Loaded for bear

 

The following is an opinion piece.

 

California Department of Fish and Wildlife has proved to Three Rivers once again how ineffective they are at the “wildlife” aspect of their mission. And incompetence fosters more incompetence.

Reportedly a North Fork Drive resident, “Homeowner Matt,” requested and, of course, obtained a depredation permit from the agency to kill a bear that was bothering his chickens… his dogs… his trashcan. Not surprisingly, he decided to take advantage of his new authority to shoot a bear on Tuesday, Nov. 11, about 10:30 p.m. Shoot to maim is the new motto in Three Rivers because this same scenario occurred in August when a sow and her two cubs became victims.

The next morning, Homeowner Matt discovered that the injured bear was across North Fork Drive from his home, in the Barton pasture. Homeowner Matt’s wife Rebecca contacted Jim Barton to request permission for DFW to enter the property to dispatch the injured bear. Permission was granted for Fish and Wildlife to come on the property with the assumption that an experienced marksman would put the bear out of his misery with one skilled shot.

But, at some point, Homeowner Matt was informed Fish and Wildlife wouldn’t be making the trip to Three Rivers. Wife Rebecca then called a neighbor, requesting assistance with killing the bear. The neighbor admitted  he didn’t have the firepower but knew of someone who had the weaponry, a hunting license, and a bear tag.

So onto the Barton property they all marched, armed and dangerous. Extremely dangerous.

The bear had been suffering for 10 hours, awaiting his fate 25 feet up a large oak that is within close proximity to North Fork Drive.  With a roadway and houses on all sides, the first perfunctory high-powered rifle shot was taken.

Have you ever heard a bear cry? Scream in agony? Well, they do.

I can’t remember if it took one or two shots to knock the injured bear from the tree, but the 300-pound bruin hit the ground hard and continued his mournful wail of pain, grief, and fear. The bear, still fighting to live, tried to get away. He ran a few steps, was shot, then limped, crawled, and finally lied down to accept his fate. 

I won’t go into more details although the sounds and images are seared into my consciousness forever. Let’s suffice to say that it was gruesome, the bear suffered immensely, and I did not stand by silently. It took seven, perhaps eight, shots — one or two from a hunting rifle, the rest from a handgun — and as many or more missed the bear than hit him. 

Do hunters try to protect their prey’s head from damage so it can be mounted on a wall? Do they want the animal to bleed out while alive so a kill-shot is avoided? The shooter was a subpar marksman and, although callous, was afraid of the bear even though the animal never showed any malice, just a will to survive and escape.

The Barton pasture is in a conservation easement. Because of the foresight of my father, Jim Barton, 90, the fourth of six generations to be raised on this property, this acreage will forever be undeveloped and provide open space for wildlife. 

However, the region is in the third year of a drought. The ditch and seasonal creeks on the property dried up long ago. This bear’s only source of water is the river. To get there from Barton Mountain, he would walk through the pasture before having to negotiate a barbed wire fence, cross North Fork Drive, then walk between a row of houses with the most convenient access being to walk along Homeowner Matt and Wife Rebecca’s driveway.

What’s a bear to do when the entire river is lined with houses, fences, gates, people, and barking dogs? How is a bear supposed to react when someone sets out some caged chickens on his route to water? Nature would dictate that he follow his instincts to eat when food is available. How convenient that the birds are penned and defenseless. News flash: A bear isn’t going to think through the scenario that this meal isn’t meant for him.

Chickens are not imperative to our survival. And one property owner does not have the right to decide whether wildlife should live or die in Three Rivers and whether or not the animals can roam freely onto adjoining properties where they are respected for their roles in the ecosystem. 

When natural compassion is repressed, we instead become materialistic, disconnected, and violent. John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

I have lived in bear country, including grizzly country, my entire life. My husband and I backpacked annually in Sequoia and Kings Canyon with our children when they were as young as five years old. Not once, ever, did we feel threatened by a bear. Black bears are not dangerous if basic precautions are taken. They are gentle, intelligent, curious, shy, peaceful animals and diligent about avoiding human interaction.

Haze the hell out of them. Bears are perceptive, they pick up on the cues. But no warning shot was fired on that fateful night. 

There are problems from the top down: Improper oversight by Fish and Wildlife, lack of responsibility by Homeowner to secure his property, and Shooter firing hasty, misdirected shots with the sole intention of taking ownership of a bear carcass. 

Watch out, Three Rivers. There will be more bears, as well as mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, and king snakes that all want a piece of what’s in that henhouse.

I am disgusted to write this same story over and over again. I am sickened by what my neighbors feel compelled to do.

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