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The Large Mammal in Your Flower Bed



Tis the season of confrontation. Like a Russell painting, a moment of truth. More and more people entering Colorado's promised land by invitation from developers and crooked politicians (eager only to count the ticket sales after overcrowding the room) are discovering something not covered in the brochures -- large animals in the flower bed.

Not unlike DIA, where the promises of bliss were at odds with noise and lowered property values, large scary animals (first a selling point to Western romance) are now defecating on the front lawn.

So, what to do? On the conservative side it's always a predictable Darwinist rhetoric blended cleverly with a biologist's official account over the absence of frontal lobe intelligence, which precludes an animal's ability to know that it knows what is fair and just. It also implies that an animal's fundamental needs are simpler, thus less immediate, thus less critical, thus inevitably unimportant.

Many on the left actually dignify this argument by endeavoring to prove an intelligence that isn't there and/or an awareness/complexity that would impress the naysayers.

But the problem doesn't match the premise. It's the wrong argument based on ignorance and a thoroughly contrived divine right.

Animal rights should be based rather on the simple fact that they experience suffering -- period. Using intelligence as a standard only advances two things: human narcissism and egocentrism, and the justification for further stupidity. A frontal lobe doesn't render us the right of lording over those who simply don't speak back in ways we define as legitimate.

And now the bears are showing up on our newly decorated and expensive porches, eating the flowers and scaring the French poodle. They're drinking from the pool and scratching the garage door. Heaven forbid. Call the sheriff! Maybe he'll just shoot it -- that's right, take it away so we can live the Western dream of our own design promised on TV and in the travel brochures. After all, America was meant to become a suburban back yard, a fenced-in sandbox for little Johnny and the barbecue pit. It's God's plan. As far as the bears go, well, they're a nuisance, losers thanks to Darwin and God.

Hence, an out of sight, out of mind plan of expedience never sounds too outrageous. We did it with the Indians. We did it with Vietnam. We do it every day with the urban ghetto. Why not with bears?

But they keep showing up! At least with foreigners and pagans we kept them on reservations and/or foreign soil far and away from the 6 o'clock news. But these critters don't listen. They don't comply with the rules. Just go away, dammit, and show up at safe distances where kids can throw junk food and Grandma can take photos for the cousins back East.

In ways that are sometimes swift, sometimes harsh, the wisdom of our folly begins to finally sink into our frontal lobes. The Chinese prophecy of critical mass has reached an apogee, regardless of the political literature and laws of conspicuous consumption. We must now pay the piper in ethical and moral currency.

It's time we learned to accommodate the animals we've wronged by first acknowledging that we've wronged them. It's time we acknowledge our role as stewards of the land. That means seeing to their needs, despite the hot tub and tomato patch.

The old argument of keeping bears afraid of us is a futility. There simply are too many of us around -- everywhere. And bears have already inured themselves to our constant intrusions.

In light of this, and in light of the fact that bears must gain 100 pounds before winter if they're going to survive at all, we need another working approach to cohabitation.

One plan might include monitored feeding sites, supplied and supervised by wildlife experts who would stock a rich (affordable) concoction of nutrients (compressed, freeze-dried, cheap) where bears could feed. The bears would stop raiding garbage cans and back yards if they knew reliable and safe locations existed. People would be warned of these places (hunters would be fined if they intruded) and sightings could be more safely monitored.

Just a thought. But a timely one. And keep in mind that bears are simply trying to survive. Their biggest foe isn't the winter but the modifying adjectives ("ruthless," "evil," "predator") branded to their existence by the most ignorant among us claiming frontal lobe status -- the real lowbrows in the mist.

Richard Hiatt writes from Guffey, Colo.

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