On June 20, 2020 in Foix, a demonstration favorable to the bear brought together several dozen people, who came to denounce the death of a young male killed by gunshots, whose body had been found on June 9. - Rémy Gabalda / AFP

  • Saturday morning, two gatherings are planned around the question of the bear in the Pyrenees: in Toulouse for the partisans of the plantigrade, at the edge of the pond of Lers in Ariège for the opponents.
  • Already lively, the tension between the two camps has risen several notches since the discovery of a bear shot dead on June 9.
  • In the middle, the State tries as best it can to play the referees, without satisfying either one or the other.

Two places, two atmospheres. Saturday morning, supporters of the bear in the Pyrenees meet in Toulouse. A “telemanifestation” is organized in parallel on the Internet for supporters of the cause who could not go to the Occitanie prefecture. Meanwhile, a "Pyrenean day for freedom" must start 140 km further south, on the banks of the Lers lake, perched at an altitude of 1,264 m in Ariège.

Opponents of the plantigrade will be found there in numbers, not far from Ustou, where the discovery of the corpse of a male of about four years old, shot dead on June 9, has exacerbated tensions already acute. City-dwellers versus mountain-dwellers, we couldn't do more “cliché”. However, many members of the "anti" camp, breeders and farmers in the first place, claim this opposition between those who do not know the world of summer pastures and those who live there.

"The Ariégeois are not for sale", even for a bear killer https://t.co/w6EsjEItHv

- 20 Minutes (@ 20Minutes) June 18, 2020

Witness the demonstration of pro-bears in Foix on June 20, whose detractors mock as much the low turnout (a few dozen people) as they get irritated by its media coverage, deemed disproportionate. Or the cohesion displayed against the reward promised by the NGO Sea Sheperd (10,000 euros, then reassessed to 30,000 euros) to find the bear killer. This omerta is supported by the majority of local elected officials, including the president of the Ariège departmental council Christine Téqui, expected on Saturday at the pond of Lers.

State procrastinates over replacement of killed bear

In the midst of all this, the State is trying to put the pieces together. Thursday, the prefect of Occitanie Etienne Guyot, coordinator of the Pyrenees massif, led in Toulouse a meeting of the group "pastoralism and bears". There was talk of big money (about 10 million euros released in 2020 to promote breeders-plantigrade cohabitation) and a big kick in touch when raising the thorny question of replacing the animal killed earlier this month.

"This point is not settled, said the prefecture in a press release, with carefully weighed words. If necessary, this would not contravene the commitment of the President of the Republic, since it would not be a reintroduction. Obviously, neither the pro nor the anti-bear present at the meeting were satisfied at the exit. Some representatives of breeders, farmers (FNSEA, Young Farmers) and chambers of agriculture boycotted the event outright, and held a press conference a few meters away, in front of Saint-Etienne cathedral.

Philippe Lacube in front of the Occitanie prefecture, July 2, 2020 in Toulouse. - Nicolas Stival / 20 Minutes

Ariégeois Philippe Lacube has snubbed what he describes as a "catch-couillon" where, according to the president of the association of chambers of agriculture of the Pyrenees, "those who represent the territories are always in the minority", since they only weigh a third of the votes vis-à-vis state representatives and environmental associations. The breeder installed in Cabannes, at the foot of the Beille plateau, spoke on behalf of colleagues "at the end of the rope".

Uncertain number of bears

The number of sheep compensated almost doubled between 2018 and 2019. It went from 625 to 1,129 animals officially recognized as victims of the bear, in particular through derocations, these phenomena of collective panic which provoke the fall of sheep at the foot of 'a cliff.

Emmanuel Macron wants to stop the arrival of bears in the Pyrenees https://t.co/tW0K1Fb9zA

- 20 Minutes (@ 20Minutes) January 15, 2020

As the prefectural press release, Philippe Lacube evoked the commitments made by Emmanuel Macron in January in Pau, which he translates as follows: "no further release of bears in the Pyrenees", "the exit from the territory of violent bears, very predatory "And, point" most important "for him," governance placed in the hands of local populations and elected officials of the territory ".

"Since 1997, decisions have been taken from Paris", he pleads. Either since the first reintroductions of Slovenian bears in 1996-97, come to revitalize an indigenous population reduced to five individuals and promised to extinction. Today, even the census is debated. Where official figures show around fifty ursids, mainly in Ariège, the epicenter of the dispute, some opponents push up to "70 or 80" individuals.

Our bear file

Battle of images on social networks?

Pro-bears say that some breeders do not protect their herds well enough? The anti release their statistics and reply that the predation figures are the same, regardless of the type of guarding (patous dogs, nocturnal regrouping, etc.). Aware that defenders of nature have the advantage in public opinion, they pose pastoralism as guarantor of biodiversity, thanks to the maintenance of open environments in the mountains "which avoid fires as in Australia".

Some say they are ready for a real war of images, where photos of dying sheep after an attack would compete with that of the bear slaughtered in Ustou, which has become viral. In summary, the storm that had threatened for years around the Ursine question in the Pyrenees, with a very heavy climate and some lightning here and there, broke out on June 9. And in a sky so charged with electricity, it seems impossible to see even a hint of thinning.


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