Sometimes wildlife can be troublesome. Geese on runways, bears in campgrounds, and mountain lions in yards all pose a real danger to those of us at the top of the food chain. The old school way of ‘managing’ the problem was to kill the wildlife but we have finally found a better solution; one that preserves life, both wild and domestic (that’s us by the way).
Enter man’s best friend. At least some of them…not necessarily the content, spoiled taters that grace our couches but the more blue collar group of dogs that work for a living. Now, my girls did not work for a living and that was just fine with us. Besides, in an emergency (a real one, not those things we sometimes think are an emergency like Starbuck’s espresso machine not working) we all know they would do whatever is called for to protect us.
But some dogs save lives for a living and not just ours but other wildlife as well. Glacier National Park in Montana, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Washington State Department of Fish and Game all employ teams of Karelian Bear Dogs to protect people and bears and cougars.
Bears and cougars that become too habituated to campgrounds or are a little too comfortable in residential areas are trapped, left overnight and then several teams of Karelian dogs with handlers are brought in to help hurry them back into the wild by essentially terrorizing them for a few moments. Before the release the teams allow the dogs to bark furiously then with a bit of a start, the bear is released and so are the dogs along with ‘cracker’ shells fired from shotguns into the air. The park rangers also use bean bag ammunition in their shotguns aimed at the ample butt running away. The dogs are allowed to get near the bear, they are trained to do no harm. They are called back when the rangers believe the released animal has received the message. Usually within a minute or two.
Washington State department of Fish and Game has recorded a success rate of 80%, meaning only twenty percent of the habituated bears ever return to the area. That is a higher rate than trapped and relocated. Pretty impressive.
Karelians are also used to locate bear dens in Alaska, both Polar and Grizzly, for population and research information. This information is used not only to help preserve the bears but also to protect backcountry hikers. Near Banff Park in western Canada, they have been using this non-lethal method for over 14 years with great results.
Conflicts between wildlife and humans do not always have happy endings, in those cases neither party usually walks away. But maybe we have found new way to live together and still enjoy what we go out to the wilderness to see with the help of some old friends.