Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lions and tigers and BEARS, oh my!

Its been an interesting bear year in the northland. The bottom line is that there are a lot more bears than anyone suspected and now, thanks to Friends groups and three kayaking clubs, there are a lot more bear boxes in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Three kayak clubs from Chicago and the Twin Cities stepped up with donations and the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation and Friends of the Apostle Islands matched those funds. There are now bear boxes at Lighthouse Bay on Sand, the mainland campsite near the caves, Trout Point on Stockton, Outer, Michgan, Otter, Cat, Basswood(2), and at the Stockton-Presque Isle dock. As a participant in a number of memorable and potentially dangerous bear bag hangings at 75% of the mentioned locations, I think its really great that the boxes are there, both for happy hour impaired bear bag hoisters as well as the bears themselves. There is still a need for about a dozen more at various sites, especially Ironwood, Rocky, and South Twin locations but it was a pretty good summer for bear box installations.

The box at the lone site on Manitou Island has not deterred our bruin friend that lives out there however. I received a press release and there was an article in the Ashland Daily Press saying that the island had been closed again. There was one clarification needed in that the article stated that the island had been closed in August due to the same bear. In fact it had been closed to overnight campers for the better part of the summer; day visitors were welcome until it started hanging around the historic fish camp. Shortly after the VOR, GalwayGuy, the KingOfIronwoodIsland, and I had camped there in early May the island was closed not reopened to overnight visitors. The photo above is of the bear in question as he sat 20 yards from our camp working on an anthill. He didn't seem real concerned that we were there and that is the root of his problem.

The question at this point is what to do about the bear. In the old days bears were trapped and relocated. A few years back we noticed an increase in aggressive bear activity at our hunting camp. The bears were not really afraid of people, would stage false charges on occasion, and just generally seemed to be more common in the area. It turned out our area in a very remote part of the county was the problem bear dump off spot. All this relocation scheme did was move the problem to a different spot and its likely several of the bears wandered back to where they came from anyway. Shooting the bear would be another solution. There is a legal bear hunt on the islands but the bears are typically small and the logistics of getting a deceased bruin off the island is problematic. I'm not sure how you get a permit but I took a quick look at the regulations and feel legal help might be needed to figure it out. I also understand there is a waiting list jor lottery to get one of these permits. I am not a bear hunter. In Wisconsin for some incomprehensible reason, you can still hunt bears with dogs. Many times we've been sitting at camp in August when a howling pack of semi retarded hounds comes loping through, 'training' for the bear season. This canine trespass doesn't seem to bother the owners of the mutts much since they are usually driving around in a gigantic pickup or SUV listening for the direction the dogs went. Recently a bear in north central Minnesota got a pail stuck on its head. It had to be shot when it wandered into a town festival in Frazee, MN and the outcry was worldwide. My guess is that executing our buddy on Manitou would provoke a similar knee jerk response.

Hell, I don't know what to do. Its aggravating that one bear can close an island visited by 2000-3000 people each year. From its relatively large size one would guess it might have came from the mainland but who knows? It's very likely that its lack of fear of humans is because some idiot gave it a Twinkie and its come to associate people with food. And if one bear can close an entire island think about what could happen next summer. "Sorry sir, we only have permits for Otter, Cat, and Ironwood. All the other islands are experiencing bear activity and are closed for overnight camping". Richard Nelson, a Wisconsin boy, wrote an excellent book on deer in American called Heart and Blood. In it he talks about the explosion of the deer population and the myriad of methods that have been used to control it. The bottom line is that the only effective method has been controlled hunts. Maybe that's the best solution for aggressive bears in areas frequented by the public. Combined with more education and heavy fines for feeding animals and leaving garbage around camps, it might be the solution for problem bears and also the attitude that created the problem bears in the first place. But we certainly don't need to see a bear executed for behavior that some knucklehead likely taught it in the first place. The park service plans to work on some behavior modification over the next few months to turn the bear back into a model bear citizen, one that is skittish of humans and avoids them when ever possible. Best of luck to them. Anyone got any better ideas??


granola.freeman said...

I can definitely understand your sentiment about closing the island to 2-3K visitors because of a problem bear; however, as the volunteer stalked and chased into an outhouse by said bear, I wouldn't exactly wish the experience on anyone. Sad day that someone trained it to put food and people together.

No brainy ideas from this young park person, but only hope that the situation will be improved by next summer. What that means for the bear, I've not a clue.

Nan said...

No ideas here, either. I know there are efforts in some parts of the country to re-instill fear of people in predators like cougars through the use of loud noises, nasty smelling repellants, and similar techniques, but have never heard of it working with bears.

DaveO said...

Ah, the famous bear induced outhouse occupant. I must admit I chuckled when I first heard that story. You've actually been a guy in a couple of the crack media descriptions. I hope it goes well for the bear but I want to get back to Manitou too. We shall see when spring hits. No word on the infamous Hermit Island bear either.