Several area beekeepers have lost hives to bears.
There have been the usual tipped over garbage cans and a couple of break-ins into cabins and a garage. But no one was killed and so some homeowners wondered what’s the big deal about a little food left out for the hungry animals. And black bears appeared to be exceedingly hungry this spring and early summer, possibly because of a severe depletion of stored fat over the harsh winter and the slow start to vegetation this spring. So giving them a little ‘boost’ shouldn’t be a big deal.
But in Oregon, state wildlife officials became the target of outrage when they shot and killed a wild male black bear that had become so tame people were taking pictures with it. People were leaving human food on a regular basis for the animal. The bear had become so hooked on the human offerings it would not go back into the wild to seek its natural food and simply waited, usually out in the open, for a handout. Eventually the bear was deemed a public nuisance and potential threat to the local human population and property and so it was killed. Though many undoubtedly thought feeding the bear was a harmless or even beneficial act, in truth this bear was the victim of human ignorance.
Sometimes the worst thing that can be done for wild animals is to feed them human food. In fact it should never be done unless there is no other alternative and survival of the species is at stake. Arizona wildlife biologists have put forth a saying: A fed bear is a dead bear because nearly all that become hooked on human food eventually have to be killed.
As bear hunters are well aware, once a black bear finds a source of human food it will keep returning. Once that source is gone it will look elsewhere where there are humans. In their minds human scent becomes associated with something good to eat. One criticism the Oregon officials got was that many said the bear should have been relocated to a remote area. But bears, especially male bears, do not do well with relocation outside their natural territory as they then come into conflict with the established bear population and are usually driven away, and return to their old habits.
So what should be done about black bears that cross paths with humans? If the intent is to give the bear the best chance of survival, then every effort should be made to instill in them a fear of humans, so that rather than associate humans and food, they associate humans with fear. Yet most people who leave food out for black bears are not interested in the welfare of the animal. The motive is to serve human interests and not the welfare of the animal.
A life-long resident of northern Minnesota, Terry Mejdrich is a former math teacher and farmer turned mystery author and freelance writer.