Panhandlers of all sorts - from the grizzled to the grizzly - have been getting a lot of press lately.
People are panhandling on the streets of the city, cutting down on foot traffic and making businessmen cry, "Ouch." Now we're told that bears are panhandling in the national parks, cutting down on foot traffic and making forest rangers cry "Ouch."Fortunately, someone always has an idea on how to deal with that kind of problem. For example, in Yosemite National Park, you're supposed to throw pinecones at panhandling black bears, according to a UPI story that ran last week.
Rangers in Yosemite have discovered that "scaring off bears by banging pots, jumping up and down and yelling just doesn't do the job anymore," Dick Riegelhuth, chief of park resources management, said in the story, which ran Aug. 1.
He recommended that happy campers who want to stay that way hang onto their food supply by "throwing a pine cone or a small stone that won't hurt the animal."
A biologist who promotes the idea of more aggressive defiance in the face of hungry-bear syndrome agrees with Riegelhuth's suggestion, but he also said that campers should stop somewhere short of arm wrestling the bear for food - particularly if it already has the food in claw.
Screaming doesn't work in Yosemite, and it doesn't seem to do much better on the streets of Salt Lake. But for some reason, the whole thing strikes me funny.
Think about this: How close would you have to get to the bear in order to actually hit it with a pine cone? Do you want to get that close?
I, for one, would rather not make the bear angry. Now, I can only judge by my own standards, but I'd be mad if some jerk with a Hawaiian-print shirt and the mandatory tourist-camera around his neck threw pine cones at me. We won't even discuss how I'd feel about small stones as projectiles. Grrrr.
There has to be a peaceable solution, and I think one of my colleagues has it:
She thinks it would be a good idea if the park rangers printed up a bunch of "panhandler cards," like those being prepared in Salt Lake City. It could be part of a "multi-faceted approach to the pandhandling problem," as one county official called the human-targeted program.
Before you shrug the idea off as totally stupid, please realize this: Panhandlers are supposedly making life miserable for businesses and individuals in downtown Salt Lake City because they keep approaching pedestrians and asking for money for food - or the food itself.
Bears don't want the money; they just want the food. But bears are less polite about it; they don't even pretend you have a choice. They take what they want. (On the bright side, bears seem genuinely interested in the food, and no one has ever accused them of panhandling to buy fortified wine, as far as I know.)
The cards are intended as something to hand the panhandler in lieu of money. In Salt Lake City, they'll contain information about services available to the homeless and poor, like the location of soup kitchens and shelters. They'll also tell John Q. Public how to say "No" to requests for money or food.
In Yosemite, there'd need to be minor alterations. Those cards could list locations of things that interest bears - like wild nuts and berries. As far as I know, bears can't read, so we might have to use a picture-map to get the idea across.
The possibilities are exciting.
Even if the bear was not tempted away by sketches of berries and park rangers, the card could still be useful. It could, at least, tell the once-happy camper how hard to throw the pine cone or where to aim. It could also list optional equipment, like sling shots. And running shoes.
If the card doesn't work in Yosemite - or in Salt Lake, for that matter - it's no great tragedy.
You just handle the bear the way most people have handled panhandlers in downtown Salt Lake since they were first reported in the 1800s: Cross the street and avoid the situation the minute you see it coming.
Or pick up a few pine cones to throw at panhandlers on your way to work.
Me? I'm just going to leave them all alone.