Game Warden Richard Watkin, quoted in a July 6 Deerfield Valley News article.
As we’ve been reporting in recent weeks, there’s a problem with bears around the valley. Well, to be more exact, there’s a problem with people and how they interact with bears. From bears attacking dogs in house yards, to foraging for food in garbage dumpsters and bird feeders, to being intentionally fed on decks and porches, we seem to be having ongoing issues with bears.
One would presume, given the available amount of information, that people would realize the dangers of feeding wild animals, attempting to make pets out of them or leaving them easy access to sources of food. But, as evidenced by the ongoing reporting about people feeding bears, their attacks on family pets, and the continuing issues of bears and people trying to cohabitate, that message is apparently falling on some deaf ears.
That part is most difficult to understand. It’s not as if the information about the problems of human-bear interaction is something new or hard to find. And there’s the small matter of feeding bears being illegal. Even so, regardless of the legalities, it just doesn’t make sense that some people do all the wrong things when it comes to interacting with wild animals like bears.
But perhaps the bear issues are symptomatic of greater problems that some people have changing their behavior in the face of overwhelming evidence. That’s something that is hard for many to grasp.
A quick internet search reveals any number of studies and volumes of research done on why human beings refuse to admit the facts that are often right there in front of them. Aside from leaving wild animals in the wild, consider how people continue to smoke tobacco, even after decades of evidence showing that long-term smoking can be devastating to one’s health. Or how so many refuse to accept that climate change is real, even after years of study and research show it to be the case. There are people who believe the earth is really flat, that the moon landings were a hoax, and that the Holocaust didn’t happen. All of those beliefs fly in the face of fact, either scientific or historic.
In fact, there’s a term for it: denialism.
It is defined on Wikipedia.com as follows: “Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, by the person refusing to accept an empirically verifiable reality. In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas. In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.”
So perhaps, in the case of our local bear problem, people want to believe the wild animal eating their birdseed is really the Yogi Bear they watched in the television cartoon series in their childhood. Or perhaps that the bear is really just longing to become a large pet. But that’s not the reality. The reality is the animal is just that, an animal. It forages for survival is and big enough and wild enough to take just about anything it wants.
Another reality is that as bears become accustomed to life around people, it puts their lives in danger. As most game wardens say, and the official website for the Vermont Fish and Game Department has posted, a fed bear is a dead bear.
That’s the ugly, honest truth about what happens to bears who become too acclimated to human habitat. The sad thing is, it’s preventable by people simply applying some basic common sense and leaving wild animals alone in the wild.