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“One of the biggest misconceptions about black bears is that mothers are likely to attack people in defense of cubs.” ~ Lynn Rogers, bear biologist

My life, like that of many youngsters, began steeped in the lore of bears. My first toy was a cloth bear named Lulabelle, a floppy little sad sack crafted by my babysitter. When I would wake in the night, my mother would tell me stories of a little brown bear who lived deep deep (it was always doubly deep) in the woods with his mama and papa bear. He had many adventures learning to be a good little bear. She read us about the trickster, Brer Rabbit, and his pals, Brer Fox and Brer Bear. Their Southern lingo seemed to be a foreign language all their own.

Bears are highly intelligent, nonaggressive, shy residents of our state, seeking solitude in what we have not destroyed of the natural world. Mothers den with their two or three cubs at least through the first winter, and often a second, after their births. Bears usually have their first babies when they are 3 to 4 years old. They evolved as prey animals, and are very timid and fearful. It is extremely cruel for packs of men with radio-collared dogs, bait and an arsenal of weapons to run them down and murder them for fun.

Bears are abused in so many ways in Wisconsin that I will spend multiple columns on the scope of their plight, exploring both captive and wild bear hounding, the extreme deprivation suffered by captive bears in cages little changed since the 1930s, and the annual bear slaughter.

Nearly three-fourths of slain bears (3,682 last year) are killed over bait piles set for months before the opening of the 35-day autumn siege. Then bear hunters hide in their tree loungers or loose dogs to track and run bears to exhaustion. Last year, 1,261 bears were shot out of trees where they sought refuge from packs of dogs. Often they fall wounded from 60 feet up, and the hunters let the dogs “have some fun” as reward before they kill the bear.

Bears are sold into death in a lottery that brings in megabucks for running the war on wildlife. Over 100,000 people pay the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources $3 each year for six to eight years to hold their place in a lottery. That brings in $300,000/year. The 9,000 licenses to kill the bears, at $49 each, are close to another $450,000.

Three-quarters of a million dollars for baby bear bathroom rugs. Two-thirds of the 5,000-plus bears killed annually are cubs 1 to 2 years old.

The state DNR and the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association hired Tim Van Deelen, a UW-Madison assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology, to do a bear population study. The project, conducted from 2006 to 2008, resulted in a population estimate of 25,000 to 40,000 bears, a significant increase from the previous estimate of 11,000 to 14,000. The broad range of the new estimate makes it suspect. If there are that many more bears, it is a tribute to the restraint and shy nature of bears that their presence was not recognized for all those years. This study was described as preliminary.

The DNR stated that adjusting black bear population goals would necessitate changes to administrative rules and involve public meetings. Those meetings never happened.

DNR staffer Keith Warnke explained that since the goal of 13,000 bears living in Wisconsin remains unchanged, the supposed “extra” bears are extra hunting opportunity. Only if the living bear goals are raised in meetings — never scheduled — could a precipitous rise in bear kill be curbed.

Warnke said the meetings never happened because he vacated his position in charge of such meetings, and moved to a newly created DNR position of hunter recruitment and retention. His previous vacancy has never been filled. Enrolling more hunters is apparently a greater priority for the DNR than carrying out a required process.

No meetings — more hunter opportunity.

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Based on this one study, the DNR raised the bear kill permits from 4,660 issued in 2008 (killing 2,955 bears) to 7,310 in 2009 (killing 4,009 bears) to 8,910 in 2010 (killing 5,133 bears) — almost doubling the kill licenses issued in two years. “The highest bear harvest documented in Wisconsin history!” shouts the DNR website.

I wish you the love and light of experiencing the beauty of bears as known by Lynn Rogers, bear biologist the past 40 years, honoring bears in the video to the left.

For self-education, visit Rogers’ website: North American Bear Education Center and read the book, “The Bears and I” by Robert Franklin Leslie, 1968. Leslie wrote of his actual experiences adopting three black bear cubs in British Columbia and raising them for several years. His love and respect for them is a revealing testimony.

June 26 column: The emotional attachment to hunting versus the science supporting humane education for living with bears

Patricia Randolph of Portage is a longtime activist for wildlife.

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