M13 – There will be bear

bearWe had out-of-town visitors with us over the weekend. One of them is a designer/builder, and he brought his two snow-deprived teenagers with him. They did some skiing, and then they used all the snow in our garden to build a 4-person igloo worthy of providing actual shelter. The garden is not the pristine sheet of white it was last week, but we have an igloo. If you let energetic snow-deprived designer/builder families loose in your snow-filled garden, an igloo is practically inevitable.

Apparently, if you have a single bear in areas unused to bears, conflict is inevitable, even if the bear is just being a bear. I was driving home last night when I heard an interview on one of our local English language radio stations. A bear expert from WWF, Joanna Schönenberger, was talking about M13, currently Switzerland’s only bear, having woken up from his winter sleep. Schönenberger commented on the atmosphere of fear being created by local media around the bear. So, I went and looked up an article, and indeed, the words used (at least in the English translation) are meant to instill a sense of panic and fear. An excerpt:

“The notorious brown bear known as M13 has woken up from his winter sleep but his New Year resolutions evidently do not include keeping away from human beings, and his behaviour means he may not be allowed to live to sleep through another. A couple out walking in the eastern canton of Graubünden on Saturday afternoon were alarmed to find the three-year-old bear following them…he then alarmed a 14-year-old girl who saw him standing on the other side of the bridge. She was treated in hospital for shock. The report by Il Grigione Italiano said the measures taken to discourage M13 from approaching human beings had not worked, and that he had “gone too far”. He should be classified as dangerous and be shot, it said.”

As the WWF speaker saw it, there are two levels of how to deal with a bear. One is based on how a bear actually behaves, the other is what kind of bear behavior people are willing to tolerate. Local officials are setting the bar at people’s fearful level of tolerance, not at how bears really behave. If this keeps up, the bear is doomed. There were several suggestions on how to deal with regular, non-aggressive bear behavior – which according to WWF, is what M13 demonstrates. Learn to make loud noises to warn bears away, keep all trash safely stowed, etc. The measures taken in many places around the world where bears are commonplace.

Now, I’m not sure what kind of realistic future a bear population of 1 has, but this seems to be a good example of how local politics and media can lead or doom larger policy.

Update: Just as I was finishing this post, I got the news* that M13 was shot dead. RIP M13. I’m wondering if the Graubünden cantonal offices – the region in which the bear was located – felt they were avoiding both potential bear-human interaction as well as another season of conflict in the media as well as with federal authorities and environmental agencies. From Swissinfo.ch:

“The WWF issued a statement saying that it was “deeply disappointed” by the fact that the bear had been killed. “It is clear that the shooting came too soon – it would have been much better to have stepped up and continued with the deterrent measures,” said Joanna Schönenberger, bear expert at the nature protection organisation. Initial feedback on Swiss newspaper websites was overwhelmingly hostile to the shooting.”

The thing about this kind of destruction, whether it’s of a bear or any other species under protection, is that it’s final. For those who saw the bear as a ‘problem’ animal, the problem is now solved.

Feel like complaining about what happened to M13? Send a note to the Graubünden Office of Forestry and Hunting at info@ajf.gr.ch

*Contrary to what the article states, M13 was not one of a few bears in the country, he was the only bear. Bears do occasionally wander up from Italy. Currently, however, there are no other known bears on Swiss territory.

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