Our Opinion: Bears aren't the enemy; let's not be theirs

Warm weather is back, and that means that Berkshire County's other fauna — the non-human kind — have come out of their lairs and burrows to search for sustenance. Black bears, which according to wildlife experts number in the thousands in the Berkshires, share our habitat as well as as a love of our food. They have been living here even longer than humans, which is yet another reason to treat them with the respect they deserve. They are not a threat to man unless our behavior makes them one, and their numbers make their eradication impractical, unethical and counterproductive, since they are an important part of the ecosystem.

Bears generally like to keep to themselves, and avoid human contact unless they are taken by surprise or enticed to venture into human-occupied areas because food is thoughtlessly left around. The ursine species is also intensely protective of its young, so bears accompanied by cubs need to be given a wide berth.

MassWildlife reassures citizens that "the mere presence of a bear in a populated area is not a public safety threat and the bear will leave the area on its own." Unfortunately, bears have been tranquilized and removed from an area, which can cause them harm, and in rare cases have been shot and killed by state officials. Both of these options are to be avoided, and can be.

Simple tricks can facilitate coexistence between the species: hikers should talk loudly or wear jingly "bear bells" as they walk the trails in order not to startle a bear. When they run into one, they should back away slowly and not give the animal any reason to feel threatened. They should definitely not feed them, for that reinforces the idea of humans as food providers.

Ultimately, bad human habits have contributed to bears' developing the instinct that wherever homo sapiens are to be found there is likely to be food. Keeping one's trash enclosed and eliminating bird feeders in less-settled residential areas is smart protection as well as showing kindness to animals that, like us, just want to get on peacefully with their lives. Bears are not our enemies; let's not be theirs.


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