Rochester, NY’s local media is falling all over itself reporting on the whereabouts of bears in our vicinity. One pops up in Pittsford, another (maybe the same one), appears in Irondequoit. Everyday there seems to be a new sighting: they look for them here; they look for them there, those darn illusive black bears. I shouldn’t joke. The American black bear (Ursus americanus) once common to our area has been making a comeback. And because they are potentially dangerous, the public should be aware of them. To learn about the black bear, and what to do in case you come across one, go here Black Bear – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC). But it seems to me that if we were really serious about black bear sightings, we (government, media, a business) would hire a team of students, place monitors on the bears, and track them. This would provide jobs for students and increase public safety. And we’d learn a lot about living with wild bears.
I know almost nothing about bears myself, even though I grew up in the Adirondacks and used to watch them paw over garbage in community garbage dumps. Great weekend fun: bears at the dump, pop open a beer, and bring the family. Those mama bears and their cubs were so cute, and people just had to get out of their cars and feed them—until someone got seriously mauled. That ended that. What I do know is that, outside of a zoo environment, you do not feed bears because then bears begin to associate food with humans. The bad part comes when these creatures become more dangerous than a disgruntled bank robber, and gets annoyed when you (or any human from then on) doesn’t immediately give them something to eat.
But forgive me, the local media seems a little too enthusiastic about these sightings and tends to wax poetically on bears in our area while ignoring other local environmental stories. There was a demonstration on Tuesday, June 15th for a moratorium on hydrofracking at the Avon DEC. Nary a word in the local press about that, even though there has been reporting on groups in favor of drilling gas. Drilling for gas has repercussions (have they stopped that leak in the Gulf yet?) and the public should have a full airing of all sides of this issue before we dig yet again for more fossil fuels in a time of Climate Change.
Other environmental issues should have the prominence in the press that bear sightings have. West Nile Virus season is coming up and we should be looking for dead crows (one of the main indicators) and taking precautions. How about a story on what communities are doing on Climate Change and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels? A short little story each evening on the TV news about bicycling safety would go far in improving public health, reducing accidents, and encouraging people to get out of their vehicles for short distances and save our atmosphere.
What’s troubling about this rash of bear sightings reporting by our local press is that it’s too easy. It’s absolutely a free pass to announce bears wandering around because it’s great environmental press with no drawbacks. No corporate-backed media would have any problems with any kind of journalistic license on bears because it draws readers without any corporate issues. It’s not like energy, pollution, biodiversity, genetically modified seeds, drilling for oil, Climate Change or any of the really important stuff that we need a free press to report on in order to have a healthy, sustainable environment. No media worries about sponsors leaving their financial support system because of a bear wandering about, bewildered by all the human development, instead of enjoying its old (thousands of years) stomping grounds.