Can you bear it? | Editorial

The black bear is a symbol of protection, a scavenger, a beautiful furry beast and at times a ruthless predator. When a black bear appeared on Orcas Island last week, residents had various reactions to this large mammal. “Leave the bear alone” slogans appeared on Facebook and with it comments like he’s a vegetarian and what a cute little guy.

Let’s clear up a few things. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office has no intention of harming the animal, but rather is in the process of obtaining a bear trap to safely apprehend and relocate it.

Fish and Wildlife officials urge islanders to take no action and are enacting somewhat of their own slogan of “Hey people, definitely leave the bear alone.”

Second, black bears are not vegetarians. They are omnivores. Unlike human omnivores, black bears are more aggressively opportunistic, feeding on anything from honey to trash to fish to deer and, yes, human beings.

As for being little, this bear is on the smaller side of just 200 – 250 pounds, which if anything is large.

It’s unlikely that a black bear will go after a human, but if it does decide to attack you that will be the worst day of your life. As an avid hiker, I have had several black bear encounters.

On the two occasions I was within 50 feet of a black bear it either ignored me or looked equally terrified. As a hiker who often goes solo into bear country, I’ve picked up a few rules when it comes to avoiding a bad bear encounter.

• Bears are more likely to attack a human if there is an added food element. If you go hiking leave the salami at home. At your house, try to secure any food products or items that have an enticing smell.

• You don’t want to surprise a bear so if you are out walking in the park make noise, preferably with another person. Also, leave your animals at home; they often attract rather than deter bears.

• If you see the bear, do not run away as that will only signal the bear that you are prey. Also, you cannot run faster than a bear – that is impossible.

• Stand your ground and try to be as big or intimidating as possible. Bear experts say that playing dead with a grizzly has its benefits, but with a black bear if it actually does attack, fight for your life; do not lie down.

My biggest piece of advice for islanders who do not have bear experience is to hold respect for this wild and powerful animal. It is not a fuzzy, sweet creature – it’s a huge animal that needs to eat and is built to be at the top of the food chain. Several native cultures refer to the bear as the protector of the animal kingdom and hold it as a high-ranking member of the natural world. I urge islanders to have the same reverence for this sometimes dangerous, yet beautiful, creature.