SCISUN: The Bare minimum is Barely Enough   Leave a comment

Everybody likes a snack. Some fruit, or a cookie, or micro-zap-pizza, or part of a sandwich that’s been sitting in the trash for a couple of days. Wait, that can’t be right – who would eat an old dirty sandwich? Well, around campgrounds, roadsides, and neighborhoods that are close to wild and natural areas, bears are happy to eat almost any food humans leave behind: If it’s been dumped on the ground or thrown in the trash or even left inside a tent or car. Bears are omnivores – meaning they have a diet that includes many different types of food from plants to insects to fish to other animals – and in most of the United States, the only type of bear that lives near humans and places humans go is the Black Bear (Ursus americanas).  And Blackie is the most omnivorous of omnivores. Basically, whatever it sees or scents that looks or smells like food, IS food. Particularly easy-to-get-food that some human has left sitting around.

So, people connect trashcan lids with strong rubber cords, or tie the trashcans to posts and trees with rope or chains, or buy heavy-duty steel trashcans used in factories. But do bears care? To them, these precautions are the BEAR” minimum that humans can do, and won’t stop or slow down a bear (who are strong and smart enough to easily tear a car trunk from it’s hinges) from getting what he wants. The bears, of course don’t realize that what’s in the trash can is, well, trash, and to them a half-eaten burger or empty soup can or even a dirty napkin smells like food, and as very few bears have ever shopped inside a grocery store they don’t know that the food containers are not the food itself. If there were more bears that shopped at stores, they would be more informed. And there would probably be fewer people shopping while the bears were in the aisles.

Black bear picnic table

“Chips, bread, salami, mustard… pickles. I can’t believe they forgot the pickles.”

To keep bears (and other inquisitive animals, like raccoons) from raiding human trash, companies have worked with the US Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to develop bear-proof containers that should keep bears away, or at least be so hard for the bears to open they will give up and look for food in the forest, where bear-food like fish and berries and insect larvae are naturally found. And throughout North America, thoughtful people are installing these heaviest-duty containers not just to keep the bears from making a big mess as they search through the trash for leftover birthday cake, but also to protect and save the bears. 

Once a bear (or sometimes a family of bears. A bear gang. That can’t be good) finds a source of easy food, the bear(s) learn to return to that food source again and again. Even if people are around, the bear starts to think this food source is his food source, and that puts people in danger. Once a bear has learned to return to an area that is close to people, wildlife authorities have no choice but to capture the bear and re-locate the animal further away from humans. But bears have good memories and hungry stomachs, so if the bear returns to the same area again and again he’s usually labeled a problem bear and tragically, killed. Just because he was hungry and some human thought it was easier to drop that used cheeseburger wrapper on the side of the road rather than taking it to the trash can inside a building, or depositing it into a bear-proof container. And that’s the bare minimum we can do, for the bears.


Michonne Says:  “Bears will eat anything. Yet their breath is usually meadow-fresh. It’s a mystery.”

Posted January 13, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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