Smokey Bear is an American legend. Since 1944, the lovable black bear has effectively delivered one of the most recognized advertising phrases in the world -- "Only you can prevent forest fires."
But he better not try to deliver that message in this state, because he will be "destroyed" under Arizona Game and Fish's policy on "bear incidents." That's a relatively polite way of saying Game and Fish personnel will kill him.
The policy, straight from the Game and Fish Operating Manual, was dramatically and poignantly revealed to Roundup readers who followed the story of the 200-pound black bear that was recently "destroyed" when he wandered into a Rumsey Park neighborhood.
The grisly story unfolded when the bear was chased up a tree by a dog and then shot by Game and Fish personnel with a tranquilizer gun. The bear fell 30-40 feet onto river rock and was carried off to his death, under the pretense that he had "injured himself" in the fall.
Turns out the bear was destroyed because he was "an adult male bear captured by department personnel." End of policy.
An adult male bear doesn't have to be rabid. He doesn't have to be vicious. He doesn't even have to be in a bad mood.
He just has to be "an adult male bear captured by department personnel."
The rationale for the policy, according to Mike Senn, head of field operations for Arizona Game and Fish: public safety must come first.
"This was a 200-pound adult male bear confined in a high-traffic area near a school," he said. "The decision to remove the bear was a matter of public safety."
When asked why the bear couldn't have been allowed to live out his life at Southwest Wildlife in Scottsdale -- a renowned rehabilitation facility with surgeons standing by to repair his shoulder -- Senn said they already have several bears down there.
"What are you doing besides saving an individual bear?" Senn asked. "What value is it?"
He also noted that animal rights groups will not stand for placing bears in 10-by-20 foot enclosures like they do at Southwest.
The only problem with that statement is the simple fact that Southwest's bear facility is not anything close to a 10-by-20-foot enclosure. It's a spectacular natural habitat, complete with a pond and a waterfall.
It's time for the state to change a policy that does not make any sense at all. That's the message Smokey should be delivering -- from outside the borders of Arizona.
See related stories:
Game and Fish policy mandated killing bear (Sept. 9)
Bear found near Rumsey Park destroyed (Sept. 6)