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The Valley Reporter
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Waitsfield, VT 05673

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How can we help the bears survive?

After having read the article on the foraging failures of the black bear, I was left with the feeling that humans are falling short of their potential to be compassionate toward other beings in need. The next day I received an e-mail from the National Wildlife Federation stating, “Black bears across the country are desperate for food. Facing berry shortages as climate change fuels extreme droughts, more and more bears are searching for food in dumpsters, cars and homes. The consequences are often deadly for the bears.” This is surely the case here in the Mad River Valley.

 In speaking with others I learned that bears are thought to be overpopulated in Vermont, the number of bears to be killed during this year’s hunting season will be increased, and it has been predicted that there will be massive die-offs of bear this winter as a result of food shortages. I am left confused about what is true, what is really happening for bears and how we might help them survive as we would help our human neighbors. I believe there are reasonable ways in which we can help the bears and other animals, that humans possess the compassion to care about the suffering of other species and, given a chance, will try to help them survive through this challenging time.

When Tropical Storm Irene rolled through Vermont, we joined together as a strong community, helping those most impacted to face the unthinkable and reinvent their lives. There are many ways in which we support each other in order to keep our communities and families strong. I see the bears as our neighbors, too. They live in the areas least visited by humans as they long for wilderness and the ability to live independent, private lives. It is only when their needs grow stronger than their fear that they dare “trespass” onto our cropland and take what they do not know is someone else’s food.

According to the North American Bear Center, “Wild fruit, nuts and acorns are the most important foods for black bears in summer and fall. If those crops fail, cubs starve, females abort their fetuses and some bears follow their noses to human foods.” Is it reasonable to think that as a community we might reimburse our farmers for the corn they lose to starving bears? Just as Vermonters support each other in times of need, those who care about the hardships of bears and farmers can share the cost of their survival by giving a small contribution to compensate our farmers for their lost corn. In this way, we share the financial burden with the farmer, the habitat needs of the bear and the benefits of living harmoniously with our wild neighbors. In other words, we all win. Then, if the Department of Fish and Wildlife finds it necessary to increase the bear kill quotas, the bears can be taken during hunting season using accurate state management practices and not starve or be shot as a pest.

Each time we have conflict with an animal, I see it as an opportunity to learn more about that animal and discover solutions for living in harmony with them. As in most relationships, this requires creative thinking, understanding and potential compromises. It may not be easy, but, as the saying goes, “Nothing worthwhile ever is.” Most of us live in Vermont because we love the rural lifestyle and the nature that surrounds us. If we are to hold the opportunity to live close to the earth for future generations, then we must be good stewards of our natural resources… animal, vegetable, mineral, water, air and the whole biota. Humans dominate most of the earth and have taken most wilderness areas for our own uses. Habitat destruction is the main cause of species extinction. During times of hardship animals may need to expand their range in order to find food, water, shelter and potential mates. Bears eating this much corn is a sign of their being in dire need. The human challenge is to learn to live in harmony with nature and stop devouring it. We can share the earth with other species and I believe this is for our best good. I am grateful to live in a place so rich with a diversity of life. I experience great joy from the peepers in the spring, the moose tracks by our pond, coyotes calling in the mountains above, the return of the songbirds in the spring and so many more amazing glimpses of creatures that share this land with me.

Conflict with wildlife is sure to occur as the human population continues to grow and move deeper into the remaining wild places. Climate change will challenge all beings. I feel it will be a more beautiful world if we use our intelligence to find harmonious solutions to these conflicts so that biodiversity remains a possibility. We can share the world and help all species challenged by the earth changes. If humans have the ability to bring the world to such pivotal times environmentally, then we surely have the ability to find the solutions to heal her as well. I ask that we take a moment to breathe, open to our potential and find new solutions for all life involved. There is much that can be lost and much to be gained. Please join me in the effort to promote compassion for all species and the earth herself. We can only benefit from such an effort. Indeed our survival depends upon it. And, if you are wondering, yes, I brake for animals!

Candice Shaffer lives in Waitsfield.



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