Book Review by Colleen Olfenbuttel, North Carolina Wildlife

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Book Review – Living with Bears Handbook, Expanded 2nd Edition

Reviewed by Colleen Olfenbuttel, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Pittsboro, NC.

In the August 2008 (vol. 17, no. 3) edition of the International Bear News, IBA’s current president, Karen Noyce, reviewed “Living with Bears: A Practical Guide to Bear Country”, concluding that “Masterson has struck a good balance between information and entertainment, producing a book that I suspect biologists, wildlife managers, and agency personnel will turn to more than they might at first think.”

Based on the praise the second edition is currently receiving from wildlife professionals, Karen’s suspicions were correct; bear experts from across North America have commented that it’s not only on their bookshelf, but it is the first book they recommend to the public and other professionals. I readily admit that the original edition sits on my office shelf, while another copy sits at my agency’s library for reference by other staff. I can’t wait to add the latest edition to the shelf as well!

When Linda first published “Living with Bears” in 2006, it was the only book available that had comprehensive information on how people could avoid conflicts with bears no matter if they lived, visited, hiked or camped in bear country. Ten years later, black bear populations have expanded, as have human populations. As shown in the updated appendix of this second edition, interactions between bears and humans have only increased since the first edition was printed, emphasizing that the need to educate people on how to live with bears has only grown since 2006.

Despite the increase in human-bear interactions across North America, Linda’s book remains the only book available that provides a single source of information about the basics of bear biology and behavior, bear management, and implementing solutions to prevent conflicts. As most of us know, over 90% of complaints we receive about bears can easily be resolved with education and simple changes in human behavior. This expanded second edition will be an asset in our toolbox for educating the public on how they can be partners in preventing and resolving bear conflicts.

So, if you already have the first edition in your library, why should you purchase Linda’s expanded second edition? Well, one reason is that Linda maintains her engaging style of writing that we all enjoyed from the first book. She writes in a way that is fun and easily relatable to any reader, no matter their age or background. It’s a nice contrast from the formal writing that often appears in educational materials produced by management agencies. And it is apparent in this updated edition that Linda continued consulting with bear experts, such as Stephen Herrero, and their expertise is reflected throughout the book.

In this new edition, Linda provides updates on case studies from her first book, letting the reader see the long-term successes that can occur once common-sense solutions are implemented to prevent human-bear conflicts. For example, we revisit Great Smoky Mountains National Park and their successful efforts in reducing negative human-bear interactions, despite being the most visited park in the United States and having an estimated 1,600 black bears. There are also new case studies included in this second edition, and Linda offers examples from across North America, providing a diversity of perspectives and experiences that any reader can learn from.

One such case study is about the efforts of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife in using a combination of partnerships, ordinances, bear-resistant trash cans, and education to help the city of Boulder adapt to having bears as their newest residents. Other additions to the book include updated figures on black bear population estimates and human-bear interactions throughout North America, a new chapter on bear management, and an expanded section on references and resources, ranging from where you can go to see black bears to where one can purchase bear-resistant trash cans.

Linda also created a “bear behavioral ladder of progression” that may prove to be an effective visual tool in educating the public on how a bear can go from “just being a bear” to becoming a “problem bear” when the public fails to change their own behavior. Lastly, Linda updated the calorie counter chart, which now includes human-provided food sources, which sends the message home of why a bear may prefer a bird feeder (2,585 calories per pound) over searching the woods for blueberries (256 calories per pound).

The second edition is organized into 7 sections, with 4 sections focused on how to co-exist with bears in almost any scenario you may find yourself in. The first chapter starts with “What’s the Problem” and Linda gets right to the point when she states “…teaching bears to associate humans with food is a recipe for trouble.” This introductory chapter hits the key points that bear managers make on a daily basis and sets the correct tone for the remainder of the book. Another useful chapter is the one on bear relocation, and specifically, why this technique often fails to resolve conflicts and often does not favors to the bear that is moved.

A new and important addition is the chapter on bear management, which provides the reader with a bear managers’ perspective. Hopefully, this new chapter will help the reader realize that bear managers are often in a delicate position of balancing public expectations with the reality of managing bears. And euthanizing a bear is our least preferred option, but sadly, the only option if people don’t take action to help us resolve a bear conflict.

The black bear is truly one of our modern-day wildlife success stories, as bears have been restored in much of their historic range in North America. And one of the main reasons for their successful comeback is that black bears are remarkably adaptable to living near people. The challenge now is whether people are willing to adapt to living near bears.

I believe Linda’s updated second edition will be an important resource in providing the keys to continued bear restoration success as it engages, educates and encourages people to be part of the solution. After all, it’s not about managing individual bears, but rather managing people.

 

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