Do bear s_ _ t in the woods? Yes, and I’ll prove this often asked question before I’m done. Since bears were notably absent for all of my adult life and most of every generation before me who I knew in my youth, we could come to the conclusion that bears did not do that in the woods, at least not here in the extreme southwest corner of Pennsylvania.
Long ago they were eradicated by man, though not necessarily intentional. Humans and black bears never really had the death struggle relationship of say humans and wolves, and to some degree grizzlies, and not even close to the abject hatred between humans and Tomato Hawk Moths.
No, most of the black bears problems existing here are due to habitat loss. We took the habitat, largely to raise sheep. We mostly would not have cared if the bear stayed. It was not a malicious act, in fact, if the bear needed it to survive and had the means it would have taken it for itself much in the same manner — with an absence of malice.
Raising sheep and farming in general on small family farms, even with the hefty support of everyone’s tax dollars through the Farm Bill, have become largely unprofitable, at least here anyway. Some of the reasons for the decline in sheep farming include synthetic fibers that do not itch, are not eaten by moths, and are every bit as warm as wool have been developed. Also, the fact is that about the only people who still eat mutton live in nomadic tribes in the Middle East. Somehow it seems to absolve them of some blame for making war on the west. Try living on a diet of mainly mutton for a while and see if you don’t develop a bad attitude as well.
So away, for the most part, went the sheep farms. For a while the landscape was still mowed and remained fenced. A few cows or horses remained in the fields as the adult children of the past generation kept one foot in the land and the other in a coal mine or steel mill. But now, the few farms that remain are mostly just for fun or tradition.
Most of that vacant farm land suddenly became regenerated forest, and then some of it mature forest. Black berries, acorns, road killed creatures of all types, bee hives, left over fast food containers, bird seed, gardens, beech nuts, small orchards and really dumb but often good intentioned humans with wild game feeders hanging in the yards are what you’ll see now from an aerial view. It has become the perfect omnivore habitat.
What are omnivores? Go look in the mirror. You may declare yourself a vegan if you like as a man may declare himself a woman if he acts and dresses like one, but nature will have none of either. You are an omnivore just like a raccoon or bear. Omnivores basically are scavengers of sorts, picking up whatever walks or crawls, animal or vegetable, big or small, anything that can fit in their mouths and they are able to grasp with their hands or paws, dead or soon to be dead, or alive, it matters not.
For most of our history on Earth we made our living much like a female bear and her cubs. Traveling in small groups every day in a huge home range hunting for food, anything digestible, and then camping for the winter on whatever stores we could secure. Unlike bears, we did not hibernate, but mostly starved to death in large numbers over the winter.
So, for thousands of years, bears that lived here did not see any humans. Then one day, a single bear came across a single human track. Not too very long afterwards, in terms of geologic history at least, there were a whole bunch more human tracks and finally, no bear tracks.
It is very interesting to see history repeat itself in reverse. We saw the first bear track near our house not long ago. The new habitat in the county has once again attracted them and so they have expanded their range here all by themselves.
Not long after finding the track, we saw our first pile of bear scat, proving that the bear indeed liked what it found here and converted it into energy, jettisoning the rest about 25 yards from the house. Maybe it was making a political statement of sorts. I kind of hope so. They seem intelligent enough to appreciate satire, and I could almost see the bear kind of grinning when it stopped to relieve itself. It was dead center of the line of fire of our shooting range - on the path. Almost seemed like a dare.
In case you are wondering, no, I will not be bear hunting this year. If some lucky hunter bags it, I will not be mourning for it any more than it would mourn for me. It’s not like we bonded, but I have declared a unilateral armistice as long as it behaves itself. To me, bear has all the culinary delight of mutton. If it tasted like elk, well too bad for the bear, because once again there would be no bear tracks here for a while!
A final thought. Not too many years ago I was in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome sharing some time with one of the world’s premier Vatican historians, Enrico Bruschini, and I asked him another important question that needs answered as well. After the conversation, I can honestly say first hand, because Enrico assured me it was true, that yes, the Pope is Catholic. – Vince Palone