Media analysis: are bear encounters dangerous?

Media analysis: are bear encounters dangerous?

One biologist carries a firearm in the field and warns that after “a thousand bear” encounters, the thousand-and-first might kill you. Another biologist warns that there are potentially thousands of unreported incidents without conflict and we need to examine the positive situations.

Who’s right?

StarMetro Vancouver reported on human-bear conflict this week and spoke with two experts on the issue of cause, prevention, and perception. University of Alberta Professor Andrew Derocher noted that it could be wildlife photography making encounters appear “harmless and easy” and ultimately leading people to believe interactions are less risky than they really are.

Examples of harrowing incidents involving bears are listed along with Derocher’s remarks in the article.

Another professor, Adam Ford from UBC, took a different tact.

“What we need to do is not over-sensationalize these conflicts,” Ford told StarMetro. He noted that while bear encounters can result in injury or loss of life for both bears and humans, every year there are significantly more cases where people and bears encounter each other without tragedy.

“We need to figure out what’s going right in those situations, as much as we’re learning about what’s going wrong in those other situations,” Ford said.

Understanding what was said

The two sets of comments (in addition to further information on attractants being a common cause of conflict) are opposite sides of the same coin. It is true: bears of all types are large animals who, in the right circumstances, can injure or even kill people. But that risk is also true of domestic dogs, busy roadways, and many household cleaners. What matters is understanding what leads to conflict (typically attractants or a lack of education of people) and taking steps to remediate the issue with education or potentially enforcement of laws.

The average of the two ends of this conversation – a stark warning about the dangers of bears and a plea to look at prevention – is where the truth lays: we need to respect wildlife and give them the space they deserve and need to be who they are. And we do that by talking about conflict, talking about bears, and reminding each other to not fall victim to sensationalism. That’s part of the path to true co-existence.

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