If a 300 pound Black Bear is stalking you, don’t run. Walk slowly and avoid eye contact. Do not run. That’s the advice New Jersey state officials have for hikers after Darsh Pratel lost his life, having apparently been mauled to death by precisely such a bear in the Apshawa Preserve in West Milford, New Jersey. Pratel’s four friends ran away just like he did when they noticed the bear stalking them, but were a little luckier; they weren’t hunted down by a large predator capable of speeds of up to 35 miles an hour over short distances. The 22 year old Rutgers student is the first victim of a bear attack in the state for over 150 years and that must offer no consolation to his distraught family. The bear was shot to death by officials after they found it circling Pratel’s body and after it did not respond to attempts to have it leave the area. We wll have an autopsy and we will also have wildlife experts explaining to everyone how rare an encounter this is and how wonderful it is to have bears roaming the woods of New Jersey as in the days of yore. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, however, allow a legal bear hunt to cull the numbers of black bears in the state and lessen the probabilities of human encounters, especially tragic ones like this one.

The question becomes then, what are the limits of biodiversity that a post-industrial society is capable of supporting? The answer depends on who you ask: deep environmentalists would have almost all humans eliminated from North America as well as those invasive domestic breeds like cattle. Urban environmentalists think the increasing number of city-dwelling coyotes in North America is a good thing, and us humans will have to make sure that packs of urban coyotes don’t drag our pets or children into the bushes to be devoured. Ranchers in places like Montana would like to have every last wolf and coyote converted into pelts to be proudly displayed beside their fireplaces. In other words there is a choice to be made about how we coexist with wildlife. While the young Rutgers student’s horrifying fate is likely an anomaly, statistically speaking, bear culls, especially black bear culls, need to be part of any wildlife area’s policy tools. And the Disneyfication of dangerous predators in various media, which will surely continue, must be countered with sober and pragmatic education that lets hikers and others know just what kind of an animal they are dealing with.

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