'Wise Use' View on Bear Attacks

                                                                                                                            By  David Orton

                                        Bear Attacks II: Myth & Reality
                                        by James Gary Shelton, Pallister Publishing, Hagensborg,
                                        British Columbia, 2001, paperback, ISBN 0-9698099-2-1

            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, we see
        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.

            Bear Attacks 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 and
        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 is
        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 help on
        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 demonstrated that
                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 redirected their
                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 the preservationist
                movement was born. We've been in the age of neo-pantheism every since."
p. 262

                "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."
p. 273

        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 the following
        four points about bear attacks:
        1. Bears can stalk humans, particularly grizzly bears.
        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. But,
            if attacked, a person should defend him- or herself vigorously. Pepper spray can be very effective. If the
            encounter becomes 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 bear.

            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)  He does
        not believe in warning shots. For him, of course, a human life is always more important than that of a bear's. A
        basic belief is that "we are over-protecting bears to the detriment of people and our economy." (p. 8) The
        main factor in threats to human safety from bears, is a "rapid increase in bear populations." (p. 219)

        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 have
        escaped any significant editing.

            There is in this book a dangerous confusion and mixing up of ideas. The principal damnation term is
        "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. 27)

            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. 212)
        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 of,
        presumably industry spoken for, forests. (p. 219) The author also claims that grizzlies are not a "keystone" or
species. (p. 14)

            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
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)

            Preservationism also aims, says the author, to prevent humans from "using large areas of the world's
(p. 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" (as
        defined by James Gary Shelton), over what little wild Nature remains and whether it is going to be left alone or
        put to "use," does need theoretical clarity.  Bear Attacks II, with its paranoia, misinformation and confusion,
        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

      To obtain any of the Green Web publications,  write to us at:

Green Web, R.R. #3, Saltsprings, Nova Scotia, Canada, BOK 1PO
E-mail us at: greenweb@ca.inter.net

        Back to                                                                                                                        
            The Green Web
            A Taste of Green Web Writings and Left Biocentrism
         Green Web Book Reviews

     Last updated: January 30, 2005