Wolf Song of Alaska News

When Humans and Wildlife Collide

Sean Pearson / Homer Tribune / March 17, 2010

By now, we have all heard of the 32-year-old school teacher in Chignik who was reportedly killed by wolves as she jogged near the village. The story of Candice Berner has traveled far and wide, with news agencies from as far away as Australia picking it up and weighing in on the perils of living in the Last Frontier.

Readers of Anchorage Daily News writer Julia O’Malley offered their comments online following O’Malley’s story about Berner. Many speculated whether the attack was really by wolves, or if dogs had packed up and gone after the diminutive teacher. Others suggested that, while Berner often wrote in her blog of always being ready to protect herself from Alaska’s wilderness, she was ultimately unprepared for the exact same conditions in which she thrived to live.

But who’s to blame in a situation like this? Is it really anyone’s fault?

It’s very easy to forget, at times, just how unpredictable life can be in the Great Land. Every year, Alaskans come in close contact with bears, many times resulting in a dangerous, or even deadly, mauling. Some of us don’t even cross the street any more to avoid disturbing a moose happily munching on greenery in town, and that’s despite the fact that we’re all aware of the damage an angry, 900-pound moose can do.

For many of us not born in the state, embracing the newness, adventure and “wildness” of Alaska often leaves us short-sighted when it comes to the potential danger involved. Some of us have survived our own ignorance of our surroundings, possibly by nothing more than dumb luck. I am one of those people.

Some 20 years ago, a bear enthusiast named Timothy Treadwell decided he had a “special” relationship with brown bears, and began to believe he could live with them in peace. He named the bears, sang to them, walked with them and even “cuddled” with the 800-pound behemoths. He lived with the bears for 13 seasons, and attributed his recovery from drug and alcohol addictions entirely to his relationship with bears.

One eventually ate him — along with his girlfriend.

And now they’ve made a movie about the misguided “bear whisperer.” Apparently, the idea is to glorify the reckless and irresponsible decisions he made that cost two lives.

Don’t confuse Candice Berner’s fate with wolves with anything remotely close to Treadwell. Berner was simply living her life as a school teacher, helping children and ultimately loving where she lived. Her momentary lapse of judgment,  or some unknown situation that did not allow her to fight off the wolves, led to her demise.

On Monday night, a spokeswoman with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game indicated that state officials had located and killed two of the wolves believed responsible for Berner’s death. That’s good news for those in the village who reported they had unnervingly watched the wolves circle the village repeatedly over the past few weeks
It’s bad news for the wolves, who actually did nothing but follow their instincts.

It wasn’t a personal thing.

Of course, neither is killing the wolves.

While they certainly did nothing “wrong,” I seriously doubt they actually have any concept of right and wrong. Hunting down the wolves responsible for Berner’s death is not a punishment. It is a lethal action taken to protect public safety.

We may be encroaching on their territory. We may be ignorant about how “superior” we are as humans. We definitely have plenty to learn about being safe around wildlife in Alaska.

And we’re certain to hear from animal rights activists and others desperate to save the wolves, despite the threat they may pose to people. But as Alaskans, we often live closer to the land than most people in the Lower 48. 
We see both the beauty, and the malevolence, of living so close to nature.

The No. 1 rule for survival in Alaska’s outdoors has always been to carry a gun.

Disregard this rule and you could die.

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Posted by Newsroom on Mar 17th, 2010 and filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling out the following comment form, or trackback to this entry from your site. Please read the comment policy before commenting.

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