One of the most entertaining online discussions this week has been in the comments from Ryan Jordan’s blog on the entry revealing an injury had ended his Alaskan trek. The best part has been the digression in regards to bears, namely which firearms are preferable for self-defense. One guy posted a link to an ultra-light hunting rifle, and another replied that oh, no, only shotguns with proper shells are taken into the wilds by people who expect to survive; yet another poster pointed out that rifles have far more fire power and aren’t nearly as heavy, etc. This comment, though, has been my favorite:

The bears live there in their last truly wild and uninhibited sanctuary, where humans are not the Masters of the Universe. Anyone who goes there knows that the bears can be dangerous and could kill them. In that place the bears have a right to act and be as they naturally are, without our taking their lives for endangering us. Are our egos and selfish desires so big that we can’t even allow bears to live in their own way without our shooting them down when we trangress into their territory? No expedition or adventure is so important or necessary that a bear’s life should be allowed to be taken. A person who embarks on such an expedition and kills a bear protecting themself, goes home having accomplished a petty desire, while a bear paid with its life. Not having gone on the expedition in the first place would be a much more intelligent and compassionate solution. Using the Inuit as an example of why killing a bear is acceptable ignores the fact that the Inuit LIVE in these places, they have to survive there. An adventurer or backpacker is doing nothing but PLAYING. No bear’s life is worth that.

I sympathize with the sentiment that one’s vacation should not entail killing the inhabitants of one’s vacation locale, no matter what species. But I can’t help thinking that when species other than ours form governments with bicameral legislatures, then they’ll have rights. It may well be that bears gave civilization a try a million years ago and reverted to their wild state because it was so much more fun to eat species that annoyed them.

My gut feeling is that as long as flowers bend toward the sun and trees grow out of granite cliff faces, we must assume one of the fundamental responsibilities of living things is staying alive. If rocks and dirt had any DNA, they’d be out there striving to perpetuate their genes just like the rest of us.

So I can see the appeal of taking firearms along. But I recall reading last year about a couple river-raft camping in Alaska who were attacked and killed by a nasty grizzly. One of the artifacts found at their campsite was a rifle that had not been fired. You’ve no doubt heard the stories about how wearing helmets actually causes bike riders to take on more risk, right? Well, I have to wonder if having a weapon along creates a false sense of protection. A gun is helpful if it’s in your hands when the bear’s in your face. Otherwise it’s just extra weight.

If you go armed, you become sorta like a cop in the sense that you have to know how to use your weapon but more importantly, when to use it. People go into the wilds unarmed for pretty much the same reason they remain unarmed in town: freedom from the complications of carrying deadly force.

The movie “Grizzly Man” told the story of a guy who so adored bears that he put their lives above his own. He refused to carry a weapon. One bear expressed his appreciation by killing the guy and eating him. The Grizzly Man was a bit of loon but he was 100 percent correct that bears will not survive without human intervention. Thing is, being alive is like Prerequisite No. 1 to intervening on bears’ behalf.