It could have had a tragic ending. This week a camper at a summer camp in Colorado woke up to a bear chewing on his head. Fortunately, the camper, a 19-year old staff member named Dylan, wasn’t seriously hurt. The black bear that attacked him earned himself a death sentence.
Colorado is next door to Utah. We have more deserts, they have higher mountains, but we are both smack dab in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. We take our scouts out camping 11 months per year. And we stress that they are always in bear country.
Generally when there’s this type of unprovoked bear attack, the fault lies with the camper. A tent is absolutely zero protection against a bear. It’s thin nylon designed to keep out mosquitos, not a creature with claws and teeth. But, bears don’t generally attack sleeping campers. Apparently we don’t taste all that good.
But, bears love to eat the same things that scouts like to eat: chocolate, beef jerky, candy, chips. Pretty much anything. And bears have a great sense of smell. We constantly warn our boys to not have any food in their tents. Several years ago there was a tragic case in American Fork canyon, a location we camp at least a couple times per year. A young boy was attacked in his tent and the bear drug him off and killed him. As horrible as the act was, experienced campers pointed out that the bear was probably attracted to the candy and chips the boy had in his tent. In that case, the Division of Wildlife Services also tracked down the bear and killed it.
In the case last week, there was no food in Dylan’s tent. In fact, Dylan teaches Wilderness Survival. He undoubtably knew not to keep food in his tent. In fact, he appears to have done everything right, including attacking the bear as he was being drug away.
I don’t blame the bear.
In my house, I kill spiders and flies. (I know, if I leave the spiders they will help with the flies, but it’s not a tradeoff I’m willing to make.) And yet, when I’m outside, I will step around a bug on the sidewalk. My thought is that in my house, I will banish or kill anything that invades. My house is for people and I’m going to put their needs not just first, but second, third and all the places down to “Let’s try to keep the fish and hermit crabs alive.”
But, I figure when I go outside I’m in their territory. Not only should I not senselessly kill animals (even bugs) but I should be aware that the fauna may want to defend its territory just as I defend my home. And that’s why I don’t blame the bear.
Bears live in our mountains. Actually, they are their mountains. We’re the visitors. We explain to our scouts that even though we are literally camping in a canyon in our own backyard, it’s not Disneyland. It’s dangerous. We don’t go looking for the danger, but we also don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
Bear attacks, while extremely rare, are a fact of life in the mountains. We do everything we can to avoid encountering a bear, but when we do, it’s not the bears fault. Even in this most recent case, the bear was doing what bears do. It’s a wild animal.
Too often we remove every risk from our children. It’s important to let kids learn they can do hard things. I hope my boys never encounter a bear in the woods. But, if they do, it will probably be because the bear is doing what bears do. Most times, they will simply leave.
So, if I don’t blame the bear why do I agree that the bears in these situations needed to be killed?
Because, even though we are in their house, people still come first. A bear that attacks a person is much more likely to attack again. And if it’s a matter of us or them, I’ll take us. . .everytime.
So, I’m glad that Dylan is okay, but I certainly don’t blame the bear.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
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