THE TRAGIC TALE OF A NEIGHBORHOOD BEAR:
I first saw Goober in early June of this past summer. My entire family was tending to yardwork and enjoying the sunshine. We heard a terrible commotion among the neighborhood dogs and ran to lend aid to whatever had fallen prey to them. To our shock and dismay, three dogs were viciously attacking a very young but sizeable bear. He was absolutely beautiful. His fur was a deep cinammon color and his face was tinged with gold. He had big round eyes and a narrow muzzle that gave him a wide-eyed babyish look.
We began chasing the dogs away to allow the bear a moment to escape and the little fellow took refuge up a tree. When he was convinced it was safe, he slowly made his way down and ambled through the neighborhood, cautiously watching the driveways and side streets for more dogs. We followed him at a distance to make sure that no other dogs gave chase and then returned to our yardwork.
A few days later, he returned. Once again, the neighborhood dogs chased him but, this time, he fled to the safety of our fenced yard. We debated on whether it was wise to allow him to stay and agreed that he needed a safe haven. We decided it was a "wait and see" situation. My daughter was given a long list of rules and precautions. She insisted we give him a name and someone labelled him "Goober."
To our surprise and eventual delight, Goober spent most of the summer with us. He became an important part of our lives for it became routine to rise, stoke the fire in the woodstove, and search the gray morning light for signs of Goober.
We changed our habits to accommodate him. Our dogs spent a little less time running loose in the yard, we took better care of our dog food storage, and we watched around us more as we went about our daily chores.
Goober chose an enormous forked tree for his favorite resting spot. He would lie on his back between the forks and sleep through the afternoon. He didn't particularly like cats, but our cats were fascinated by him. They would line up along the driveway and wait until he was fast asleep and then snuggle up to him.
One afternoon, we returned home to find a group of people gathered in front of our gate. Goober was balanced along the top of our fence, posing for photos. He was in rare form and truly seemed to be enjoying all the attention. He rubbed his belly along the fence and then strutted down the fenceline, playfully turning his head upside down to look at the people. He perched on the gate and hung on as we swung it open.
We were told not to feed Goober because it would make him dependent upon us and would handicap him for survival in his natural environment, so we resisted the urge. We did leave a large bucket of water for him near his favorite tree and he would drink from it and play in it as any child might do on a hot summer day.
Goober never displayed any aggressive behavior toward us or our pets. When startled, he would climb to the very top of a huge tree in our front yard and remain there for hours, but he never approached us in a threatening manner or made us fear for our own safety.
Visitors often stopped and asked if they could take a photo. They were amazed that Goober did not pursue them out the gates. We were dismayed that so many people confuse our black bears with the more aggressive Grizzlies.
We learned a great deal about bears from Goober. We learned to respect his need to establish areas where he did not feel threatened. We watched him grow at an amazing rate and were surprized by his strength, speed and agility. We learned to be cautious and to never under estimate his wild nature, size or ability. With a clear understanding of the limitations of our relationship, we came to love him as we did our children and pets.
In late August, Goober ceased to come to his tree. We were a bit sad that he had moved on, but had anticipated it and assumed he was off doing "bear" things elsewhere. We never took Goober for granted or made an effort to domesticate him. We enjoyed the time he spent in our presence so that we could observe him but knew his place was in the wild.
On February 15th, a woman called me anonymously. She would not identify herself because she was afraid of being fired for "causing trouble." Someone had told her how fond we had been of Goober and she wanted me to look into the alleged plan to trap and kill a local bear.
I followed her direction and located the cage. There was a bear already inside of the round, white culvert trap. I felt a terrible sinking feeling in my stomach as I approached the cage, praying it wasn't Goober but fearing the worst. Goober greeted me with a grunt and began licking the steel grate that covered the front of the large opening. The cage shifted ever so slightly as he sought for an escape.
I stood there in the dark, confused. I did not know how to open the cage and release him and did not know the consequences if I did. I have spent my entire life supporting the law and I wasn't sure if releasing him would be an illegal act.
What if the bear was to be relocated? Many states relocate their bears. Surely a state that emblazons the bear image on their state flag wouldn't destroy a bear without making an effort to save him.
I spoke with the man who came to get Goober that night. He explained that he was taking him away to shoot him. He hung a piece of burlap over the cage door and hooked the cage to the back of his truck.
Although I wanted to plead with him for a reprieve or argue with him that it was unnecessary, I knew it was useless. He had obviously heard it all before.
It took several days for the anger to subside...I don't think the sorrow ever will. After many phone calls, I came to the realization that the blame does not rest on the shoulders of the employees and officials of Fish and Game but that they are mandated to follow established policies.
It became clear that the public does not have a clear grasp on what the policies are and that we are in serious need of information regarding such policies that affect our wildlife.
Everyone I have spoken with has expressed the belief that we have an active relocation program. NOT TRUE!!! Bears can be and are destroyed for damaging private property even if a public safety issue does not exist. Goober was destroyed because he sought refuge beneath an elevated home and damaged the wiring and heating ducts while building his den there.
What can we do? It is too late for Goober. He is a bittersweet memory. He was a wonderful bear that did not fit into man's scheme of things. More Goobers will be born this year, however, and we need to clearly understand our own state policies regarding them.
Ideally, I would like to see our policies amended. There are mixed feelings about bears because they have the potential to injure and cause damage, but many of us who live in the mountains enjoy co-habitating with the indigenous wildlife and feel that we have intruded upon their natural environment and that we owe it to them to attempt to live in harmony with them. While I agree that there may be circumstances that necessitate a bear's destruction, shouldnŐt there be other options as well?
Again, the employees and officials at Fish and Game are not the villians. We must consider what is acceptable policy and make our views known.
For now, it is essential that we begin making a real effort to protect the bears from unnecessary destruction.
l. Encourage people to make their trash less accessible to the bears. I have been negligent in that regard and will make better provisions this Spring. Fish and Game has information about bear resistant trash containers and other information. (916) 358-2877
2. Consult wildlife rescue centers for tips on dissuading bears from frequenting your property if it is of concern to you. We have an excellent network of people in the area who are willing to help with everything from bear tips to caring for injured birds and animals. (530) 577-2273
3. Do not take bears for granted. Do not try to pet them, feed them or entice them with treats. Respect their need to survive by remaining wild. Do not endanger yourself or the bear through careless interaction.
4. MOST IMPORTANT...make everyone aware that nuisance bears are NOT relocated to a better environment but are subject to being destroyed!!!
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