It's been a weak year for my overnites in the Apostles this year. Circumstances have conspired to leave me with only two nights of camping in the park this season but we have a permit for the end of August after two weekends of non kayak activity. Last week however, I received a call from a fellow blogger (you need to get that thing going again MsK!) at the NPS informing me that Manitou Island.....the entire island......was once again closed due to bear activity.
Cohort and fellow co-conspirator, RonO, just got back from a month long working vacation in Alaska. He was wrenching on aircraft for a company that offered bear watching tours in Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks. These are not the stunted Stockton Island black bears, these guys are big grizzlies. Even grizzlies with cubs as you can see from the photo. If folks can fly in and take pictures of these notoriously unpredictable bears, why does an entire island need to be closed because of one punk black bear? Don't airplane motors and camera clicking tourists disturb the natural zen-like state of these wild bears? What if a bear had simply 'had it' and attacked the awed photographers? Aren't the park officials afraid someone will get hurt? What about the children!!??
Seriously, as I've written before, it has to be tough to be the park service with the gamut of regulations and nut cases they have to deal with. I'm not a big fan of the wilderness designation because I don't think its been wilderness since the Anishnabe first settled there hundreds of years ago. All the Wilderness Act seems to do is further tie the hands of those in charge of managing the area but I'm getting a bit off topic. Lets zoom back into this renegade bear on Manitou. Camper stupidity is likely what got him used to people but maybe not. Like people, this could be the psychopath bear. I'm sure some of you are thinking 'the bear was there first'. No, he likely swam out there or walked out on the ice and what the hell difference does that make anyway? I know there have been lots of bear visits to campsites this year and only a fraction of them have been reported. One friend had 5 visits in one night a couple weeks ago, and another group had to shoo the bear away a number of times, both on other islands. Is it good to report these encounters or will it only diminish the number of available campsites when the reported ones inevitably get closed? A couple years back a young grad student at UW came up with a model for estimating Wisconsin's bear population which showed that the bear population was double what the DNR had thought. DNR scientists reluctantly agreed that the model was correct. The bottom line is that we have plenty of bears. Plenty. Manitou Island is open to bear hunting and I offered to go out there with a bag of honey covered marshmallows and a .357 magnum but that was met with less than enthusiasm by MsK. Relocation? That just moves the problem to another area, a situation we had personal experience with when we found that our hunting camp was the 'bad bear' dumping spot for Bayfield county a few years back.
Maybe what we need is more 'bearmanship'. No1 son was in southwestern China a few years back and planned on climbing up a popular mountain in the area near the Vietnamese border. Chinese entrepaneurs at the base persuaded him that he needed to rent a monkey club from them since the monkeys along the way were bold food and pack snatchers. He did and, sure enough, monkeys needed to be clubbed. I would not advocate bear clubs however. The BearWhisperer, a buddy who tags and monitors black bears with the DNR, tells of a hundred pound yearling waking up and pretty much kicking his 6'1", 200# ass until his partner came over and helped subdue it. More bear interaction education, tighter control and watch over the food we bring out, bear spray, and maybe even a firecracker or two could help cut down on the problem. In this particular case, I'd encourage one of you northern Wisconsin bear hunters to seriously consider Manitou Island. You won't have to bait for weeks or deal with the mostly smelly and stupid bear dogs. Just head out in your fishing boat, throw out those honey glazed marshmallows and slam the bear box door a few times. I think its pretty much a sure thing.
Good luck campers and good luck NPS. When 'the public' runs the gamut from Naugahyde wearing PETA members to shifty bear dog runners in northeastern Wisconsin it would seem to be a problem with no solution, one that has the park service's hands tied. We need to collectively figure out this bear-human interaction since what we are doing now does not seem to be working.