Sunday, September 07, 2008

Our ursine persecution not a bear necessity


Bear with me. This is personal.

Try to forgive the opening play on words. The topic is bears.

We should be ashamed of our hype and hypocrisy. Such sentimental hype, such blatant hypocrisy.

Distant polar bears tug at our heartstrings. But bears in our North Shore gardens? For many, sentimentality ends at our rose bushes and fragrant barbecues. Shoot them, they say.

And if they are pushed close to the point of extinction? No contest. We'd shed crocodile tears . There'd be the charade of debate, open-line chatter, op-ed pieces and such. But human needs always trump nature's when our safety, food supply and species imperialism are involved. It's them or us, right?

Not so for me.

I admit to being a city boy who has never had to contend with the harsh realities of country life. And -- here the promised personal note -- my wildlife views were shaped early and indelibly by Ernest Thompson Seton's books, once very popular.

One was Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac. This small blue book about a huge bear that ended up caged at Golden Gate Park was lent and never returned, but I as good as have it in my hands now.

My lifelong enthusiasm for the fresh phrase, sharp insight and concise aphorism began with Seton: "The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end." (And also, upliftingly: "Because I have known the torment of thirst I would dig a well where others may drink.")

Monarch's story, fully available on the web through the Project Gutenberg e-book, and other Seton stories stoked my childhood eagerness to live the life of a hunter and trapper. Until, with a distant lucky shot of a BB gun, I shot a sparrow from our attic window. My hunting career skidded to a stop.

In the last few years this sensitivity led at last to an unsteady, maybe 95-per-cent vegetarianism. I still guiltily fall off the vegetable wagon now and then.

Back to the black bears, of which about 650 are killed each year across the province: The nut of it is I feel for anything with a mouth, anything that's hungry. (I not only know the torment of thirst that Seton mentioned but I've been hungry in Italy, a poignant place to want food.) Embarrassing to say, I have trouble killing mosquitoes, and any spider or ant in our abode is tenderly transported to the outdoors.

The wild berry crop has been sparse on the North Shore. Shooting any animal is revolting. Shooting a hungry animal is revolting and barbaric. It should be a last resort.

Even some people who survive mauling by a bear aren't angry at the bear, even sympathizng with it. But the offending bear is usually tracked down and "executed" by the authorities, as if it were a criminal with moral sentience. Why is such nonsense -- anthropomorphism elevated to absurdity -- tolerated?

Passenger pigeons -- to be fair, birds of annoyingly messy toilet habits, if their pigeon cousins are typical -- were once so numerous that the great Audubon (1785-1851) once carefully estimated a single flock contained one billion birds.

In his entry for the passenger pigeon P.A. Taverner, whose 1937 book Birds of Canada in my view still overshadows its successors, tersely wrote: "Field marks: The species being extinct, field marks are unnecessary." The last one died in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914.

West Vancouverite Neil Thompson, whose property abuts a bear area, is a retired stockbroker -- an unlikely champion of wildlife, one might think. He recalls that Buffalo Bill Cody on a visit to Canada shot 500 buffalo "just for fun."

Thompson is scathing about the Liberals' lifting of the B.C. ban on trophy hunting of grizzlies, one of the earliest acts of the Gordon Campbell government. I share Thompson's disgust. The idea of hunting any animal for sport -- death as entertainment -- should sicken everyone.

Yes, I count myself an anguished hypocrite. If a bear were attacking one of my children, and if I had a gun, and if I could shoot straight, I'd kill it. There would be plenty of time later for sorrow.

But I'm a big sissy. The killing of bears breaks my heart. (And others' hearts, especially children's. The shooting of a bear chomping on cherries at the 2004 Kaslo Jazz Festival, witnessed by 1,700 shocked -- some weeping -- people, will be remembered longer than the music.)

In my neighbourhood there seems to be a tacit agreement: If you see a bear, don't call the authorities.

My proposal: Three or four bear food banks high on the Lower Mainland's remote slopes. God knows the appalling waste of food in restaurants, separated from hard garbage, would provide a cornucopia.

Crazy idea? Make the bears dependent? Mess up their diet? I don't care. Anything is better than the idiocy of luring them with the trap of food and other human-generated attractants and then shooting them.

And not to forget the polar bears. Canada is the only country in the world where hunting these beautiful, threatened animals is still legal. The allowed limit for the 2007-08 season in Nunavut was a stunning 468. The hunters are mostly stupid-rich and plain stupid Americans. Shame.

- - -

I asked West Vancouver's councillors three questions: Have you decided to run for re-election in November? Have you decided not to run? Have you not yet decided?

Running: Bill Soprovich. A "definite undecided": Mike Smith. No response at this writing: Jean Ferguson, John Clark, Rod Day.

Coun. Vivian Vaughan of course is running against Pam Goldsmith-Jones for mayor.

Rumours: Ferguson and Day aren't running. Clark is. And here's a speculation by a close council-watcher: Mike Smith will run for mayor. Verrry interesting.

And another sticky wicket for Goldsmith-Jones: Rod Hesp, treasurer of the West Vancouver Cricket Club, which feels betrayed by town hall over its Hugo Park facility (the club's very unofficial slogan: "Keep West Vancouver Green. Turf Pam") is mulling running for council.

- - -

Jim Kearney, who died last Friday after painful months in hospital, was an outstanding, much-respected Vancouver Sun sports columnist who ran against the jock stereotype: In person and on paper he was measured, literate, gentlemanly and an engaging raconteur with a million stories who didn't need formulaic locker-room yackety-yack or wise-guy prose to tell his stories.

Especially admirable, and not all that common, was that Jim often passed over the hyped, big-advertising professional sports for neglected amateur athletes and games. That gave depth and variety to his columns and for 17 years he flourished in the demanding days of five a week, as the Sun's Lyndon Little reported.

Not widely known is that Jim, long a resident of Horseshoe Bay and then Bowen Island, had to leave his Sun job largely because of the new technology, the computers that replaced the lovely music of the newsroom typewriters: He suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome. But he went on to other successes, including years as a CBC Radio regular.

© North Shore News 2008

1 comment:

Luke said...

"The hunter shoots in sport but the animal dies in earnest."
I don't remember where I first read that or the author but it made a deep impression on me along with that same helpless bird snuffed with a copper spheroid. After that I couldn't even get much joy from shooting the water boaters - a recreation not unlike the proverbial shooting apples in a barrel - with my grandmother's CO2 powered BB pistol.
My grandmother also escorted visiting critters back to their native environs but in on adventurous inconsistency she once spent the better part of the day perched on a camp stool with that same CO2 pistol awaiting the appearance of a gopher at the newly raised mound of dirt in her garden. Her persistence paid off and she is the only person I know who ever went gopher hunting and bagged her quarry.
I never got to ask her about her mantra of respect for "all life" and that ethical digression.