Dealing with bears – it’s us vs. them |

Dealing with bears – it’s us vs. them

Catherine Garland

We must eat to live. An obvious truth. Every sentient being must eat to live. Another obvious truth, but one that we seem conveniently to push aside when it doesn’t suit our reality.The “problem” with the bears is being presented as a problem of them (inferior creatures) trying to get food from us (the superior race). Our DNA and the DNA of bears is not that different, and yet our lifestyles have evolved very differently. They, the inferior creatures, live off the land, sleeping half the year to conserve energy, and roaming far and wide the rest of the time to gather food. We, the superior race, have taken over their land to build the mansions we choose to live in, and we have our food shipped to us over enormous distances at great cost to the environment.We, both the superior race and the inferior creatures, coexist in this time and space. The planet provides food so that we all may live. The difference between our two species is that they eat to live, while we live to eat, throwing away a great percentage of the food that we’ve had shipped in to us.Imagine if we changed places for a while:Most years the harvest in the high mountains is plentiful, but in some years food is very scarce. As the hunger pangs claw more and more sharply at our bellies, and as we watch our young get weak, we can smell the food that they, the superior race, are throwing away. We are very timid creatures, in spite of our size and power, but we are also intelligent, and we try to find the food sources as quietly as possible, not wanting to create any trouble. However, they, the superior race, do not want to share even the great amount that they no longer need to eat, the food that they throw out. They go to great efforts to lock it away and when we do manage to find some, They, the superior race, lay traps for us and kill us.What would you, the superior race, have us do? Like you, we must eat to live. The smell of the food that you are throwing away and that we need in order to live is overpowering. Like you, we want to live, and like you, we must eat to live.In comparison, I was delighted to read the article in the Aug. 22 issue of The Aspen Times on how gorillas are being cared for in Uganda. Admittedly, this is a very different situation – 42 gorillas that were hurt or had been captured and sold as babies are being cared for in a sanctuary, and the intention is to return them to the wild some day. The story of this account of humans caring for a lesser species that’s in trouble is nevertheless inspiring. We human beings tend to have such a strong sense of entitlement that too often we pay little regard to other species around us struggling to survive under harsh conditions.Two pages after the article on the gorillas is a large ad placed by the city of Aspen outlining the ordinance that “if any animal is able to access your trash, you may be ticketed or fined,” and encouraging citizens to report violations. The central issue not being addressed is that these fellow mammals with whom we share existence are horribly hungry, starving actually, in a year like this one when their own natural food sources are insufficient. They are desperate for the food thrown out by us, but zealously guarded in locked containers until it can be trucked to already swollen landfills to be buried underground. If only, I think, we could at least share with them the slightly bruised and imperfect fruits, the overripe bananas and other overripe fruits, and the grains …I do not judge the authorities for the stance they are taking, but I do see it as operating out of an old paradigm that needs to change. Two of the beliefs that are being widely disseminated to back up the ordinance – but that seem to be false based on scientific study – are:1) Bears get accustomed to human food and then prefer it to their own. From the studies carried out by the widely respected bear behaviorist Dr. Lynn Rogers, and from letters in the newspaper by people who’ve carried out their own experiments, it seems that bears ALWAYS prefer their own natural food, and only eat human food when the natural supply of berries, acorns, etc., is insufficient.2) Bears are aggressive. They are certainly larger than us and very powerful, but anyone who’s said “boo” to a bear or seen one treed by a dachshund knows that they are much more afraid of us than we are of them. Like humans, bears have different personalities, and one or two might be aggressive, but most are very timid.In trying to protect ourselves and our food waste from these fellow creatures, we must recognize that we are not separate from nature but rather a part of nature, and that whatever we do ripples out to affect the whole. The St. James version of the Bible tells us that man(kind) “has dominion over all creatures.” I believe a more correct translation of the original Greek is that we are stewards given the responsibility to care for all creatures.The problem of our starving neighbors, the bears, is not an easy problem and it cannot be patched over with a small, easy answer that benefits only one side of the equation. It is a problem that requires innovative thinking, thinking that goes outside the box. We need to find solutions that work for the larger picture that includes all sentient beings. Currently there is a mass extinction of many species caused by our overconsumption of resources. Do we, in our little corner of paradise, want to add to that?”We are at the dawn of a new age,” said Martin Luther King Jr., and we have new choices. I hope that those who care about the issue of the bears at a deeper level might meet around a table and “storyboard” some creative solutions. I feel strongly that this problem is indicative of other problems to come in these new times. We must find fresh ways to think and new ways to come up with creative solutions that work for the peaceful co-existence and good of all.In the large picture, not only are we us; we are also them.Catherine Garland is a resident of Aspen. Editor’s note: “Soapbox” runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, ext. 17624, or