Making a bear problem
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1997:
STOKES STATE FOREST, N.J.––With bills to ban bear
hunting pending before the New Jersey House and Senate, and a proposed
bear management plan awaiting consideration by the New Jersey
Fish, Game, and Wildlife Advisory Council in August, the New Jersey
Department of Fish, Game, and Wildlife needed a dramatic late July
incident to make their case that an estimated 350 to 550 bears,
statewide, pose an imminent threat to human safety.
Making that claim in support of an attempt to start a bear hunt
last year, without having a case to cite, NJ/DFGW officials were
embarrassed when opponents pointed out that New Jersey has never had
a bear incident doing noteworthy harm to a human.
Thus the NJ/DFGW was quick to ballyhoo a July 23 campground
encounter at Stokes State Forest, in which ranger Rob Sikoura
purportedly defended campers by rousting a mama bear and cubs, but
was forced to shoot the mama in self defense when she charged him as
he followed her across 40-foot-wide Flat Creek.
The orphaned cubs were left in the woods, being old enough,
said the NJ/DFGW, to fend for themselves. Within a week, forest visitors
said they were starving, and had like their mama turned to raiding
campsites. Two more bear/human conflicts in the making.
But Friends of Animals special investigator Carroll Cox and
ANIMAL PEOPLE found reason to question the official account. Just
10 days before the shooting, ranger Sikoura was extensively quoted by
the New Jersey Herald as a purported bear expert, in an article that
described rangers’ use of “bear mace” and rubber bullets to avoid having
to kill bears. Two days after the shooting, NJ/DFGW spokesperson
Rob Winkel told Fred Aun of the Newark Star-Ledger that Sikoura had
not received bear response training. Supposedly that explained why
Sikoura followed the mama across a natural obstacle, failed to recognize
the “bluff charge” warning that mother black bears typically give
intruders, and was apparently not equipped with any nonlethal bearrepelling
devices, even though the encounter occurred when he
responded to a nuisance bear complaint. Witnesses meanwhile
informed both Cox and ANIMAL PEOPLE that the cubs were never
on the same side of Flat Creek as the campground, had been up a tree
throughout the incident, and were possibly not even weaned.
Through further inquiries, Cox discovered that NJ/DFGW
bear biologist Patricia McConnell hadn’t seen the cubs before pronouncing
them able to survive.
During the first weekend of August, Cox located and videotaped
the cubs as they struggled to find food, finally raiding a campground––and
showed the video to ranking NJ/DFGW officials. He recommended
that the bears either be taken into a rehabilitation program or
be given active guidance in learning to forage as wild bears should.
“The department is on notice now,” Cox said. “If anything
happens with these cubs, we’ve warned the department that a potential
hazard was created when Sikoura shot their mama. It’s on record that
they’ve so far chosen to disregard our warning. If there is another incident,
it’s not a case of bears being inherently dangerous; it’s a case of
the department being negligent, both in creating the situation that
allows the cubs to become dangerous, and in not responding in an
appropriate manner when we told them what would happen. Someone
could have good grounds for a lawsuit.”