Psychological Reality Equals Orphaned Bear cubs> Born Free USA Canadian Blog by Barry Kent MacKay


<> Psychological Reality Equals Orphaned Bear Cubs

Posted: 27 Nov 2015 07:22 AM PST

Bear Cub <> © John Buie

In animal protection work, rule number one to successful resolution of any animal abuse issue is this: be right! Be correct and accurate in what you say and back it up as well as you can with objective, science-based documentation. Pay due attention to, and address, the rationales given for the abuse, whatever they are, and separate fact from fiction from speculation from what one might wish. But, always remember that facts are not enough; being right is a necessary foundation (but not enough to win the day).

As I alluded to <> last week, that is just not enough. And, no issue better illustrates this frustration than the Ontario spring bear hunt controversy discussed in my previous blog. Contrary to all evidence, it appears that most people want the very thing that does not work: to allow the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to go ahead with plans for a spring black bear hunt over most of the province (ostensibly, in part, to reduce the likelihood of conflicts between bears and humans). The problem is that there is an abundance of evidence—including assessments done by the MNRF’s own scientists and the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, plus a committee struck years ago to examine the issue—that it won’t do that, and may even exacerbate the problem.

Much research has been done on the difficulty people have in objectively identifying degrees of risk. There have been various attempts to explain the phenomenon, such as this <> popular version meant for lay readers on the Psychology Today website. In the last decade, as an advocate, I’ve found myself reading numerous science texts and peer-reviewed research on human cognition, trying to understand how or why people can believe that which is demonstrably not true. We all do it, and scientists know we do, but the public too often assumes that simply believing something makes it true and lacks the training or inclination to determine truth from fiction.

A theory that explains why we so often err is that one part of the human brain, the intuitive part, unconsciously but persistently informs us (which is to say, influences the more conscious and analytical part of the brain) with beliefs that may or may not be accurate. The analytical part of the brain is consciously driven, but cannot reasonably be expected to override the intuitive part without very tangible, mindful, physically measureable effort.

Decision-making of the first of these two methods serves to allow us to act in the absence of the need to fully assess the risk: a trait of obvious selective value. All of this is explored in books like Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2013), but not the sort of thing likely to be perused by the “average” voter, bear hunter, or politician.

Thus, we may fear snakes and spiders, even in regions where there are no venomous species, as many people do—and yet feel comfortable around automobiles, which present a true and documented relatively high risk to our individual survival.

We also tend to provide extra weight to events precisely because they are spectacular and unlikely. Thus, there may be disproportionate fear. An estimated 450 people die from falling from their beds per year in the U.S., for example, but years go by with no one being killed by a black bear.

The risk of death from falling out of bed is easily reduced by such simple and inexpensive actions as sleeping on a mattress on the floor, sleeping in a bed with crib-sides or restraints, or sleeping with heavy padding on the floor on both sides of the bed, and yet almost no one bothers with such basic, convenient, and inexpensive precautions. Black bears are notoriously shy and secretive, but they do need food, and in times of shortages, by avoiding making food (“attractants”) available, bears simply have no reason to become a nuisance.

The political benefit to the MNRF’s proposal comes not only from the advantage of making many Ontario residents think they are being more, not less, protected from Human/Bear Conflicts (HBCs), but also by making them think there are monetary savings to them as tax payers.

In part, the latter may well be true, although not to the degree perhaps assumed. A significant percentage of the cost of maintaining greater safety from HBCs has been downloaded from the provincial level, thus shared by all provincial tax-paying Ontarians, to the municipal level, and is thus now borne, in good part, by the very communities who think they are being protected.

A myth has been promulgated in central and northern Ontario that the Bear Wise program, prior to the Ontario government severely cutting its funding, didn’t work. But it did, when the community involved cooperated. In Elliot Lake, over a 10-year period, nuisance bear calls declined by 53% – 91% each year. But, as research has clearly shown, the lower the amount of natural food (due to variations in weather), the more frequent the calls, although still significantly reduced.

Saying Bear Wise didn’t work is like warning parents not to leave something dangerous around children, and then having a tragedy when the advice is ignored, and using it to prove the warning didn’t work. By implementing the recommendations of Bear Wise, there were objectively provable results. And yet, when we had a full-blown spring bear hunt during a shortage in natural bear browse (Ontario black bears are predominately vegetarian) in 1991 – 1992, there were as many complaints about bear encounters as there have been in the absence of the spring bear hunt.

Bear Wise, properly funded by all Ontarians, works; the spring bear hunt does not. Cutting funds to Bear Wise shifts costs from being shared across the province—including the largest population centers—to only those communities in central and northern Ontario, while suckering them into thinking they are being well served.

The spring bear hunt, for reasons given in my last blog, causes the orphaning of bear cubs. Let’s not assume it makes anyone safer from bears. Like cock-fighting, dog-fighting, bull-fighting, and trophy hunting, it, at best, creates profits from animal suffering. We Ontarians can do better.

Keep wildlife in the wild,

Featured Image -- 10557


5 thoughts on “Psychological Reality Equals Orphaned Bear cubs

  1. Citing psychological studies and then checking them against human behavior, such as the bear hunts, leads to a conclusion John Livingston reached: “I often think that the most noteworthy characteristic of the Reasoning Being is his immunity to reasonableness.”

    The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation, p. 87.

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