PAT NEAL: Could learn a thing or two from black bears

SOMEONE RECENTLY ASKED me: How can I protect my children from the bears?

It was a question that might be appropriate for a visit to grizzly or polar bear country.

Grizzly bears are notorious for eating humans.

Biologists want to reintroduce grizzlies into areas of Washington.

People in Montana would be more than happy to ship their grizzlies to Washington because, according to them, we are entirely too relaxed.

We need to know that we can get our face ripped off around the next bend of the trail.

An outdoor adventure in grizzly country can give the wonders of nature an electric feeling, like feeling you are never really alone.

Polar bears are dangerous. They hunt humans for food.

Fortunately, our North Olympic Peninsula black bears are usually very well-mannered.

They are in fact generally so shy it is rare to see them out in the wild.

Bears have a sense of smell second to none. Humans are generally pretty stinky, so the bears have no problem avoiding them.

Black bears have the largest ears of any bear, so if they don’t smell you, they’ll hear you long before you can smell or hear them.

A bear’s eyesight might not be that great.

Often, it’s possible to just hold still while they are looking, and you can get pretty close to them in a manner not unlike a game children once played — before they had a data plan — called red light, green light, in which you called this out and turned around to see someone moving.

Once, while walking behind a bear on a trail, we were able to get about a hundred feet away just by stopping and freezing every time it turned around.

That was until the bear turned really quick and caught us moving. It bounced down the hill like greased lightning.

Black bears are one of the more intelligent animals on the planet.

Compared to deer and elk, they are geniuses, which goes a long way toward explaining why you don’t see them too often, even if they live in the neighborhood.

Black bears have been called the clown of the woods because they seem to have a lot more fun than the other animals.

Bear wallows are the ultimate in luxury wilderness mud-bathing facilities.

A bear scratching post offers the animal the ultimate back massage.

Bears like to swim on a hot day and catch fish and eat berries, which sounds pretty good compared to the rat race we humans are plugged into.

Like many hunters, I once wanted to shoot a bear for its meat and hide.

That was a mistake. The meat was tougher than Grandma’s Army boot.

You couldn’t get a fork into the gravy.

I tried to tan the bear hide the old Native way using brains for the cure, but tanning a hide is a lot like writing a wilderness gossip column: It’s a lot of dirty work, and I ran out of brains in the end.

Now, I just watch the bears — or what is left of them.

They have been persecuted for years for killing trees by eating the cambium layer as a spring tonic when the sap is flowing.

We have all but eliminated the salmon from their spawning streams.

Bears would catch more than enough fish to tide them over for the winter while feeding the other animals and fertilizing the trees with the leftovers.

For this, the Native Americans called the bear the mother of all creatures.

Don’t worry about how to protect your children from the bears.

The way the human population is going, I wonder how we can protect the bears from your children.

_________

Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal wildlife@gmail.com.

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