Feeding the bears is something that is more dangerous than most people realize because it habituates the bears to humans and human food. Close interactions between humans and bears create danger for both.
In August, 2014, a California woman was attacked by a bear in her back yard in Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe, after allegedly feeding the animal and faces charges for the act of feeding the bears. According to news reports, the woman has a alleged history of bear-feeding behavior. Wildlife officials said at least three bears were either euthanized or hit by cars as a result of a Lake Tahoe backyard feeding station. The case is under active investigation and may or may not be heard in court, but if the California woman is cited, she could have a misdemeanor charges leveled on her which is punishable with a maximum jail sentence of six months and a fine of $1,000.
In another case of criminal bear-feeding, a 70-year-old Washington state woman was criminally charged with feeding bears at her house on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. She described the animals as “gentle giants” in news reports, in apparent disregard for how dangerous her actions had been. The arrest occurred in May of this year and attracted media attention because it represented the first time case of criminal bear-feeding had been heard in a Washington State court. In the Washington case, wildlife agents removed seven black bears from the neighborhood where they had been fed and euthanized five for aggressive behavior.
Individual homeowners are not the only demographic experiencing conflicts over feeding bears. Campers in Michigan at Grand Island National Recreation area in Lake Superior were reporting bear encounters at close range. This was a indication that the bears there had become habituated to human food. One wildlife biologist there summed up the situation as, “a human problem.”
Bear feeding is dangerous for the people and the bear. Wildlife biologists have a saying that, “A fed bear is a dead bear,” to refer to the fact that bears easily become habituated to human because bears become habituated to humans quickly and easily, then begin to act aggressively to obtain what they want.
A U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologist at Alligator River/ Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in Manteo, North Carolina, where there have also been numerous bear problems, explained that it is extremely difficult to “un-teach” a bear once it has learned to expect food from human beings: When a bears associates food with humans, it begins to expect food every time it sees a human. An additional consideration is that the food being given to the bears by humans does not represent proper bear nutrition.
The ease with which bears become habituated to humans is why biologists caution campers and tourists to never feed the bears or leave food where bears can access it. Wildlife officials also remind campers and tourists that mother bears will aggressively defend their young out of a protection instinct and not necessarily a desire for food.
Wildlife officials have an important role in educating people about the value of connecting with nature while also teaching what represents healthy and safe interactions. One of the best ways to remember how extremely dangerous bear feeding can be for both the humans and the animals is to realize that bears are wild animals.
By Lane Therrell