Wildlife Managers Who Say ‘Don’t Feed Bears’ Have New Laws to Cite

One new law subjects anyone who “intentionally feeds or attempts to feed” bears and other wild carnivores to a fine of up to $1,000, Cenci said.

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As black bears make their usual fall showing in neighborhoods around the state, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is reminding residents that feeding those animals is not only a bad idea, it’s also against the law.

Two new state laws went into effect in June that prohibit – intentionally or otherwise – leaving food or food waste in places where it can attract bears and other wild carnivores.

“This is the time of year when bears are looking to build up as much fat as possible to get through winter,” said Mike Cenci, deputy WDFW police chief. “Putting food scraps out for them or leaving garbage cans or pet food exposed is  an open invitation for them to pay you and your neighbors a visit.” 

While black bears rarely attack people in the wild, they can pose a danger to public safety if they become accustomed to humans, Cenci said. That can present some tough choices for wildlife officers responsible for managing those animals, he said.

“Too often, relocating a bear that has learned to scavenge people’s leftovers results just moves the problem somewhere else,” Cenci said. “When that happens, we often have to destroy those animals.”

One new law subjects anyone who “intentionally feeds or attempts to feed” bears and other wild carnivores to a fine of up to $1,000, Cenci said. Another law authorizes a fine of $87 for those who “negligently feed or attempt to feed” those animals.

Cenci said people can avoid feeding wild animals unintentionally by:

·         Securing garbage and compost, particularly when bears have been reported in the area.
·         Removing attractants such as bird feeders.
·         Keeping pet food and pets inside or otherwise secured.
·         Cleaning barbecue grills.

Black bears are by far the most common species among Washington’s large wild carnivores, with up to 30,000 estimated to range across the state. They eat both meat and vegetation, increasing the likelihood that they will be attracted to human food, pet food and garbage.

Cougars and wolves will scavenge for food, but more often prey on other animals, wild and domestic, Cenci said.

“Food is involved virtually every time we respond to a call about a bear sighted in a neighborhood,” he said. “The new laws are designed to encourage people to take more responsibility for that situation, both for their own safety and for the welfare of bears and other wildlife. 

What do you think of the new bear laws? How would you feel if slapped with a fine the next time bears got into your garbage? Tell us in comments.

Bob McCoy November 14, 2012 at 02:00 AM
"A fed bear is a dead bear," is an accurate statement regarding bears and humans. A significant coalition of groups and individuals (DAMHIKT) worked to get the law passed, for the safety of all species. Recently I arranged several carnivore outreaches in Sammamish; WDFW (Fish & Wildlife) personnel explained the new law to attendees, as part of discussing coexistence. Essentially, most WDFW officers will treat the first occurrence as a training opportunity. The second or third occurrence, with no mitigation by the human will likely result in an infraction. While homeowners may feel put upon, this law makes us all less likely to have conflict with wild animals. Animals that work for a living are not stupid, and if you put out a bird feeder with thousands of calories, or a large amount of pet food, that is a quick gain. Spilled bird seed attracts mice and rats, which attract small carnivores, which attracts large carnivores. A while back, a photographer purposely attracted a cougar by leaving out food. That cougar is now dead, thanks to the idiocy of a human. That is the purpose of the law--to make all species safe. A few years ago, a black bear mauled and emptied my bird feeder.We had not seen a bear in our neighborhood in at least 10 years, so I considered the event a warning shot. Now I check to see when the bears have denned, before putting out feeders, and keep track of when to bring them in. If you are fined under the new law, you probably deserved it.


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