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A Fatal Bear Attack Fuels a Fight Over Rewilding

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In the mountains of northern Italy, when there’s a wedding in the village, friends often paint the names of the happy couple on a bedsheet and hang it near the main road. A similar sheet currently hangs above the roundabout in the small town of Caldes, in the province of Trentino, but it features just one name: Andrea. Sempre con noi. “Andrea. With us always,” punctuated with a single spray-painted heart.

It’s been two weeks since the body of Andrea Papi was found in the forests near his hometown. The 26-year-old trail-running enthusiast was out training when he was attacked and killed by a bear. His death—the first fatal bear attack in western Europe in modern times—has sparked fierce debate in Trentino and beyond. As media commentators and online comment sections cast around for someone to blame, attention has turned to scientists and the province’s Wildlife Department. Were it not for a 25-year-old rewilding program, the argument goes, the bear would not have been there.

By the mid-1990s, brown bears (Ursus arctos) had become functionally extinct in the Alps. The…

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