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Bears have rights, people don't

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. — Requests for help over several years were virtually ignored by the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. All she wanted was safety.

It was Dec. 8, 1998 when Lucinda Ogle, 89, decided to ask for help from friends. She was living in total fear every day and could not be patient any longer.

Her home, where she has lived for decades, is adjacent to the national park. For the past several years a very large black bear had been coming onto her property, and Ogle was terrified. She had done all she could, and followed advice the rangers gave her to avoid attracting the bear.

The bear had caused damage, and was such a frequent visitor that Ogle was rarely out of the house. She spent over $500 to build a cement, bear-proof enclosure to contain her garbage. The bear continued to come, and Ogle was terrified to be outside her home for even a few minutes.

Her plight was fairly well known in the community and among government officials. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and park officials say they have trapped bears on her property in years past.

When a young resident of the area learned of the problem, he offered his services and Ogle gladly accepted.

The bear arrived just after dark and Chad Russell, 23, fired one shot that ended Ogle’s bear problem and began his own.

It seems that the bear didn’t die until it was 100 feet inside the national park boundary. Charges were filed against Russell for “taking” wildlife inside a national park.

“The question as I see it is — yes there was a dead bear — where was it shot?” said Charles Poole, the lawyer who represents Russell. “If it was on her property, it’s not a federal offense.”

Russell pled not guilty at a recent hearing, and a full trial is scheduled for April 28.

It appears that a part of the problem lies in the fact that the bear turned out to be a record 620 pounds. Trophy bears apparently need protection — more protection than innocent, frightened, 89-year-old ladies who just want to live in peace.

If the legal authorities from the state and the federal agencies involved were as quick to solve the bear problem when it began as they were to arrest Russell, they would not have this new bear problem.

Ogle’s bear story is not new. There are similar accounts of people in many parts of the country who have killed bears, cougars, and alligators resulting in trouble from the law. Numerous people have found themselves facing prison time and hefty fines for defending life and property.

Recently a teenage boy in a rural Utah town opened a barn door and was confronted by a cougar. His father promptly shot it. No charges were pressed. The officer who investigated said it was clear to him that it was an act of self-defense.

Utah law does not permit the killing of cougars for self-defense. Fortunately one law officer had some common sense. It’s time for government bureaucrats everywhere to become human and learn to think for themselves.