Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Bear Facts

It has been a week since the terrible shooting death of a hiker by a juvenile hunter on Sauk Mountain in Skagit County, Washington. While accusations and emotions have been running high and an investigation is currently being conducted, it is important to keep the situation in perspective. This is an extremely rare occurrence and hikers have more to worry about being killed by an errant driver on their way to the trailhead than an errant hunter on the trail. Of course, for the shooting victim and her family this is a terrible accident-a horrible tragedy-and my thoughts and prayers go out to her. To the hunter, we'll soon find out if this was a terrible accident, or worse-reckless endangerment-manslaughter?

But for hunting in general-this is no proxy on its merits. This is an isolated case of an armed unsupervised juvenile that should (a) have never been without adult supervision in the first place, and (b) should have been looking for bear elsewhere. Which is what I wish to discuss right now. Among the banter flying around on the Internet about this terrible incident are many silly, inane, and irreverent remarks. One I found interesting was a hiker who questioned whether there were even enough bears in the Cascades to hunt at all. He stated that he has been hiking for over 15 years in the Cascades and has never seen one bear.

Boy-where have you been hiking?! Get off of Mount Si and leave your noisy hiking companions behind and I assure you that you'll see a bear. They are all over the Cascades and this year in particular I have seen more than my fair share of them. Why just last week on a two day trip in the North Fork of the Skykomish River Valley I saw three bears! On my hike to Cady Ridge-via mountain bike on the washed out North Fork Skykomish Road, I spooked a big ole black bear early morning on the road -then another big ole black bear early evening on the trail on the return. Look around! Bear scat-bear scratches-bear digs everywhere! Yes there are plenty of bears in the Cascades. And yes there are plenty of bears to warrant a hunt. And yes, you won't see them on popular trails. So why the hell were those two hunters on the Sauk Mountain Trail where tons of hikers roam and nary a bear does? If I was a bear hunter I'd be up the North Fork Skykomish right now. And with the washed out access and long approach my chances of encountering fellow hikers are slim. I saw no one in 23 miles of hiking. My chances of encountering a bear however, are damn good. I saw two and they and their furry buddies are up there right now.

(Photo- freshly bear scratched tree along Quartz Creek in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness)

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