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Spring is early morning for bears

Spring is morning for bears. All winter bears have been in small, cramped hidey holes, perhaps dreaming of clover-filled meadows, defenseless fawns, teaming anthills. They awaken to a spring day filled bird song, rapidly growing vegetation, and balmy breezes. The season with its promise of abundance to come, adventures to be had, and all the delights of summer, stretches ahead. Their stomachs are growling and the very most important thing is to satisfy that emptiness. Other important activities are to doze in the sun, scratch at those pesky ticks, roll around and wave paws in the air. Ah, spring.

This May, a young cinnamon-colored bear hung around for over a week grazing in a small field across the creek from our hayfields and below the county road.  Two separate fellows had the courtesy to stop and ask permission to kill the little guy on private property. We thanked them for checking with us, but declined. A neighbor kindly used some of his orange signs to post the field. I made daily patrols to keep the turkey hunters honest.

The small bear, perhaps 150 pounds, seemed unusually tame. He was unfazed by the rumble of the school bus, the sound of human voices, idling cars. Everyone in the neighborhood had seen and watched the bear as he grazed or dozed. Questions were raised, and opinions varied about his apparent lack of fear: was he a bear spoiled by human contact; was he too sick to be fearful?

One of the hopeful hunters described him as a large bear.  At first glance, bears always look big. The biggest bear I ever saw charged out of the stream side brush directly towards me and my son. It wasn’t until the creature dashed past us, being chased by our lab, that we realized the bear was the size of a spaniel. We collected our dog and hightailed it out of there before mama found us.

Bears have taught us many lessons that should be shared with the uninitiated. Bears, who know how to rip apart stumps, have the skills to open refrigerator doors.  Bears, who can carry a deer carcass, can haul a 50-pound plastic tote from a garden shed into the forest, where, finding privacy, a bear can get the lid removed and slurp up blood meal. Bears make a mental map of the orchards and the berry patches. In the Missions, grizzlies come back every year to certain mountain tops to feast on migrating ladybugs.

Food is the most important thing for bears, and they must be smart enough to find it. And we should be smart enough not to habituate them to humans as a food source. Most bears upon learning our sloppy ways will become problems. If you live in the country, it is a social responsibility to keep feeders, pet food, garden supplements and garbage secured from bears.

That is why it seems really stupid that the state of Idaho allows baiting bears.  Training bears to become problems seems dumb. And to call it hunting? Setting out smelly food to attract, and then kill, a bear doesn’t sound like hunting, or even sport.

Spring bear season doesn’t really seem like a fair sport either. The poor bruins have just come out of a smelly, dark, damp hole into the glories of spring. The rationale for this hunting season: “to give hunters further opportunity” seems lame since females are sometimes slain and their cubs then starve.

On the other hand, a fall hunting season makes perfect sense. Bears are cranky, and destructive, driven by a terrible need to eat before a winter’s sleep. In autumn, bears have nothing to look forward to but that dark, damp hole. Ah, but in spring the whole world vibrates for a young bear.

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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