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Judge not the bear

A black bear and her cub sit in a tree on the southwestern edge of Hurlburt Field near Solar Street Aug. 2. (Photograph by Devon Ravine)

This is a picture of me hanging in a tree with my cub, Theodore, in the forest north of Hurlburt Field, Fla., in 2006. I know what you're thinking, ladies, but I'm spoken for. (Courtesy photo)

This bear cub was spotted eating out of the dumpster by one of the dorms on base last year. (Courtesy photo)

This is a file photo of my cub, Grizzelda, attempting to get inside a dumpster near one of your dormitories at Hurlburt Field back in 2007. Not a proud moment for my family. (Courtesy photo)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Dear Air Commandos,

Salutations from the forest north of the 1st Special Operations Wing.

I'd like to start by thanking you for reading my letter. As humans, I'm sure you know the difficulty of learning another language. Imagine the convoluted process that I had to go through in effectively communicating to your species. I'm still learning, so please bear with me. (I think I made a funny.)

Let me tell you a little about myself. I have many names from those who are close to me. My wife of 12 years, Starla, calls me "Sugar." Our three cubs, Theodore, 4, Grizzelda, 2, and Ditka, Jr., six months, call me "Papa." But you can call me "Hubert," not to be confused with "Hurlburt."

The five of us are your average, middle class North American black bear family living in Florida. We originally resided in lower Alabama, but migrated here partly because of Starla's family and the very attractive protection status.

The cubs are den-schooled, Starla is a stay-at-cave sow and I roam the forest looking for food and keeping my area clear of annoying squirrels.

But those pesky squirrels and my family's background are not the subject of this letter. As a concerned parent of three, I wanted to address an issue that I feel you humans can help with. You all have a lot of places to gather food, and we don't.

For as long as bears roamed this land, way before your kind got here, we stuck to a strict diet consisting of natural, preservative-free organic foods. As you humans ventured closer into our habitat, you affected our food sources. Where we once had unfettered access to plants and smaller animals, we now have to compete with another unsightly attractant: your garbage.

It's becoming easier to get distracted from the search for wholesome food due to this situation. And I'm not just talking about the houses-- have you seen the beehive-like dorms and how people there leave bags right outside their front door, despite the locked dumpster that's just 50 paws away?

I wonder if this is general laziness on their part or a low-cost buffet for us. Well, I'm not sure what it is, but I'm worried my cubs won't be able to tell the difference and the situation becomes, dare I say, unhumanable.

Fellow parents, I imagine that you want your kids to get a healthy mix of vegetation, berries and protein-rich carrion. (Maybe not that last one.) We bears forage, trying to gather nuts and berries when our cubs get a whiff of something coming out of your garbage. Their noses start feverishly sniffing, and they don't want anything else.

The more time I spend trying to move the cubs away is less time for me to find food. Eventually, I'll end up settling for your garbage because it's often unkempt and convenient to get to. (You have a term for that, I think. "Fast food?" That's normally called "rabbits.")

Sometimes I hope my cubs know your garbage for what it really is--garbage--and become repelled by it. But cubs today are smart as your kids are too. They know how to adapt to new situations, and if they get accustomed to these new food sources, they'll keep going back to it.

That's why I'm concerned about my cubs and their new cravings. If they're habituated to eating your garbage now, there's no telling what the future's going to look like. Ditka, Jr., is just months old, but he's already jonesing for leftover pizza and the dark liquid in those cans, what is it... soda?

Imagine when he's grown up. He and his cubs will never know the joy of tasting savory green leaves right when spring hits. They will never quench their thirst with cool, fresh water right out of a tranquil lake, or experience the primal satisfaction of finally catching that irritating squirrel family from the next tree down. (Hey, you don't live near 'em, and if you did, you'd understand.)

Perhaps this is a case where we bears need to demonstrate better parenting, but I'm not sure that's always feasible as my father ate one of my newborn brothers. But even if we could raise them better, we could never see this through without your support.

It seems like most of you are catching on as I've come across these newer trash cans that somehow lock when they're closed. They're difficult for us to get into, and I think that's a step in the right direction for my cubs' future. However, these cans don't excuse you humans from the responsibility of properly disposing your garbage.

I'm begging you: please mind your trash. If your bags are piling up, please leave it in your garage until pick up or take it to a dumpster. When you do take it to a dumpster, please lock its sliding doors, if possible. And if you're in the dorms, don't leave your bags outside your front door, unless you want a four-pawed visitor to come by for a snack. 

I sense skepticism and surprise from some of you about this notion (yet oddly enough not over a bear writing such a letter.) However, I've been comforted by much of your base's efforts to foster better human-bear relations, and that you teach your children what to do if they see one of my kind. I've even seen your three Nature Explore outdoor classrooms, and know you have an appreciation for preserving the outdoors and raising your children right.

So do Starla and I with our cubs, and that's why I'm pleading with you today.

The connection between an undisturbed natural habitat for our cubs and a cleaner, healthier environment for your children is as achievable and simple as properly disposing of your garbage.

Hopefully, this solution is as obvious to you as to whether or not bears... uh, "live" in the woods.

Thank you for your time, and keep 'em flying at night.

All the Best,
Hubert the Bear (Commando!)

Disclaimer: The previous letter was meant to underscore the importance of properly storing and disposing of garbage. The biological and scientific traits exhibited by this bear may not be found among other bears or any wildlife. The author also took several creative licenses with this family's dynamics, but the original point stands: pick up your trash.  Furthermore, this letter should not be construed as to speaking for the entire Florida black bear population.

For more information on being bear aware, see the related stories.  If you or anyone you know should come into contact with a bear, immediately call security forces at 884-7777 or the environmental flight at 884-4651.