Friday, August 27, 2010

Chasing the Bears Away: Yogi Doesn't Like the Barking but It Doesn't Keep Him Away for Long

When my wife and moved to Stone Ridge, New York, neighbors warned us that there were bears in the area, harmless and not very large black bears that could be pesky at times. We learned to put ammonia on our outdoor garbage can after a bear’s investigation of the can gave us a half hour of unpleasant yard work one morning. We were told that having a dog was good because bears are afraid of dogs. Perhaps once or twice Chloe’s barking in the night was at a bear and not a deer, but we’re not sure.

I recently came across a study on the effectiveness of dogs in deterring black bears (Ursus americanus) from coming into areas around Lake Tahoe where they could get into conflicts with humans. The six most common techniques for keeping bears away from humans, according to a survey of 33 state game departments, are (1) rubber buckshot, (2) rubber slugs, (3) pepper spray, (4) cracker shells, (5) dogs, and (6) loud noises. The Lake Tahoe researchers captured bears in culvert traps, tranquilized and immobilized them with Telazol-Xylazine, and fitted each with a mortality-sensing radio collar. Bears were then moved away from the capture sight and various deterrents were administered (i.e., the bears were shot or sprayed). Some bears were also chased by dogs, but some weren’t. The effectiveness of the discouraging techniques were then compared with and without the added factor of dogs, the location of each bear monitored relative to problem areas by the radio collars. In 92% of cases, bears returned to the places where they were captured, more than half in less than 30 days. Bears chased by dogs did return slightly later, though the difference wasn’t statistically significant. Jon P. Beckmann, Carl W. Lackey, and Joel Berger (2004). Evaluation of Deterrent Techniques and Dogs to Alter Behavior of “Nuisance” Black Bears. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 32(4), 1141-1146. I suppose the message is that if you want to keep the bears away, keep your dog outside as much as possible.

In British Columbia, some conservation groups are recommending that Karelian Bear Dogs be trained to chase nuisance bears away from areas, though the issue is controversial because chasing bears with dogs is considered harassment of wildlife. A program in Montana, the Wind River Karelian Bear Dog Program, teaches dogs to “speak to the bears,” i.e., to bark and chase bears on command from a handler.

On a related note, I wrote about dog fighting recently (Dog Fights and Serial Murderers…, August 15). I mentioned that fighting between dogs increased after dog fights with tethered bears and bulls were banned by the English Humane Act of 1835, which most states in the U.S. followed at some point. A reader has informed me that South Carolina remains an exception. The Humane Society of the United States is seeking to ban bear baying in South Carolina, a practice under which a defanged bear chained to a stake is attacked by dogs, apparently used to teach dogs to be aggressive towards bears during hunts. See the AP story by Meg Kinnard, “Group Wants SC Bear Hunters to Call off Their Dogs” (August 23, 2010).

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