Deport the Bears?

Schoonveld checks in on the latest bear sighting

Indiana's latest bear: should he stay or go? Photo provided

What do Hawaii and Indiana have in common? Not much other than each of these states are listed as not having a wild population of black bears. It’s a very small group of states that can make that claim.

The Illinois DNR claims there are no bears in their state, but as recently as 2014 a young male black bear was spotted several times in the Galena area. Could there be more? Iowa, once bare of bears, now lists its bear population as unknown. Kansas no longer lists their state as a bear-free zone, and neither can Indiana.

Last summer a bear from Michigan found it’s way south of 87 degrees, 45.7 minutes of latitude which means it was trespassing into the Hoosier state. Or was it just doing what all wildlife does to some degree and bears in particular, simply expanding it’s natural range? It foraged across the countryside between South Bend and LaPorte for several weeks before heading back across the state line, back into Michigan.

Too bad for the bear. Once it returned home the same fate that would befall a Cuban exile if he or she traveled back to Havana happened to the bear. It was captured, jailed and executed by the Government.

One would think with an outcome like that, other bears would think twice about venturing into Hoosier-land. It’s happened once again, this time from Indiana’s southern flanks.

Apparently, an itinerant bear from Kentucky swam across the Ohio River, shook off its wet pelt and is now roaming the hills, woodlands, roadsides and backyards north and west of Corydon.

“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” is a line from a song in the Wizard of OZ detailing some of the dangers Dorothy and her group would encounter on their journey. Evidently, bears are lumped in with some of the worlds top predators. Perhaps, grizzly bears, or polar bears should be grouped thusly, but black bears?

Common sense tells me if all but a few states (including all the heavily populated states up and down the eastern seaboard) have fledgling to fully fledged bear populations and if black bears were truly the predatory equivalent of lions and tigers, there would be regular occurrences of bear attacks on cowardly lions, men made of tin as well as people and other beasts hiking through bear habitat. It doesn’t happen.

Black bears are more apt to attack garbage cans. I watched from inside a camping trailer one night in Ontario as a bear “cleaned” our barbeque grill stationed a few feet away.

Current estimates put the nation’s black bear population at nearly 900,000. States such as Maryland have experienced their bear population doubling over the last ten years. Bears expand their range at a rate of about 25 miles per year and young animals explore to establish their own territories. Thus bears encroaching into Indiana, Illinois and other states with plenty of space and no competition from other bears is increasingly common.

For now, Indiana DNR officials are formulating a plan to cope with bear infiltrations from neighboring states. Among them is deportation. Evidently there’s at least one contingent of wildlife officials bent on keeping Indiana bear-free and proud of it. Hopefully, if this plan is followed, the Commonwealth of Kentucky will welcome its errant bear back home differently than the Michiganders did with the 2015 bear.

Historically, the Indiana wildlife agency (now known as Division of Fish and Wildlife) has spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars reintroducing species of animals once present in the state. Whitetail deer were once nearly extinct, wild turkeys were history. Thanks to the DFW peregrine falcons and bald eagles are increasingly common. There were even elk stocked in Brown County at one time. Why not bears?

Personally, I hope this latest interloper from the south finds its way into the Hoosier National Forest just west of its last sighting and is eventually joined by additional “undocumented” visitors escaping Kentucky.

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