Madoh, Thank you, Doug, for this excerpt from your insightful writings. We appreciate you and your efforts to keep us informed.
By Doug Alderson
Greeting the rising sun in my driveway, I lifted my hands skyward in a
prayer for peace, surrendering to the Higher Spirit for whatever the day had in
store. And then, a loud rustling, louder than an armadillo, opossum or raccoon,
broke my reverie. I slowly turned, my hands dropping. A large black bear was
walking down the sweat lodge trail towards me, maybe 300 pounds. I knew
immediately this was likely the nuisance bear that had been raiding the neighbor's
garbage, a semi-wild creature that was growing more accustomed to humans by the
day. Thoughts and choices raced through my head. I was fully exposed in the
driveway with no nearby cars or trees to stand behind, so... should I quietly stand
still and see what the bear would do? Maybe he would come and sniff me, or...? Or
My mentor, Bear Heart, encountered a wild bear while on his fourth vision
quest in his mid-twenties at the sacred mountain of Bear Butte in South Dakota.
"On the third day of my fast, I was sitting in my vision quest site, holding my Pipe
in my hand, when a bear came walking up to me," he wrote in The Wind Is My
Mother."This was not a dream or a vision or a hallucination--it was a real, live
bear. I laid my Pipe down and the bear stood up. When a bear stands up, he’s going
to attack. Not wanting a big, heavy bear pouncing on me, I stood up, too, and as I
did, he tapped me on my right shoulder. He really didn’t strike hard at all, but he
was so strong that he knocked me down. I got back up and he struck me with the
other paw and knocked me down again.”
“Then I got up and spoke to him in my own language. ‘My dad was of the
Bear Clan, so the bear is my father. I’ve been told to talk to my father, so I stand
here talking to you now. If you want to put your mark on me, go ahead, do
whatever satisfies you. I respect you as my father, so I’m not afraid of you. I’m not
going to fight you--and I’m not going to run.’ The bear seemed to listen all that
time, then he turned and walked away.
"I went down the mountain and told my sponsor what had happened. He
said, 'That bear knocked you down twice yet you didn't retaliate. Instead you spoke
to him and he listened. When someone has to defend himself, he usually employs
force. But instead of defensive actions, it can be better to explain your situation, as
you did to the bear--say what you're going to do and what you're not going to do.
Come to an understanding and you won't have to use force. Because you stood up
to him and didn't run or fight, you showed the spirit and courageous heart of the
bear. You have earned the name Bear Heart.'"
With the bear walking towards me, I knew two things: do not run, and do not
show fear. But neither did I want the bear to approach closer than 20 or 25 feet. So,
I called out in my most assertive voice: "You need to turn around and walk back
into the woods!" Fortunately, the bear stopped and turned around, albeit slowly,
and disappeared into the brush. No new Native American name would be given to
me that day unless it was “He Who Tells Bear to Walk in Woods.” Not too
I would like to say this was the last I saw of the bear, but even that morning,
I knew better. He was a dumpster bear, a nuisance. Humans had encroached
heavily on the world of the Florida black bear for decades during one land boom
after another until humans numbered in the millions and bears dropped to the low
hundreds. Bears are territorial with each other, especially males. They don't just
live in little villages. They fan out and some eventually roam human
neighborhoods that had been prime bear habitat only a short while before. And
when humans leave out garbage, bird feeders, grills and compost, it can be easy
pickings for bears until panicked calls flood the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission (FWC) wildlife hotline and wildlife officers are
dispatched to tranquilize and move nuisance bears to some increasingly hard to
find wild place with hopes the troublesome beasts will not find their way back to
human inhabitation. Breaking the habit of human garbage and other tempting foods
was like telling a teenager to never again have sex after he or she had just tasted
the forbidden fruit for the first time. After three strikes, a chronic offender bear is
usually executed by lethal injection.
By the time I saw our neighborhood bear again, he had a colored plastic tag
on each ear, meaning he had been caught twice by wildlife officials. A third
capture usually means that the bear will be euthanized. He was again raiding the
neighbors' trash, this time tearing open the wooden enclosure they had built to keep
animals out. Most bears are too strong for a plywood structure, including this one.
Bears could be like oversized raccoons when it came to seeking out food and they
have been known to break into both vehicles and buildings. Earlier that afternoon,
the bear had looked into the window of my neighbor Paul's house and even started
climbing his stairs to seek out food. Paul had to scare the bear away with a
firecracker. The bear was certainly becoming bolder and that was worrisome, but I
vowed not to be the one to call for that third strike, the one that would likely end
the bear's life. This saga would have to play itself out a bit longer, especially in the
face of an upcoming bear hunt, the first in Florida in more than 20 years.
Historically, before human inhabitation, biologists think there were as many
as 11,000 bears at any given time in Florida. Indiscriminate hunting in the
twentieth century took its toll and Florida black bear numbers plummeted to an
estimated 300 to 500 bears. There was a real fear that bears in Florida would be
extirpated like in other states. But since bear hunting was halted in 1994, the bear
population began to climb and conflicts with humans increased. In 2002, the
Florida bear population was estimated at 3,000. During the following decade, bear
complaints to the FWC rose 400 percent. Florida black bears were taken off the
threatened species list in 2012, and in 2015, the FWC proposed and adopted a
quota hunt of 320 bears, the first in 21 years. Not surprisingly, it was controversial
with passions running high on both sides.
The FWC stated that the proposed hunt would be the most effective and
responsible method for managing the growth of bear populations. Opponents
argued that the hunt would mostly target wild bears that had never caused
problems. The solution, they said, was to educate humans who lived in bear areas
to keep garbage, bird seed and pet food out of reach. "A hunt will not solve the
problem. People can solve it," said Laurie MacDonald of Defenders of Wildlife.
Rocker Ted Nugent was one of more than 3,778men and women who
purchased a bear hunting permit, more permits than the estimated 3500 bears
statewide. "The reason there hasn't been a bear season until now--even after more
than 6,000 nuisance complaints--the reason we've waited so long is because of the
scourge of political correctness dispensed by the idiots who claim the defenseless
animals need protecting," he told the Orlando Sentinel in August of 2015.
"Hellooo! It's a [expletive] bear!"
For some, the return of bear hunting in Florida was a return to a long
tradition that began in the pioneer days. For others, it was sacrilegious.
“Welcome to the Bear Clan” announced the website detailing the Crysler
family genealogy a number of years ago. A distant relative had traced my
grandmother’s family heritage to German immigrants who had married into the
Mohawk tribe in the late 1700s, and who were of the Mohawk Bear Clan.
According to Native American tradition, you don’t kill your clan animal. In fact,
you have a special kinship with it. So, I wasn't going to hunt bears, and I wouldn't
be calling the FWC on our nuisance bear with two strikes. That would be like
pulling the trigger on a gun. Still…
"This is just going to escalate until that bear mauls a kid at a bus stop to get
his baloney sandwich," one friend told me.
On the night after the Bear had peered into Paul's window, I experienced
what one would call a power dream, a dream that felt realistic and full of emotion
and energy. I was walking through the woods from Paul’s house to mine when I
saw the bear to my left. When the bear spotted me, he began running towards me at
full speed with an intent look on its face. I panicked and awakened, heart racing. It
was a primitive fear of wild animals that all of our ancestors had likely
experienced. The bear was now part of my psyche.
To alleviate my fears, a friend who lives near Sopchoppy, a small
community on the edge of the bear-rich Apalachicola National Forest, said,
"They're a lot like big dogs when they get 'tame' or food-habituated. Scaring it and
being aggressive should work to keep it in its place (loud noises and loud gestures
if you come upon it.) I'd be more worried about bad dogs than about a bear 'walk-
about.'" Good point. Dogs attack far more people in Florida than bears, but you
hear more about the bear attacks, maybe because bears are usually larger and
stronger than us, with big claws and teeth.
In April of 2014, a bear near Orlando bit a woman's head and dragged her
from her garage before she escaped, the second mauling in less than a year. Soon
afterwards, FWC officials killed five bears in the area, believing one of them was
the attacker and calling the others dangerously habituated to people.
In Eastpoint, along the Forgotten Coast in the Panhandle, a 15-year-old girl
walking her dog in December of 2014 was attacked by a bear. The FWC captured
six bears, killing four and relocating two. Many attacks occur when people have
dogs that irritate a bear.
Bear troubles often occur in late summer and early fall when bears are on an
insatiable quest for calories in anticipation of denning for the winter. Calorie intake
may quadruple during this period, thus the lure of garbage and other human foods
that are normally high in calories. A pound of chocolate chip cookies, for example,
roughly equals the amount of calories in 843 acorns, according to the FWC. So, to
heck with acorns!
Even though our neighborhood bruin was clearly a nuisance bear, I still
worried when I didn't see it for several days. Had someone called the FWC and the
final blow was delivered? I heard that when the FWC officers kill a bear, they take
the carcass to a remote area and skin the animal so no one else will. That's when
the resemblance to humans is most noticeable. Without the fur, a bear corpse can
look a lot like a human body. The Inuit noticed this resemblance as well. They told
stories of polar bears becoming human because they took their coats off when
entering a house, and they turned back into a bear when they put their coats back
on when going outside.
Because they can stand and walk upright, display strong maternal instincts,
and eat many of the same foods as humans, bears were considered by many Native
American tribes to be another form of human. Yet, they also seemingly died for
several months in winter and were reborn again in spring, sometimes with cubs in
tow, so this made them downright miraculous.
It had been four days since we last saw the bear when Cyndi and I took a
walk on our sand roads on an unusually cool September morning. The large bear
tracks came onto the road just south of our property from where the county had
purchased land that had experienced periodic flooding. Several wooded tracts were
now public green spaces and ideal for walking trails. They were now good places
for bears, too. I studied the large tracks. They were similar to a human footprint,
only fatter, with claws showing. The tracks wove around from one driveway to the
next before turning back into another green space. We picked them up again on the
other side of the block. The bear was still around, at least for now, and I felt
relieved. I wanted him to stay out of harm's way during the upcoming bear hunt,
then hunker down for the winter, eventually find a mate and live the life of a free
bear, a life not so habituated to people. If only that were possible.
On the eve of the bear hunt, October 23rd, 2015, a man in Eastpoint startled
a bear in a dumpster near the Sportsman's Lodge Motel and Marina. The bear
attacked and the man suffered mostly scratches, drove himself to the hospital, and
was soon released after his wounds were treated. It was an auspicious beginning
for bears in our "bear management area," the Eastern Panhandle. By the end of the
next day, on the bear hunt's first day, 114 bears were killed in the eastern
Panhandle, almost triple the region's quota of 40. The hunt in our region was then
Had our neighborhood bears been part of the tally? We knew that a resident
at the end of the neighborhood had purchased a permit and had a deer stand only a
few feet from the Wakulla State Forest boundary. During the off season, they had a
game feeder that spread dried corn to attract deer, and perhaps bears. Like many
animals, bears frequent places where they had previously found food.
According to FWC spokeswoman Tammy Sapp, the harvest success in the
eastern Panhandle was "an indicator of the region's increasing bear population."
Another factor cited was that Florida black bears, unlike white-tailed deer, were
not accustomed to being prey animals, having not been hunted for 21 years. It
wasn’t exactly like shooting animals in a zoo; more like shooting animals in a state
park where they are more accustomed to people. I have seen bears on several
occasions cross a road, run a few yards, and then stand up and look back out of
curiosity. This habit, and a lack of perilous fear of people, may have been their
Bear hunt detractors also maintained the high kill numbers were likely the
result of selling too many permits. There were no limits. The more hunters in the
woods the better as long as everyone paid. Other hunts, such as for alligators, were
on a lottery system. Why didn’t they do that for bears?
Statewide, 207 bears were killed on the first day and the statewide hunt was
halted after the second day when nearly 300 total bears were brought to check
stations. Reports flooded in of bears being baited with food, and one hunter was
cited for killing a cub in the 40-pound range. Another hunter was issued a warning
for killing an 88-pound bear. Thirty-six lactating females were killed, too, meaning
that cubs were still nursing, although the FWC maintained the hunt was timed so
that cubs could survive on their own, being eight or nine months old.
Because of the permits, the FWC boasted that more than $375,000 was
raised for bear conservation efforts. So, this was a fundraiser? Bears were killed so
more bears could live, the thinking went. On the home front, I worried about our
neighborhood bear. No one had seen him. I repeatedly rode our sand roads on a
mountain bike and found no tracks. I felt empty. Sure, there were still bears living
in the wild, but our bear was gone along with many others.
How long will it take for our species to live compatibly with wild creatures
such as bears without giving in to the urge to kill, even when humans number
about 20 million in Florida and bears around 3500? Taking steps such as installing
bear-proof trash cans and dumpsters is more time consuming and costly than
pulling a trigger, but if we are the evolved species we claim to be, that is what we
Dobson, Byron. "Officials end bear hunt after 2nd day." Tallahassee Democrat,
Etters, Karl. "Bear hunters kill double the quota on first day of hunt in Panhandle
region." Tallahassee Democrat, 10/25/2015.
____. "FWC probes bear attack in Eastpoint." Tallahassee Democrat, 10/25/2015.
Holland, Jennifer S. "Why Are Black Bear Attacks Up in Florida?" National
Geographic. April 16, 2014.
Hudak, Stephen. "Rocker Ted Nugent is loaded for Florida's bear bunt." Orlando
Sentinel, August 5, 2015.