Editorial: Bumbling on bears

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Bears are smart. As Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln has demonstrated to the delight of visitors for decades, they can be trained to swing in a swing, pedal a scooter, walk upright and dunk a basketball. Circus bears learn to ride a bicycle and roller skate. Politicians, well sometimes you have to wonder.

Late last month, Gov. Chris Sununu won predictable plaudits from animal lovers and fawning coverage in Boston’s media for granting clemency to a mother bear and three cubs that had failed to develop their species’ natural fear of humans. The bear family became a familiar sight around dumpsters and in backyards in Hanover, where they found easy pickings in unsecured garbage containers and bird feeders.

They were largely considered cute until two of the sizeable bear cubs pushed in a screen door and entered a home with a human mother and her two young children inside. For Fish and Game bear experts, that was the last straw. The bears presented a potentially fatal threat to humans and had to be eliminated. That was the plan until well-meaning but naive animal lovers howled loud enough to reach Sununu’s ears, which perked at the political opportunity.

The governor quickly cut the legs out from under his Fish and Game Department and as much as ordered the agency to violate its policy and relocate the problem bears in Pittsburg. According to town officials and North Country Sen. Jeff Woodburn, the town has become a dumping ground for critters that have run afoul of downcountry humans.

Mama bear was never caught. Biologist speculate that’s because it was time to abandon her cubs and set out in search of this year’s mate, she left the area. The cubs, like some humans, were easily caught using donuts as bait.

Once they’ve grown accustomed to eating human food, bears don’t easily return to a life of nibbling on berries, digging grubs and the like, bear biologists say. And, since they are territorial, trapped bears fair poorly in turf already claimed by other bears and tend to return home.

Time will tell whether the cubs begin raiding camps in Pittsburg or return home to their college town. But whatever happens, Sununu’s action, however popular, was another triumph of politics and sentiment over science, and a slap at the public employees with the most experience in the matter.