Brian McGrory

Tough landing for roaming bear

What exactly will our state environmental officials do for an encore after knocking a black bear high out a tree because he had the audacity to visit Chestnut Hill? Pave over the Public Garden? Defoliate the Arnold Arboretum? How about rounding up every wild turkey in Eastern Massachusetts and executing them en masse?

Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, it’s nothing more than pure, blind luck that there’s a happy ending, or at least a pleasant middle, to the story of the wandering Brookline bear that seems to favor nice places.

The majestic creature was taking refuge 50 feet up in towering pine when a state Environmental Police officer ascended in a cherry picker and fired a tranquilizer into his hide. There was just one small element missing from this ridiculously conceived plan: Any padding on the ground to break the bear’s fall.


As it was, the sedated bear climbed 30 feet higher before losing his grip, smashing into branches during his plunge earthward, and crash-landing in a fortunately placed bush. He should have been dead, in front of schoolchildren and neighbors, no less. Instead, he got tossed on some ice and hauled out toward the Berkshires.

Afterward, a state Environmental Police official got up at a news conference and said, “We have to, as a populace, learn to live with the bears.”

Thank you, sir. And thank you even more for that real-life example. But if shooting tranquilizers at a bear 50 feet in the air and watching him plummet to the ground is his idea of learning to “live with the bears,” I’d hate to be around this guy when he decides he’s not going to take it anymore.

As all this was unfolding yesterday, I had this nagging sense in the back of my little mind that other places did things a little differently, so I searched the archives until — bang — there it was. In April, on the campus of the University of Colorado, a black bear had climbed a tree, only to be tranquilized by authorities. A student photographer captured the fall, the bear’s arms and legs spread wide in midair.


When I checked the famous image, I saw it, on the bottom, beneath the tree — thick, wide cushions, the type that a fire department might spread out to receive someone jumping from a burning building.

A story in the Boulder paper even said, and I quote, “The bear fell out of the tree and onto pads that had been placed on the ground. The bear landed on its back.” A local police officer told the reporter, “It was really a perfect landing.”

Here’s what the Brookline police chief said after our bear landed in a bush with a tree branch still clutched in his paws: “Bears are resilient animals.” This from an undoubtedly perfectly nice guy who probably learned everything he knows about bears on Wikipedia an hour earlier.

I asked Reggie Zimmerman about all this. He’s the spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and a very good one at that. But Reggie, why did they not lay out pads, or a measly futon, or a bag of marshmallows, to cushion the bear’s fall?

“The terrain and the time frame did not present the opportunity,” he said.


Terrain? This is Boston good-guy Alan Leventhal’s Chestnut Hill yard we’re talking about. The Levanthals don’t have “terrain.” They have landscaping. Were the state environmental officials worried about ruining the azaleas and hydrangeas?

Exactly none of this is Zimmerman’s fault. I know this.

But what exactly was the time issue? Was everyone worried that morning would quickly bump into lunch? That the bear would make a break for the Chestnut Hill Mall?

We should be celebrating this bear that seems to know his way around Massachusetts more than any recent governor — and was happier to be here.

My best bet is, though, that we’ve lost him. He’s got to be thinking, like so many others, that this state has lost its mind.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.