The decree of the TRGA of Trento establishes that, considering that the accident between the bear and the hikers was not very serious, before deciding the killing of the animal it is necessary to apply other less drastic measures foreseen by the Interregional action plan for the conservation of the Brown Bear in the central-eastern Alps (more briefly called PACOBACE). These measures are capture, in order to put a radio collar on the bear or to transfer it to another area, or capture in order to keep it in captivity.
The debate over the fate of JJ4 could therefore continue. In recent days, the Minister of the Environment Sergio Costa had intervened, who said he was against the culling of the bear. After Fugatti had refused to withdraw the order as he requested, Costa had resorted to the State Attorney. It is not the first time that the fate of bears involved in accidents with people makes people discuss: the way in which the reintroduction of bears in Trentino has been managed.
Brown bears in Trentino
In Italy when we talk about bears we refer to brown bears, Ursus arctos according to the scientific classification. There are three small different populations: one in the central Alps, particularly in the west of Trentino; one in the territory of the municipality of Tarvisio, in the province of Udine, which borders on Slovenia; and a third in the central Apennines, in particular within the Abruzzo Lazio and Molise National Park and in the surrounding territories. For the latter population we speak of a Marsican brown bear (Ursus Marsicanus), which is a subspecies of the brown bear.
Of these populations one, the one to which the bear JJ4 belongs, did not exist until 1999. In the course of a few centuries, in fact, the bears from Trentino, as well as those from the rest of the Alpine arc, were brought to extinction due to hunting . Between the late nineties and the early 2000s, ten Slovenian specimens were reintroduced thanks to Life Ursus, a project funded by the European Union. Today it is estimated that about fifty bears are present in the Adamello Brenta Natural Park.
In winter, bears hibernate, while in summer they are active and, in the case of bears, they can have litters to look after: this is why sightings and encounters are more frequent in summer.
The rules on culling bears
In 2008, four years after the end of Life Ursus, the autonomous provinces of Trentino-Alto Adige, the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region, the Lombardy Region, the Veneto Region, the Ministry of the Environment and the Higher Institute for the protection and environmental research (ISPRA) approved PACOBACE, to regulate the management and conservation of bear populations in the central-eastern Alps. In this document, the possibility of killing bears is provided only in derogation and with:
the purpose of preventing serious damage, in the interest of public safety or for research and reintroduction, provided that there are no alternative solutions and that the application of the derogation does not affect the maintenance of the population in a satisfactory state of conservation.
The document explains that the dangerousness of a bear is generally linked to its “addiction” and its “degree of confidence” with people. An exception is that of bears with cubs, or bears intent on defending a carcass they are eating. In fact, bears are mainly vegetarian animals and, with exceptions, they do not see a threat in people, but neither are they interested in approaching them. However, if a bear gets used to the presence of human beings, it could approach more often and increase the risk situations for people. Interventions against bears that prove to be “problematic” (including culling) are designed to ward off future problems.
In 2015, at the request of the autonomous province of Trento, chapter 3 of the PACOBACE was modified to change the definition of “problematic bear” and expand the caseload for killing. A table in the document lists the cases of behavior for which the possibility of killing is provided (indicated with the letter “k”, in the right column), including that in which a «bear attacks (with physical contact) to defend their little ones », which seems to have been the case for the bear JJ4.
The 2015 changes, requested because of the population growth of the bear population, the increase in damage caused by bears and close encounters of animals with people, were criticized by the WWF. According to the environmental association, the document should be brought back to the original version to avoid “the possibility of killing even in the case of bears who have simply done what nature has taught them”. In Abruzzo, the WWF always says, bears are constantly approaching countries, but this does not lead to cullings as can instead be expected from PACOCEBA.
How to avoid unpleasant accidents with bears
According to bear experts and environmental associations, there would be no major problems with bears if the people living in the territories in which they are present were more informed and used to dealing with them. In particular, WWF says, residents and tourists should follow certain rules when hiking in the mountains:
- stay on the paths;
- speak out loud;
- keep your dog on a leash;
- do not get close to wildlife, not even to take a photograph;
- do not leave food available to animals;
- stay still or move slowly away in the event of a close encounter, and do not hit the animals.
Some of these rules were applied admirably effectively by the boy who was filmed at the end of May while walking away from a bear, also in the province of Trento. The rules, WWF explains, should be followed especially in areas where bears with cubs are present. The authorities for their part should take care of properly reporting these areas.
Andrea Mustoni, biologist in charge of the Scientific Research and Dissemination Area of the Adamello Brenta Park and coordinator of Life Ursus, in 2017, said that communication on behaviors to be taken by institutions and their application is important to the Courier from Trentino: “Given that zero risk does not exist, it is demonstrated globally that the more communication you do, the less aggression there is.” On that occasion Mustoni had remembered that even if in 2002 the province of Trento had decided on the need for a communication plan regarding coexistence with bears, it took 15 years for that plan to be prepared. Three years ago, Mustoni said, it was still not fully applied, however.