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By Pam Burke 

A lesson bearly learned, stays with you


As a warden for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, my dad had to live trap at least one nuisance bear every summer. Due to the nature of the issue, the traps had to be set where humans congregate, and this revealed another problem: Humans can be just as big a nuisance as the animals.

FWP's bear live-trap was mounted on a trailer for easy hauling and made from an 8-foot length of 4-foot culvert with heavy-gauge grates covering each end. One grate was a trap door that was slid upward in a framework and secured into place by a cable attached to a tripping mechanism that was baited with meat inside the trap.

Generally the meat was some kind of delicacy, like roadkill. (Sure, roadkill isn't the snack your mother always made you, but it's yummy to bears. Don't judge them.)

After a bear had been deemed a nuisance, Dad's procedure was to warn people living or staying in the vicinity about the bear and the trapping procedure, and ask that they keep all food sources, pets and children, especially snack-sized pets and children, secured and away from the trap. He would then set the trap each evening and be there to check it at the first hint of morning light.

It's a well-known fact among those who deal with wildlife-human interactions that once a bear is successfully trapped, its nuisance-ness is contained, however, that is the moment in which humans take on the role of nuisance themselves. And even the most mild-mannered and harmless of humans can get into trouble.

When a popular summer campground in Dad's region was having trouble with an adult black bear raiding coolers and garbage bins, so Dad hauled his family — wife, snack-sized children, pet dog and all — out for a weekend of camping and bear trap watching. The logic being that camping there would save him the two-hour round trip each dawn and dusk to check or reset the trap. Besides, the wife and dog were pretty self-reliant, and we kids were considered resourceful, expendable and less appealing than roadkill.

The morning Dad discovered the trapped bear, a little old lady taking her miniature poodle out for a pre-dawn stroll through the campground stopped to ask about the goings on.

Dad answered her questions while moving her farther from the trap and advised her to keep this safe distance while he went about getting ready to haul the bear away to a less-populated area.

However, there is something about a trapped bear that is irresistible to humans, that rare opportunity to see an entirely wild and beautiful creature so closely and yet so safely.

There is, on the other hand, something about being captured that causes bears to become nervous and agitated. Bears will do in a cage that which the popular saying says they do in the woods. Except the stress causes diarrhea and, of course, they are trapped in the small space, nervously pacing through that which they would normally deposit in the woods and leave for fertilizer.

To put it bluntly, their pacing feet churn their poop into a smelly goop. And while the sturdy culvert and grates keep onlookers safe from the bear's claws, teeth and thoroughly perturbed bulk, they are not effective against every bear menace.

While Dad was securing the trailer hitch, the sweet little old lady apparently was slowly maneuvering closer to the trap to catch just one glimpse of the bear hiding in the shadowy depths. When she finally took one too many steps closer, the agitated bear lunged toward the little old intruder, slapping his large, goopy, paws against the grate.

Dad whipped around in time to see the wild-eyed poodle arcing through the air in a terror-fueled launch from its human's arms; then Dad ran around the cage to find the little old lady staring gape-jawed at the trap — splattered head to toe in soupy bear poop.

"Oh my," she said in the understatement of the year.

I tell you this story as a warning. I'm trapping a feral cat at my place this weekend. It ain't no black bear, but I fear that the lesson may still apply. I'm retrieving the wild thing while wearing full Haz-Mat gear. If you insist on visiting, I suggest you stay well outside of the cat's splatter zone.

(Then go a few more yards. No telling what kind of a pitching arm a feral cat may have at


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