He started off with a simple warning.
“I speak before crowds several times a week, so public speaking is something I am accustomed to and I’ve had a lot of training. One of the things I have learned in public speaking is you don’t stand in front of a crowd [and say], ‘I really don’t know much about what I am going to talk about today,’’ he said. “So I won’t say that, but I will say it has been 21 years since what I am going to talk about has been my profession.”
He quickly added wildlife management has remained an interest since he left a position as a game warden to pursue a calling in ministry.
Torres studied at the University of Maine. The state of Maine hired him one summer to work as a back country ranger in Baxter State Park. The park covered over 230,000 acres. Only one road goes around the perimeter, and only on three sides.
“The first year I was in Baxter State Park, my wife was pregnant and she would hike in with me. She hiked in until she was about seven months pregnant,” he said. “The next summer when I was in Baxter State Park, she said, ‘I carried the baby last year, you carry him this year.’”
Torres was hired as a full-time game warden upon his graduation from college. His position brought him into contact with many others who are still in the profession to this day. His work as a game warden also provided him with his first education on bear management.
The education developed specifically through continuous run-ins with a bear named “Red Tags.”
The bear gained its name due to the three or so red tags it had on each ear. Red Tags received a new tag every time he was caught in a culvert trap and relocated. He was known as a nuisance bear.
“We removed Red Tags once and we brought him about 45 miles away. He was back in the park within 36 hours,” Torres recalled. “We caught Red Tags again and brought him 65 miles away across several significant rivers. It took about four days and he was back in the park.”
According to Torres, Red Tags learned quickly campers were not “so good” with their food, in terms of storing it responsibly. Some campers even voluntarily provided the bear with scraps from their tables.
Added Torres, “He got to the point where he would kind of push [the campers] aside and have his fill of the food. It was just a matter of time before this bear hurt someone.”
Red Tags met his end at the hands of the young game warden when he interrupted a gathering of Torres’ friends and family. It was not the first animal Torres had killed. However, Red Tags’ death bothered him.
“It was the summer and there was no way to get this animal out. I basically killed it and we drug it into the woods and that was it,” he said. “It really bothered me. What a waste of a really magnificent animal.”
Torres found himself talking with an older game warden soon after the death of Red Tags. He told the older man how much it upset him to kill the bear for nothing.
The other warden looked at Torres and said, “You know, back in the day when I was young, we never had to destroy the bears, and we had no problems with them.”
Torres asked him why there were no problems with bears.
The veteran warden responded, “There were two reasons why we didn’t have problems with bears. One, we had open dumps. ... The other reason why we never had problems with bears was because back in the day before the animal rights activists got onto us, we would just simply teach the bear a lesson.”
His words confounded Torres. The young game warden asked the veteran “how in the world” the game wardens taught a bear a lesson.
“Well,” he responded, “when we would catch a bear in a trap, instead of relocating it, we would just whoop it with a 2-by-4. If you did it to a bear, they would learn to fear people and they would never come back around.”
Torres then took a more serious tone as he mentioned the large bear population in Tennessee. He said the repopulation of the animals are thanks to a lot of work completed by Cherokee National Forest and by Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“There were less than 200 black bears in all of Tennessee just 100 years ago,” he said. “A bear will go in the woods, but a bear prefers a certain type of woods.”
Logging practices in Eastern Tennessee reportedly destroyed most of the hardwood. The trees were then replaced with the faster-growing softwood trees. Researchers discovered the bears prefer the mature hardwood forests. The hardwood trees also provided the bears with nourishment through nuts like chestnuts and acorns.
He said it took around 50 years for the bear population to increase.
Torres concluded by urging anyone who sees a bear near their house to remove any birdfeeders or outside dog food bowls and contact the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. He said the bears often are drawn to birdseed in feeders.