According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, "Bears have significantly occupied the ... counties along the state's eastern borders through all natural behavior. That is, bears have not been imported or released."
The biggest challenge with the bears' returns to their native lands in eastern Kentucky may be keeping the peace between humans and bears. The bear biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Department said, "We need to alter some behavior to prevent conflicts, and since we can't explain it to the bears, we're trying to educate the people."
This includes: don't throw out garbage; don't put garbage in cans until pickup day; don't leave pet food outside; and keep your barbecue grill clean.
What if you could communicate with bears? What would your advice be for the bears? My first suggestion would be that bears need to find some way to be helpful. One person, in commenting on a bear-sighting in northern Kentucky, suggested the bear had traveled to the area to eat cicadas. Now, that would be a neighborly thing to do. Especially if their diets could include Japanese beetles.
Or what if the bears discovered that those big, fat worms on tobacco plants were a bruin delicacy - this could be a boon to farmers. We would have to warn the bears to tiptoe through the rows of tobacco and not to crush or munch on the leaves. After all, we wouldn't want bears to take up our nicotine habits.
However, it is going to be difficult to school these bears in appropriate neighborliness, even should you survive learning their language. According to the experts, "Black bears are usually secretive and prefer to be left alone."
Let's sum up the whole subject with a wonderful quote that has nothing to do with the subject except that it does mention bears. "Never sell the bear's skin until you have killed the bear." LaFontaine: Fables (1668).
By the way, this saying is the origin of our use of "bear" to designate one who sells short on the Stock Exchange with the expectation of covering at a lower price. Don't ever say you didn't learn something from a bear.
Katherine Orton is a free-lance writer living in Danville.|5/6/04|***