'Wise Use' View on Bear Attacks
Bear Attacks II: Myth & Reality
by James Gary Shelton, Pallister Publishing,
British Columbia, 2001, paperback,
I have a personal,
as well as a theoretical, interest in a book on bear attacks. I consider
myself a friend and
a defender of the interests of bears.
Where I live in Nova Scotia - an old abandoned hill farm which has
reverted to woods - occasionally one
sees sign that black bears are in the vicinity. Particularly in the fall,
large piles of scat at the base of
apple trees, and notice broken apple branches which bears have pulled down
to access the apples. Bears, like coyotes,
seem to love blueberries. The scat of both these animals is dark blue
in blueberry season, and we see it
quite often. When walking through the woods, sometimes there are
overturned boulders, which bears have
moved while foraging for insects. Sometimes we convince ourselves
that we can smell bears, a quite distinctive
odour. But we usually do not SEE bears. This past summer, though,
we did see bears on two occasions close
to our house. When walking in the woods or cycling on back roads
near home, we carry cans of what we
call "bear spray," really pepper spray. (On such rides, it is dogs, not
bears, which are the usual problem.)
Generally I am thrilled to share habitat with bears. While mainly avoidance
is to be expected in a bear encounter,
at the back of my mind there is the thought that this might not be the case.
I need to know, like others who live
or who travel in bear country, what to do if there is a close encounter.
"Playing dead" has never appealed to
me as a survival tactic.
II: Myth & Reality was recommended to me by a friend, who also likes
bears. He felt it
brought some needed realism into possible
bear attack discussions. As can be seen from his comments in this
book, James Shelton gives many workshops
and talks on bear attacks to forestry, fishery, government workers
and others. This means the views in
this book are being widely propagated in rural British Columbia, the home
base of the author, and also, we are
told, in Alberta and the Western United States. His basic views differ
greatly from my own and those who have
a non-human centered philosophy towards wildlife and Nature.
Bears are considered
a "resource," part of that wildlife which is allegedly managed for hunting/trapping
fishing, in the interests of a diminishing
minority of the general population. In Nova Scotia, as elsewhere in
Canada, the simplistic message given
by various government wildlife departments, is that we co-exist with
wildlife by killing it in more or less
regulated seasons. If we do it well, we are told, we only take a "surplus".
If we did not exercise our taken-for-granted
anthropocentric 'rights', we would be overrun with "problem"
wildlife, including bears, which do
not fear humans. So hunting is good and, moreover, in the interests of the
hunted animals, as well as humans!
This is also one of the messages in Shelton's book.
In Nova Scotia,
bears can only legally be hunted over bait sites in the fall, or snared
using an aldrich-type
foot snare. A few years ago, the provincial
government made the mistake (for those who hunt), of opening up a
public discussion on a spring bear
hunt. The ethics of such hunting became subject to public scrutiny and debate.
At this supposed hunt, hungry female
bears not long emerged from hibernation, often with cubs, are ‘mistakenly'
shot after being lured to bait sites.
(That bait sites condition bears to human garbage never seems to be raised
for discussion. Rural residents in
bear country are usually told not to lure bears with careless garbage disposal
practices.) The publicly expressed
sentiment was overwhelmingly against a spring bear hunt. Spring bear hunts
are defended by Shelton. The general
policy drift with federal and provincial governments in Canada is still to
extend all forms of hunting, not curtail
them, and to say nothing about ongoing forest habitat destruction. Wildlife
seen by so-called decision makers as
not having intrinsic value, but only economic value. The industrial paradigm
of consuming wildlife hangs on, despite
a welcome shift in public sentiment away from hunting and trapping.
While the book Bear
Attacks II: Myth and Reality deals with a real problem and gives practical
dealing with bear encounters (referring
to over 30 first-hand reports of bear attacks), it also promotes a
reactionary and rightist philosophy.
This philosophy, among radical environmentalists, has come to be known as
Wise Use. (There is not much wisdom,
but a justification of the ongoing industrial use of Nature.) The author
speaks of himself as a "conservationist"
and a defender of "rural culture." This culture, for Shelton, includes the
hunting and guiding industry - which
he has been a part of - and industrial logging and mining. The author claims
over the last 35 years to have "killed
many bears at close range" (p. 173) and to have "walked
up on hundreds
of bears that didn't know I was there."
(p. 127) Rural culture, we are told, is under attack by "preservationists"
who are city people. A flavour of this
Wise Use philosophy, which particularly targets deep ecology, is conveyed
in the three following quotes:
"The last ten years of research by mainstream bear biologists have clearly
logging, mining, and other land altering industrial activities, when done
to modern standards,
have little negative impact on bears." p. 204
"As the Soviet Empire collapsed, neo-socialists in Europe and North America
dislike for the free-enterprise system, and 'deep ecology' was established.
In the late 1980s, this
powerful new force was welcomed into the major environmental groups, and
movement was born. We've been in the age of neo-pantheism every since."
"The federal government of Canada has become a surrogate for the United
Nations, and it's no
secret that both are working towards a plan to disarm all world citizens."
Bear attack lessons
The author discusses grizzly and black bear attacks. While he unbelievably
claims that "Black and grizzly
bear populations are healthy in Canada
and increasing in most areas" (p. 219), I do agree with
four points about bear attacks:
1. Bears can stalk humans, particularly
2. Anyone in bear territory needs to
avoid stumbling into a bear kill zone. Bears can defend their wildlife kills
(or the remains
of kills from hunters) very aggressively.
3. Playing dead is not a good survival
strategy if attacked by a bear. Avoidance is of course to be preferred.
if attacked, a person
should defend him- or herself vigorously. Pepper spray can be very effective.
close and personal, fight back with whatever is at hand, including tree
branches or a hunting
4. Having a well trained dog along
in bear country can be very helpful if attacked, because a dog can seriously
distract an aggressive
For Shelton, it
seems, a gun should always be used if a bear attacks: "Let me make one
thing crystal clear:
My bear hazard safety program is a
safety program for people first and bears second." (p. 175)
not believe in warning shots. For him,
of course, a human life is always more important than that of a bear's.
basic belief is that "we are over-protecting
bears to the detriment of people and our economy." (p. 8)
main factor in threats to human safety
from bears, is a "rapid increase in bear populations." (p.
A confused and dangerous book
The strength of
the book as a teaching tool is that it is based on accounts of many first-hand
bear attacks which
were sought out and reported to the
author. There are also some quite graphic photos of humans attacked by bears.
(An Epilogue deals in a cursory manner
with cougar attacks.) It deals with a real problem, with a focus on grizzly
bears, and there is something to learn
from this book, but there is lots of repetition and overlap. It seems to
escaped any significant editing.
There is in this
book a dangerous confusion and mixing up of ideas. The principal damnation
"Postmodernism" which is defined
in a very broad, inclusive and contradictory manner. It includes, for example,
deep ecology, Marxism, socialist science,
eco-feminism, preservationism, neo-pantheism and political correctness,
like the statement "Aboriginals
lived in harmony with nature." Preservationist biologists, we are informed,
"are postmodernists who are actually
anti-science." (p. 266) It is written by
a committed ideologue, who feels
his whole way of life is under attack
by "preservationists" - some of whom are also part of the rural culture
which Shelton claims to be a spokesperson
for. However, there is hope that not all is lost: "The election of
George W. Bush will derail postmodernism
in the U.S. and at the U.N. for at least four years and
possibly much longer." (p.
Although I am not
a bear biologist, I believe the author of Bear Attacks II seriously
misrepresents the threats
grizzly and black bears face, in order
to justify his own activities and to portray the forestry and mining status
quo as ecologically sound in Canada.
For example, clearcutting, which has a commercial advantage, becomes
justified because it supposedly results
in increased bear populations: "If logging slashes are continuously
available for bears in an area, the
bear population will be higher than in areas with no logging." (p.
Yet we are also told that black bears
damage "forest resources" in Northern California, Oregon, Washington
and Southern British Columbia "at
an ever increasing rate" by feeding in the spring on the cambium bark
presumably industry spoken for, forests.
(p. 219) The author also claims that grizzlies are not a
indicator" species. (p.
Throughout the book,
Shelton makes the distinction between "conservationism" and "preservationism."
This distinction also occurs in Wise
Use literature. There is nothing wrong with the term conservationism or
conservationist, as far as I am concerned.
But, as used in this book, the term tries to seek the legitimacy of
environmentalism and then perverts
it into endorsing and legitimating the ongoing consumption of Nature by
industrial society. When Wise Use ideas
were first being floated in Nova Scotia in the 1980s, the largest pulp
and paper company ran a series of graphic
advertisements in newspapers, under the heading "The Working
Environmentalists." The implication
was that "preservationists" do not work for a living. I do not mind the
use of the term "preservationist,"
meaning to preserve. But for Wise Use followers like Shelton (he does not
use the expression Wise Use), preservationism
combines "environmentalism and socialism." I only wish it
were true, but it cannot be true because
socialism supports the same industrial paradigm of values which
destroys Nature, as does capitalism.
There is, however, a tendency in deep ecology called left biocentrism,
which is addressing this. But Shelton
does not understand any of it: "The preservationist movement which
extends the tenants (sic) of
Marxist socialism to man's relationship with nature." (p. 272)
also aims, says the author, to prevent humans from "using large areas
of the world's
ix) What the author did get right is that many preservationists believe
"we must create equality
between humans and animals."
(p. 269) And he got it right, that we believe there need to be
large areas set
aside for wildlife and for undisturbed
ecosystems, essentially off-limits to industrial exploitation.
This book can be
seen mainly as a "Wise Use"manifesto hitched to a real possible problem,
and not as a
helpful guide in seeing how to deal
with bear attacks. In the context of the term "Wise Use," all of Nature
becomes available for human and corporate
use, and human access to "resources" like bears or forests must
always have priority. This book, with
its half-truths, contributes to demonization in language of those of us who
value wildlife and Nature for its own
sake. In British Columbia particularly, the Wise Use movement has shown
itself ready to demonize, scapegoat
and, if necessary, use violence and intimidation against ecocentric
environmentalists and their supporters.
The struggle between "conservationists" and "preservationists"
defined by James Gary Shelton), over
what little wild Nature remains and whether it is going to be left alone
put to "use," does need theoretical
clarity. Bear Attacks II, with its paranoia, misinformation
does not provide this.
October 20, 2001
Published under the title “The
Wise Use Bears” in The Northern Forest Forum,
Vol. 9, No. 3, Summer 2002
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Last updated: January 30, 2005