Policy Unfair To Male Bears

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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We interrupt this column for a special warning to all parents: Do not let your children out this Halloween wearing an adult male bear costume.

In fact, I wouldn't let my kid out wearing any kind of a bear costume. Nor would I, myself, be caught dead in a bear costume -- no pun intended.

Here's the deal. Your friendly Arizona Game and Fish Department "destroys" any and all adult male bears it captures. No exceptions. No questions asked. It's official policy.

There isn't a guy I know who won't tell you it's very tough being a guy, but this is ridiculous.

One local adult male bear recently learned this lesson the hard way. Out for a morning stroll in the forest, he took a wrong turn and ended up on Bronco Circle.

When a neighborhood dog scared him up a tree, the neighbors huddled and decided to call in Game and Fish, whereupon the bear was tranquilized, fell 30 to 40 feet onto river rock, broke its shoulder, and was carried off and "destroyed."

Don't blame the local Game and Fish guys. They were doing exactly what they were trained to do -- "destroy" any and all adult male bears they capture.

No exceptions. No questions asked. It's official policy.

Ask the folks at the state office of Game and Fish for an explanation and they'll tell you public safety comes first.

"This was a 200-pound adult male bear confined in a high-traffic area near a school," Mike Senn, head of field operations for Arizona Game and Fish, said. "The decision to remove the bear was a matter of public safety."

But aren't there alternatives to killing every adult male bear? One explanation I've been given is that if they're released in the forest they'll just come back and do it all over again -- get chased up a tree by a dog, I presume, since I can't see where the bear really did much of anything wrong.

Seems to me this is a mighty big forest we live in, and an area or two could be found remote enough that a bear could never find its way out, let alone back.

Then there's Southwest Wildlife in Scottsdale, one of the premier rehabilitation facilities in the entire U.S. Executive Director Linda Searle said Southwest would have gladly taken the bear, fixed its shoulder, and given it a good home.

Here's what Senn said about that option:

"I'm not knocking Linda Searle. She does an excellent job, but she's already got several bears down there.

"What are you doing besides saving an individual bear? What value is it?"

Senn also said animal rights groups won't stand for confining a bear in a 10-by-20-foot cage like the ones at Southwest.

Not true, according to Searle. Bears are only kept in a cage for a quarantine period, then they're allowed to roam in a natural habitat setting complete with a swimming pond and waterfall.

It's not just that bears are furry and cute. They've also made important contributions to our society and our culture.

To back up this contention I give you Smokey Bear, Br'er Bear, Papa Bear (of Goldilocks fame), Yogi Bear, Gentle Ben, and a whole host of Teddy Bears.

And since they're all adult male bears, not a one of them would be safe in Arizona. In fact they'd all be dead.

No exceptions. No questions asked. It's official policy.

Not even the fact that Yogi is "smarter than your average bear" would do him much good against the slings and arrows and tranquilizer darts and thundersticks of Game and Fish.

Senn's attitude -- which we can probably safely assume reflects that of Game and Fish in its entirety -- is the height of arrogance. Who anointed us the omnipotent rulers of the planet?

He just better hope when he's called home to his maker that the big guy in charge up there is not an adult male bear. Or an animal of any sort. Or even an animal lover like Dr. Leo Egar, a veterinarian and field director for the Humane Society of the United States, who is currently in Hattiesburg, Miss. heading animal relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

Egar basically said the Game and Fish policy mandating death for all adult male bears sucks.

"Any sort of agency that has oversight responsibility for any public resource -- and bears are majestic parts of our national heritage -- is entrusted with their care.

"The process of representative government should have some oversight on that determination, so people who feel otherwise can make their views known, so there's kind of a negotiated solution."

That seems more than fair, but don't hold your breath waiting for Game and Fish to admit any wrongdoing. And in the meantime don't let your children wear bear costumes.

But Halloween is just around the corner, so here's an alternate idea for the little trick or treaters. Dress them in Game and Fish uniforms and put bags over their heads. Then teach them to say: "Trick or treat. No exceptions. No questions asked. It's official policy."

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