OPINION: Feeding the Bears Is Naive; To Experience Nature, Become Part of It
I saw a headline in the current issue of the NH Business Review that caught my eye. It read, “Now is the time for nature tourism in NH."
I thought, that’s fine, we’re already doing that to some degree, so what else is the writer proposing? As I read on I was sorely disappointed.
His article had two basic premises. One was that it’s alright to feed bears through “diversionary feeding sites” and secondly, the state should create a game preserve for photographers, artists and nature lovers.
The author of the piece, Richard Whitney, is a well-known portrait painter so it’s not surprising that he painted an idyllic picture of bears.
But unfortunately, what he creates is a naive, romantic ideal without benefit of the unique, idiosyncratic qualities of the two species in question: bear and man. He chooses to draw on the stereotype of fear instead of just acknowledging that they’re wild animals and are quite capable of foraging for food without relying on handouts.
Whitney has spoken about his beliefs before. In June 2017 after he and his wife faced charges, he told NH1.com he is "performing a great public service."
He naively doesn’t see a problem in altering the animals' routine or diet that has served them well for centuries. He doesn’t talk about what happens when someone feeds a bear and then decides to stop. That’s when bear/human conflicts can occur because the bear is now conditioned to handouts and has predicated his diet on it. They now could become a problem bear which is tragic because the situation was not of the bears’ doing.
On one hand, he says bears are “not the ferocious animals portrayed in the media." But then deeper into the article, he says that by feeding bears, the public “could safely hike through the woods without fear of bear attacks."
The woods are already safe to walk in because there hasn’t been a case of a fatal bear attack in New Hampshire since 1784, and cases where people are hurt even slightly by bear attacks are extremely rare, with only a couple reported in the past decade in the state.
He asks the question, “Why should nature lovers be forced to spend thousands of dollars to go to far off Africa or Alaska to view wildlife?"
I assume the answer is because we don’t have grizzly bears, big horn sheep, mountain goats, zebras, wildebeests or springboks in New Hampshire. But if you want to see eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, moose, black bears, deer or many other examples of wildlife in New Hampshire, you don’t need to do it at a baiting station or in a preserve.
That’s not nature tourism!
Nature tourism is taking a canoe or kayak out on Lake Umbagog in the early morning to glimpse a moose feeding in the weeds or watching an eagle circling a fish.
Seeing a fox walking along the shore after its feasted on crawfish or mussels is unfiltered nature. Watching a fawn splashing in a river on a hot day while the doe stands watch not far away is a memorable image of nature.
But sadly, these things don’t happen every day at a certain time where you can just pull up the car, turn off the engine and wait for something to happen. If you want to experience nature, then become part of it. Walk quietly to the pond, rock or ridge where you think wildlife may be active and then become part of the landscape.
Don’t pop a soda can, check your email, talk to the person with you or get up and move around all the time. Sit there, listen and watch. Sometimes you’ll be rewarded and sometimes your only reward will be the time you spent in the woods.
Animals are on their own schedule and fortunately, are immune to the “instant-gratification, get-a-selfie-on Facebook-as-soon-as-you-can" social media frenzy that many of the two-legged mammals have succumbed to.
Here’s hoping they never do.