Bear Feeding Ban Starts March 22
Pennsylvanians are reminded that a new regulation that makes feeding bears illegal takes effect on March 22, said Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross.
Under the new regulation, it is unlawful to intentionally "lay or place food, fruit, hay, grain, chemical, salt or other minerals that may cause bears to congregate or habituate an area." The exceptions to this regulation are "normal or accepted farming, habitat management practices, oil and gas drilling, mining, forest management activities or other legitimate commercial or industrial practices."
The intent of this regulation is to protect the public from bears, not to put a stop to other wildlife feeding or songbird feeding. However, the new regulation enables Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officers to issue written notices to cease songbird and other wildlife feeding if bears are being attracted to the area and causing a nuisance for property owners or neighbors.
"We recognize that people enjoy viewing wildlife, and this regulatory change is not intended to impact that activity," Ross said. "But, in light of the state's growing bear and human populations in some areas, the agency has an obligation to take action to reduce conflicts when and where we can. All too often, human complaints about bears can be traced back to intentional or unintentional feeding of bears. To protect the public, as well as bears, we need to avoid the dangers of conditioning bears to finding food around homes. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise."
"Audubon commends the Game Commission for openly dealing with this issue which will help to head off serious human injuries or deaths, and reduce the need to destroy bears," said Cindy Dunn, Audubon Pennsylvania executive director. "Fortunately, there are many things those of us interested in feeding birds can do to prevent attracting bears."
Dunn also reminded wildlife enthusiasts to follow common tips on how to help prevent bird feeders from attracting nuisance bears:
- Hang bird feeders at least 10 feet above the ground on a wire strung between trees or poles. The feeder also should be at least four feet from any vertical structure that a bear could climb - such as a tree, pole or the side of house - and at least four feet below any overhead structure - such as a tree limb - that would enable a bear to reach down to the feeder.
- Avoid using items that are more likely to attract a bear such as suet, black-oil sunflower seeds, peanut butter or hummingbird feeder mixes.
- Bring your feeders in at night. If bears are in the area, consider taking them down completely for a temporary period until the bears leave the area. If bears already frequent your property, consider limiting bird feeding to the period when most bears den up for the winter - December through March.
Ross noted that the Board of Game Commissioners' action is consistent with a recommendation from the agency's Nuisance Black Bear Management Committee report that noted feeding bears leads to increases in both nuisance complaints and chances of bears injuring humans. Other Committee recommendations were: reduce bear numbers in the Pocono Mountains region, which is experiencing the greatest increase in human-bear conflicts, by creating an extended bear hunting season in that region; increase large audience public education and outreach efforts to promote prevention and awareness of black bear problems; develop negative-reinforcement conditioning and translocation guidelines; and develop a statewide system for recording nuisance bear complaints.
Bear abundance and distribution, once low because of high mortality and widespread deforestation, have more than tripled in Pennsylvania since 1980, according to Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist and chairman of the Nuisance Black Bear Management Committee. Expansion appears to be continuing into southeastern and western counties, and the state's population of bears is estimated to be 15,000.
"Pennsylvanians need to understand that habituating bears to humans can lead to conflicts and the potential for serious injury," Ternent said. "Feeding wildlife, whether the activity is intended for birds or other wildlife, has the potential to draw bears into a certain area. Once bears become accustomed to finding food there, they will return, which is when they become a problem for homeowners and neighbors.
"Capturing and moving nuisance bears is costly and often only a temporary way to address the problem. It is difficult to find a place in Pennsylvania where habituated bears can be released and not be expected to encounter people. Many bears also return to the area they were removed from after being released. That is why wildlife agencies tell people that a 'fed bear is a dead bear,' because eventually there are no other alternatives. The best solution is to address the cause of the problem, which is the goal of this new regulation."
According to a national study, of the more than 500 people injured by black bears between 1960 and 1980 in North America, 90 percent were the result of bears conditioned to people's food and habituation to human beings. Based on studies at national parks, there is evidence that improved sanitation and no-feeding regulations can reduce injuries resulting from human-bear encounters.
In 1995, the Game Commission enacted a regulation to prohibit the feeding of elk to address nuisance complaints about property damage caused by elk. Since that time, only two individuals have been charged with illegally feeding elk.
"The strongest argument against feeding bears is public safety," Ternent said. "Attracting bears into residential areas increases the chance for vehicle collisions. More importantly, the more time a bear spends near homes, the more likely it is to encounter people. And, though most encounters between bears and people are harmless, it only makes sense that minimizing the number of encounters reduces the risk of that rare one that results in injury. Once bears learn that homes are places to expect food, they can become very persistent, and cases of bears breaking into homes have been reported."
Individuals convicted of violating the new regulation are subject to a $100 fine. The Board included a sunset provision in the regulation, which requires the Board to reauthorize the regulation by Oct. 31, 2004.
The Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to the new regulation on Oct. 8, and then, after a public comment period, gave final adoption to the measure on Jan. 7. However, Game Commission regulations must be printed in the "Pennsylvania Bulletin," the Commonwealth's official record of legal notices, before taking effect. This regulation will be published in the "Pennsylvania Bulletin" on March 22.