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Eugene Weekly : News : 7.24.08




Is a Fed Bear a Dead Bear?

Florence has bears in the backyard

By Cali Bagby

Dead bears are something that Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, deals with every spring and summer. This July has already rung up a death toll of eight black bears on the central Oregon coast. These animals were charged with bad-bear behaviors such as eating garbage, charging people and breaking into homes. Rather than killing the bears, Fahy says it is possible to deter them using techniques from loud noises to employing “bear dogs.”

Black Bear

Do conflicts arise when bears intrude into people’s domains or are there conflicts because people intrude into the bear’s domain? Whichever way you view it there are problems. “A lot of what we do is meet with the public and look at what caused the problem,” says Fahy about the nonprofit organization where he works. Often people make honest mistakes like feeding pets outside, leaving out bird feeders (black bears love black oil sunflower seeds) or leaving trash vulnerable to be opened. One solution is for people to remove bird feeders for at least two weeks or to at least move the feeder to a place where the bears cannot easily reach the seeds.

Meat scraps should not be tossed into the compost and bags of any type of food should not be left out in the open. It is important to never feed the bears. If a bear taps on a window it is likely because someone has been feeding that bear through that window, says Fahy. The bears bear the brunt of human mistakes. “As the old saying goes, a fed bear is a dead bear,” says Fahy. “But even if bears are habituated these bears can break their habits.”

Tami Wagner, an assistant district wildlife biologist in the North Coast Watershed District, also suggests people with bears in their area purchase air horns to scare the bears away, but Wagner doesn’t see it as a solution. “Bears are very intelligent,” says Wagner. “They learn garbage has food that is worth the effort to get making it a habit really hard to break.”

For the last 15 years Fahy has seen results from lightly hazing these wild creatures. Hazing includes banging pots and pans, throwing stones and sticks and using trained Karelian bear dogs. These bear dogs were originally bred in Finland and western Russia to hunt bear and moose. According to www.beardogs.org “Just as a border collie has an instinct for moving sheep, some dogs out of each litter are born with an instinct for handling bears safely.” Bear dogs are used in the U.S. to deter, monitor and patrol bears, and even sniff out food attractants. 

“I was surprised that the bears didn’t come back,” says Fahy, who looks for alternate ways to deal with predators. “It’s unfortunate that it costs more to have someone trained to go out and haze bears and maintain Karelian dogs than to have someone go out and set a trap,”

A possible reason for the recent upsurge in encounters with bears in urban areas may be attributed to the cool spring, which has cause certain natural vegetation to be a few weeks late, but Fahy remains unconvinced that a lack of berries is the only problem. “Florence has bloomed,” says Fahy. “There hasn’t been great planning for greenways and corridors.” As cities grow, wild animals often get confused and stumble into areas where they don’t belong. “I’ve seen bears in areas you wouldn’t dream of seeing bears in,” says Fahy who has been working with wildlife for over 30 years.

Fahy suggests that the ODFW make public service announcements to remind people that bears are coming out of hibernation and that people need to keep on eye on any food that is left out. This message is important in the spring when bears start to become active and are very hungry. Fahy is concerned that there are no billboards or bumper stickers reminding people to take proper steps in order to ensure more peaceful relationships with these bears. The ODFW say it has tried to spread the word about bear activity through newspapers, television and the radio. Wagner has seen less garbage and birdfeeders in areas by Waldport and Yachats in the last couple weeks after press releases were sent out.

If too many black bears are lost to Oregon’s habitat their role may not be seen until it is too late. It may be hard for some who fear these predators to realize that black bears help to spread seeds and are scavengers that help keep the environment clean. “Often people won’t see the benefit of these predators until they are gone,” says Fahy.