be bears,” some have said. Really? You want bears who have killed a human to hang out in your neighborhood? The bears should have been relocated, others say. Not possible. Once bears are acclimated to human contact, and particularly when they have attacked and/or killed a human, they are likely to do it again, said Matt Thorpe, CPW Deputy Southwest Regional Manager.
The problem is that humans and bears cohabitate in much of Colorado. The current statewide bear population is estimated at 17,000 to 18,000. Bears are smart, but they don’t have the reasoning capability of humans. It’s up to us to behave in ways that reduce potential encounters and manage those that occur as well as they can be managed.
But many people refuse to follow simple rules that help keep bears at bay, such as taking down bird feeders, keeping trash locked up and putting waste bins out for the shortest periods of time possible. It helps to remember that bears – which are out of hibernation from March to November, generally – are motivated foremost by food. And they can smell food five miles away. Bears have a natural fear of humans, but can overcome that fear fairly easily where food is concerned.
You can find out how to minimize the chances of an encounter with bears and what to do if you can’t avoid such an encounter on the CPW website (cpw.state.co.us/bears). Another good source is Bear Smart (www.bearsmart.com, and see the April 8 Herald article by Bryan Peterson, “Take precautions to keep humans, bears safe”). Bear Smart’s website is a fascinating trove of information and could make for a fun evening’s “edutainment” with children.
“There is no villain and no hero here,” said Ferrell of the recent attack. We agree.
Yet the death of our neighbor is a stark reminder that danger is inherent in our cohabitation with wildlife. We should recognize and respect that danger – for us and for the bears.