SEEN ANY BEARS?

SEVERAL BEAR sightings have been made recently in our area. We contacted one observer, Sue Howell, who spotted three in a field near her Sandy Ridge home. She reported seeing two adult bears and a smaller one following or chasing several deer. Unfortunately, she didn't get a photo. Another sighting, presumably, was in the area of the former Bob's Chevrolet on State Route 147.

WORD OF this reached Barnesville native, Patricia Kirk (a.k.a. Trish Kirk), daughter of Peg and the late John D. Kirk, and a graduate of Barnesville High School. A former teacher, she and her husband have lived the past several years among animals and nature in the Wisconsin woods. She has written four children's books on black bears as well as writing poetry, composing music and producing beautiful photographs of their world.

IN RESPONSE to her learning of the bear sightings in this area, a news release was received at the Enterprise and we include excerpts here.

When former neighbor Marjorie Plumly and her aunt, Margie Robinson, wrote to Trish Kirk that bears were in the area, Trish added her hometown, Barnesville, to her list of designated educational outreach areas. Trish lives in the woods of northern Wisconsin, and her black bear visitors are amongst her favorite wildlife. Trish and her husband, Tim Muench, have known several bears, including one for six years, a mother they call Clara, whom they have watched raise three litters of cub. Through the years, Clara and Trish have built a mutual trust to where Clara has left her cubs in the yard while she patrols a broader area in the woods. The bears actually pay no attention to Trish, who claims she is just part of the scenery to them. "They go about playing, digging, climbing or drinking water out of the birdbath, and actually one three-year-old bear took a nap while soaking in the large water tub not five feet away from me!" However, if the bears hear an approaching car or their closest neighbors talking 200 yards away, they disappear quickly. Trish understands a bear's language and can tell whether or not a bear is comfortable or nervous. She respects them as the wild animals they are and does not attempt to touch them or treat them like a pet. "This is their land, too."

Through a field study course, Trish has had the opportunity to study wild black bears with Dr. Lynn Rogers, founder and director of the North American Bear Center and Wildlife Research Institute in Ely, Minn. She is one of the Coordinators of the newly launched Educational Outreach Program for the North American Bear Center www.bear.org. With the combined efforts of a group of educators across the country, they have created a variety of lesson plans for Pre-K through 12th grades that meet state and Common Core standards, developed resources and interdisciplinary ideas. There are also service learning projects as a teaching method that combines service to the community with classroom curriculum as a hands-on approach to mastering subject material while fostering civic responsibility. They have put together 'Black Bear Boxes', which Trish's husband built, that offer hands-on learning for classrooms throughout the country. Each Bear Box is filled with activities for exploring the world of black bears using interdisciplinary, inquiry-based learning.

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Through these efforts, their hope is to replace myths and misconceptions with current scientific information about Black Bears.

Perhaps no other animals have so excited the human imagination as bears. Folklore is confusing, because it is based on caricatures, with Teddy Bears and the kindly Smoky on one hand and ferocious magazine cover drawings on the other. A problem for Black Bears is that literature about bears often does not separate Black Bears from Grizzly Bears.

Why do we fear bears? Actually attacks by Black Bears are very rare, and excessive warnings about them create unnecessary fear. Outdoor magazine artists typically depict bears as startled, angry, charging or attacking. Bears typically run away, climb for safety or show harmless bluster with no effort to show their teeth. Instead, Black Bears signal that they are uneasy by making the muzzle long and narrow, lunging and slamming their front feet down while blowing explosively. Blustery behavior is not a prelude to attach or a sign of aggressiveness. It simply means that the bear is nervous. Balanced and factual information is the main goal of the North American Bear Center where the bears themselves provide much of the information through video footage and research data.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Black Bears is that they are likely to attack people in defense of cubs. They are HIGHLY unlikely to do this. About 70 percent of human deaths from Grizzly Bears are from mothers defending cubs, but Black Bear mothers have not been known to kill anyone in defense of cubs.

For each person killed by a Black Bear attach there are 13 people killed by snakes, 17 by spiders, 45 by dogs, 120 by bees, 150 by tornadoes, 374 by lightning and 60,000 by humans.

As people move into Black Bear habitat, bear survival depends upon how well we understand and tolerate bears. Trish concludes, "Education is the key to peaceful cohabitation with Black Bears."

Trish has published three children's books about Black Bears, "PeTunia", "I Think There's a Bear Out There" and Where's a Bear's Fun."