We all must make it socially unacceptable to feed the bears
At a trailer park in Tahoe several resident children are seen handing food to two little 15-pound bear cubs. A car comes down Highway 89 and the driver notices a young bear about 50 feet off to the side, so he pulls over, rolls down the window and talks sweetly to the bear while throwing fruit out of the car’s window. A man watches as his neighbor opens up her kitchen window and tosses a bunch of grapes and a roasted chicken to a bear who is obviously waiting for the daily handout from his “friend.” An eight-year-old girl cups granola in her outstretched hands and a bear licks it up while her father smiles and takes photographs.
The list of disturbing eyewitness local reports like these could fill an entire page in the newspaper. It is never-ending and extremely discouraging to hear about. Sandwiched between these kinds of reports are the calls we get from people complaining that the bears are becoming aggressive.
When we ask for the callers to explain what the bears are doing, we are told they are coming up on decks, looking into windows, opening car doors, going into unsecured garages and houses and not running away when they see people.
Why should they run away? People have fed them and now they think people are their friends. This isn’t aggression, this is domestication. And it’s a disgraceful shame. Black bears (the only species left in California and Nevada) are extremely intelligent and quickly learn where to find food. If we humans are teaching them ” even just one in every hundred of us ” to expect a meal from our hands or our kitchens, and if the bears, who live to eat, respond to our coaching precisely the way any other intelligent being would, why is anyone surprised?
Why is their taming classified by some as aggression? Because bears are big, have teeth, and claws, and are powerful?
If our local bears were turning aggressive I promise you we would have several people being killed on a daily basis. You would be reading about all the human lives lost due to “attack bears” in every edition of our newspaper. We have a lot of bears and a lot of people all living in exactly the same habitat, and yet not one person has ever been killed by a black bear in California or Nevada in all of history.
Meanwhile, we humans kill more than 2,000 bears in California each and every year through legal hunting, depredation permits, vehicle collisions and illegal poaching.
A bear doesn’t know the difference between Simon Smallmind, Tiffany Tizzyhead and Grady Goodfellow. He simply responds to having received food from a human and expects his good fortune to continue. He believes any person will give him treats. So, even if you never fed a bear and never would, a bear who was fed by someone else just might look at you as though you’re running a soup kitchen.
There is a positive side to this whole unfortunate dilemma. The majority of people know it is wrong, irresponsible and foolish to feed the bears. These people are calling us expressing their outrage and pleading with us to make it stop. We are trying ” really hard, but we need your help too. Please put a “Don’t Feed Our Bears” bumper sticker on your car and a poster in your shop or office. If we plaster this message everywhere there should be no excuse for anyone not to see it.
If we continue to strongly and firmly express our disapproval of those who feed the bears and let them know it is unacceptable behavior, it will soon be as socially inadmissible as driving drunk.
Ann Bryant is the executive director of the BEAR League.