The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Rob Hedelt: Don’t press your luck with a bear
BY ROB HEDELT
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
The recent story about a bear who took a liking to a Spotsylvania County family’s bird feeder got me to thinking about the big, powerful animals.
Namely, how some folks see them in extreme ways—though not the Spotsylvania family, which seemed quite rational in their handling of the furry visitor.
No, the incident simply made me think about two very different takes some have to the animal at the top of the local wildlife food chain.
They’re either downright terrified to hear that one’s nearby, or lulled into thinking that the big, powerful animals are as cuddly and safe to be around as teddy bears.
The terrors have turned up in some local neighborhoods when black bears have been drawn by pet food, trash or simply wandered through en route from one territory to another.
I’ve seen the teddy bear take at Shenandoah National Park and other locations from people convinced that the big, beautiful animals are somehow friendly because they’re furry, pretty and on protected ground.
Indeed, a ranger at Shenandoah shared the story a while back about visitors years ago to one of the picnic areas.
When a bear wandered by, surely lured by the smell of open food, a father turned to a mom and suggested that they have the daughter take a doughnut over to lure the bear for a picture.
Here’s a different way to think about it, Dad: Why not just smear some barbecue sauce on little Suzie’s head so she can be a bear-size appetizer?
Another time, I was on a trail at Shenandoah when, off a ways, I heard the sound of a big animal moving through the underbrush. Backing up the hill, away from the sound, I was thrilled to see a mother bear and two cubs cross the trail I’d been on.
The mom eyeballed me, but because I’d backed up and moved away, went on her way.
As I continued on up the trail, I ran into a group of school kids on a field trip.
Before I could suggest it wasn’t a good idea, a teacher with the group yelled to a few kids farther up the trail to run down and get a picture of the bears.
So a good half-dozen of the group, teacher and youngsters, went running toward the bears, stopping nearby to take their picture.
Now, I’m no great outdoorsman. But I grew up in the country and have been around folk smart enough to know that you don’t rush at wild animals—especially if they have their young with them.
On another trip to Shenandoah, I ran across a ranger who had captured a snippet of video that folks who think bears are tame teddies should see.
It was a short recording taken with a cellphone of two male bears squaring off in the middle of Skyline Drive.
Who knows if it was a battle over territory or mates? All that was clear was that when one of the big animals stood up and swung at the other with his powerful paw, the side of the opposing bear opened up like wrapping paper split by scissors.
I don’t say that to scare people about the black bears that we run into in this part of the world. It’s just to remind them that these are wild and powerful animals.
Though occasionally one or two cause trouble locally, most are simply going about their natural imperative to find food and shelter.
Stay out of their way, and don’t put out food when they do invade our space, and they’ll typically move along on their own.
If one was in my backyard, I wouldn’t rush out to deal with it or risk contact with it in any way.
I would enjoy the sight from a safe distance, as they are as big and beautiful an animal as you’ll find.
If it became a pest, I probably would try to make enough noise to send it on its way.
But I’d never suggest that one of my kids take a doughnut out for a picture with it.
Especially after watching that bear-battle video.
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415