In January I wrote about the controversy surrounding Pedals the Bear, an American Black Bear that walked upright because of it had severely damaged front paws. A Facebook group was raising funds and pressuring the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for permission to have the bear captured and relocated to a bear sanctuary in New York. For its part, NJDEP resisted the plan by pointing out that the bear was thriving, growing larger with each passing year.
And so Pedals remained in the wild, until (apparently) the first phase of bear hunting season in October. NJDEP announced that a number of bear with damaged or injured front paws were harvested during the first round of hunting season and, though unconfirmed, it appears likely that Pedals was among that group.
The media fallout was swift. A Google search for Pedals the Bear yields over 9,200,000 results. Yes – over “9 million” results from the apparent harvest of a single bear. The handful of articles I’ve read focus on the anger and loss of people who had transformed this upright walking bear from a wild animal into a symbol of man’s callous treatment of nature.
This week, I stumbled upon an article in The Christian Science Monitor that discussed the ongoing debate around Pedals, specifically, and New Jersey’s bear hunt, in general. Now, New Jersey has the most dense bear population in the continental United States, with about 3500 bear concentrated mostly in the northern and north-western parts of the state. So, after a nearly 30-year ban, hunting was re-instituted in 2003. The harvest target for 2016 is about 600 animals. As the second phase of bear season opened on Monday, some of these so-called “animal rights” activist were planning protests and looking for ways to disrupt the hunt.
For people who live in many rural areas, it may seem odd that opening day of hunting season could result in protests, people running through wooded areas banging on pots and pans or, in one extreme case, trying to shield a bear by running between the animal and a hunter. Can you imagine this type of protest in Texas or Montana or Alaska? But it happens here in New Jersey, pretty much every year.
Why do I care if these people protest against a bear hunt? I am deeply concerned about the natural world. Shouldn’t I be supporting and encouraging these types of protests?
The short answer is “No”.
I think that these types of protests provide cover for people who want to discredit the larger environmental movement. If environmentalist can be marginalized by corporate media as simply a bunch of people angry over legal activities like hunting, it takes away from legitimate and important debates about the loss or degradation of natural habitats through the encroachment of human communities, replacing forests and river floodplains with golf courses and shopping centers, and the impact of polluting streams with lawn fertilizers and pesticides.
I think it also adds to the feeling of disconnect between people in urban and rural areas. With every challenge we’re facing as a nation – jobs, healthcare, education, hunger, external wars and internal strife, the list goes on and on – a bunch of “environmental” people in New Jersey have lost their minds over a bear. At least that’s what corporate media would have you believe. Remember – 9 million hits on Google.
So what does this post have to do with my blog? I think it fits neatly into trying to understand how half the country views the other half. I think these smaller stories feed into a larger theme of the differences – the disconnect, if you will – between the coasts and the heartland.
Or maybe I’m just killing a bunch of electrons. Time will tell.