May 19 was Endangered Species Day. Black bears are not on the endangered list. The young black bear who climbed a tree in a Norman resident’s backyard knew nothing of his status on that day, and it got him killed.

You might think that minions of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation had assassinated Smokey, Yogi, Teddy, Pooh, or some other beloved ursine critter, given the reactions of some among the citizenry.

Customarily, the experts tranquilize the trespasser and transport it to a wilderness area where it can wake up and go about its bear business. But in this instance, the bear did not cooperate. The tranquilizers did not knock him out, but eventually they knocked him down. He fell out of the tree and hurt himself.

Thereafter, the injured bear staggered around the fenced yard, unable to pass out or get out. And if he had gotten out, he’d still be in a habitat for humanity, so to speak. Can’t have that. Somebody might get hurt.

The intersection of human habitat with other animals’ habitats has always been an issue. Human beings are the only animals on the planet who believe it is their right to go into the habitats of other animals and takeover. Some believe it is a God-given right, as described in Genesis 1:28:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Similarly, humans like to “stand their ground,” and we commission armed law enforcement officers to respond when a member of another species dares to seek dominion over the fish or birds in our backyards.

It would seem to me that the hardest thing for a bear to know is where it is and where it is not supposed to go.

Norman bear surprising, oh my

The episode began around 9:30 p.m. May 19 when the bear was spotted and police were called. It ended around 3 a.m. May 20 when wildlife officials killed the bear.

So much for the idea that authorities acted hastily. Nobody showed up, looked at the situation, said, “I don’t want to mess with it,” and blasted the beast with a large-caliber firearm. The experts spent more than five hours attempting to resolve matters. You don’t do that unless you care about critters and people.

Anthropomorphism, i.e., assigning human qualities to non-human things (like bears, don’t you know) is a problem for people who work in and around wilderness areas. Visitors often do not understand that any bear they may encounter is not trying to prevent forest fires or looking for a sandwich from the picnic basket. Ask a park ranger at Yellowstone for comment.

Some people, for whatever reason, tend to underestimate bears. Years ago, before animal rights groups forced changes, many a county fair featured a “boxing” bear. Operators promised a wad of cash to anyone who could last three minutes with the muzzled animal, and there were always a couple of grinning good old boys willing to give it a try.

The bear, of course, did not box. It proceeded across the ring and flattened its human opponent by leaning on him until he fell over. What sport.

The fact that there was a bear in the middle of Norman raises a bunch of questions, inasmuch as a bear had been spotted south of town earlier in the week. How about a heads up for residents in the surrounding area? Why did nobody go after the bear when it was first discovered?

The experts say that, in the spring, a young bear’s fancy turns to thoughts of young female bears, and that fancy leads to migration into new (to the bear) territory. The Norman bear probably came from southeastern Oklahoma and arrived via the Canadian River.

Said Micah Holmes, assistant chief of information and education in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, “It wouldn’t be a surprise to have a bear sighting in any county of the state.”

Well, maybe it wouldn’t surprise him, but think of the rest of us. I’d just as soon not have to keep looking up during an evening trip to the garbage can.

Populations increasing

There are an estimated 2,500 black bears in Oklahoma, and the population is increasing at a rate of 10 percent per annum, so the odds of migrating youngsters would seem to increase each year.

Black bears in Oklahoma had been hunted to extinction by 1915. Half a century later, 250 of them were imported into Arkansas from Minnesota and points north. They were fruitful, they multiplied, and they migrated into Oklahoma. And now into central Oklahoma, and up a neighborhood tree.

Perhaps the Norman bear had believed it was his God-given right to go as he pleased? Perhaps his final hours were spent wondering what all of these houses were doing in his woods.

Alas, the thought is almost too much to bear.