Give nature a chance

He was a young black male, 210 pounds, wandering through a residential neighborhood, and police shot him. His only crime: walking in an area where he was unwanted.
He was a black bear, Ursus americanus, and Uniontown police shot him last week after their attempts to scare him away failed. I’m not blaming police, who I figure were doing the best they could in a situation for which they received little or no training, and black bears that acquire a fondness for human food and garbage are dangerous, but I mourn the death of our ursine visitor, and I’m reminded, yet again, that nature is too often the hapless victim in its dealings with people.
I had my only close encounter with a black bear in 1995 at a campground in West Virginia. The bear awoke us early in the morning as he knocked cans off the neighbor campers’ picnic table, hoping to find open food. Considering I was in a canvas tent, I was a bit concerned, but Mr. Bear moved off to other campsites in quest of vittles. I saw the flash from a camera a few sites away and recalled the ranger’s advice from the day before — “They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them” — and I wanted to know how we know what bothers a bear. Perhaps that flashing camera flash irks him, or maybe my mountain dulcimer playing perturbs him, but he harmed no one, and he worked his way through the campground and disappeared into the trees.
I have always loved and respected animals, but I grew up with the normal prejudices against bugs and snakes and other slimy, crawly things, favoring furry animals but generally disliking or fearing those other creatures. That changed, however, one day after a family gathering at my maternal grandmother’s house. We were playing croquet using the Raymond Brandt Jr. Official Croquet Rules (that’s a family joke), and a cousin discovered black beetles in a tree stump and smashed them enthusiastically with his mallet. I may have joined him. Later, some cousins found a snake and chased it into the tall plants behind the kitchen, trapped it and killed it. I’m not sure, but I think it was a harmless garter snake. On the way home, my mother said with sad disgust in her voice, “People killed a snake for being a snake and beetles for being beetles.”
Since that day I’ve had more respect for bugs and reptiles. I picked up a bee that was trapped in a bathroom with a napkin and carried it outside, I let spiders alone as long as they’re not hanging from the shower or bedroom ceilings, and I step around ants on sidewalks when I spot them. As my future nephew-in-law observed, respecting the smaller creatures deepens your respect for all of creation.
Our treatment of animals and plants reminds me of the way the whites treated the American Indians. Push them aside, kill them, tame them, to make way for what we decide are the proper plants and animals. Oust those distasteful dandelions that mar your perfect lawn, and soak the ground with chemicals in the drive to eliminate them. Annihilate the bugs and groundhogs and rabbits and deer that eat your plants, and return to your living room to watch 34 hours of TV a week.
I wish to see more respect for and tolerance of nature. Perhaps that innocent bear would have harmed humans, but we’ll never know. I just wish he had been given a chance.

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