Bear Country

A few comments about this week’s lead story, about the encounter between a bear and a Colorado woman. If the location sounds somehow familiar, it’s because that’s where I live.

Ouray County is pretty big (550 square miles), but is otherwise pretty small (around 4,100 people). And since I’m a volunteer with both our EMS agency and (occasionally) the local sheriff’s office, I was quite aware of this event while it was happening. (I’m happy to say it wasn’t in my response area, so I didn’t have to go.)

Let’s start with the story, from True’s 9 August 2009 issue:

This is Why There’s a Rule

Donna Munson, 74, fed dog food to bears around her mountain home near Ouray, Colo., despite 10 years of pleas from state officials to stop. “It got to the point where she never opened her door for us, allowed us on her property or answered her phone,” a state Department of Wildlife spokesman said. Munson even built a wire fence around her porch so she could hand food through it directly to the bears. Munson’s handyman arrived to find her outside her home — being eaten by a bear. Responding sheriff’s deputies killed it, but Munson was already dead. Several other aggressive bears in the area have had to be killed this summer, and wildlife officials say they’ll likely have to kill about a dozen more: they’ve lost their natural feeding instincts and instead approach humans when they’re hungry. “More bears are going to be killed because of what this woman did,” said an angry local. “It’s a bad situation, and people are not happy about it.” (Ouray Plaindealer, Denver Post) …A fed bear is a dead bear.

I Know the Name

The woman’s name is familiar to me, but while I didn’t know her, many of my friends did. She was quite well known around town as someone who fed wild animals, despite knowing that feeding wild animals leads to their destruction — so she wasn’t exactly popular.

She bought huge bags of dog food, and had grain delivered for the deer and elk. As the story notes, she stopped answering the phone when the Dept. of Wildlife would call, since she couldn’t deal with the cognitive dissonance between what she knew to be true and her actions. She was actively participating in the destruction of animals she said she “loved.”

Sign: 'A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear'
Educational Campaign: You’ll often see signs like this in bear areas — wildlife officials are trying to protect the animals, but people don’t want to listen. My tagline is my nod to that frustrating job.

Feeding wildlife is illegal. Colorado wildlife officers knew for sure she was feeding them, but she had a big enough lot (40 acres), and it was wooded enough to provide cover to her house, that they couldn’t get the needed proof to prosecute her.

Munson's fenced-in porch — it didn't help
Munson’s Fence. It didn’t help: Investigation shows Munson was behind this fence when the bear attacked her through the fence. It then dragged her under the wire and carried her to the yard to eat her — the autopsy shows she was killed by the bear; family members hoped she had had a heart attack or something in the yard. Nope. This undated photo shows the Colorado Dept. of Wildlife on one of their many investigative visits. Note the green wheeled bin: it’s full of dog food. (Photo: Colorado DOW)

Promises, Promises

She kept promising to friends and family that she would stop, but when a hungry animal showed up at her house, she just couldn’t stand to say no — they were dependent on her. Still, not everything was fine if she continued to feed them: bears were getting more and more aggressive at places other than her home. A good friend lives near her, and a bear broke into their house last year and ate all the groceries that they had just brought home. (It especially liked the canned salmon. Yep: it knew there was something it wanted inside cans. Tearing the cans open was a cinch for the huge animal.)

That bear came back this year, too, and was around when my friends’ nephew, who was visiting for the summer, arrived on his bicycle from town. The bear chased the kid, who was quite naturally terrified. When the cops arrived to help scare it away, even gunshots didn’t get it to move away from the houses. It wasn’t afraid, and had to be killed: it had already proven itself aggressive. Anything that can tear open a steel can with a swipe of its paw can tear open a kid’s tender abdomen — or his head. (Tearing into a grizzled old lady isn’t much harder.)

I took this photo last spring of a bear on a home’s front porch about six miles from me. The bear had gone into the house and trashed it pretty well. The homeowner had once applied for a job with This is True. (Click to see larger.)


…a sheriff’s deputy keeps an eye on it as it sniffs around, trying to get back in for another snack. As you can see, he’s ready if the bear goes on the attack. In this case, it left the area and wasn’t killed.

It’s rare for bears to kill humans around here; the story here is only the third case in Colorado since the state has been keeping records on it. One in 1971, one in 1993, and this one, which was on Friday (7 August 2009). But it will happen more if people continue to feed them.

Thinking About It

I quoted someone I do know at the end of my story: “More bears are going to be killed because of what this woman did,” said an angry local. “It’s a bad situation, and people are not happy about it.”

That’s Kate Singer, who owns the restaurant where I have my staff meetings, Kate’s Place, in Ridgway. And she speaks for a lot of us. Humans have enough impact on wild animals by our presence; humans keep expanding, leaving them less and less room. “Such is life,” you might say, but do stupid humans really have to increase that impact by trying to tame them?

A neighbor about six miles up the road from me was feeding deer. What could be the harm in that? Well, their neighbors got really upset when mountain lions started hanging around, since it was so easy to get something to eat — herds of tender young deer — that were hanging around the neighborhood. The homeowners just didn’t think about the possible consequences of something as “innocent” as feeding deer. It’s just dumb, and it puts the animals and people in grave danger.

Trying to feed wild animals, whether it’s in your back yard or in a National Park, is a bad, bad idea. Look, take pictures, but give them space, and they — and we — will be better off for it. And if I have to publicize the nasty death of a friend of a friend to get the message across, I’ll gladly seize the opportunity.


The update I was putting here got long enough that I moved it to its own page.

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78 Comments on “Bear Country

  1. Well said. I don’t understand people’s ignorance. We call them “wild” animals for a reason. Because they are not “domesticated.” Domesticated animals need to be fed and cared for by people. Wild animals do not need people to feed them and will eat people as necessary to perpetuate “survival of the fittest!” Sadly, this forces those who wish to protect the animal into the position of having to then kill them for doing what comes naturally. Cause and effect is not that difficult to understand, people!

  2. Human emotions are a powerful thing. We see an animal, and we relate its expression to one we know, like ‘hungry’. And then the need to nurture kicks in, and…

    Pets teach us that animals are generally safe (false). Movies teach us that animals are human-like (false). We are given every reason in the world to believe animals are a known force, so it’s no wonder that some people can’t distinguish the difference.

    Now, I’m not advocating for the removal of TV and movies and pets from our lives. I’m just saying, there will always be those who cross the line and honestly believe in their hearts they are doing the right thing.

    Is education the answer? Laws? Neither one made a difference here. Maybe this is the example that someone else needs to wisen up? I hope so…

    I’m sure SOME people will get the message from this, and that definitely makes it worth my time to write it. -rc

  3. People seem to like codependent relationships, but don’t want to take responsibility for them. Feeding a wild animal creates a codependent relationship with that animal, and the others that follow it.

    I found it very interesting that the bear ate the woman, even though it was clear that she had intended to feed it by the barrow full of dog food. I guess she thought that she would be safe from the bear because she continued to provide it food. I guess no one had told the bear not to “bite the hand that feeds you.” Wild animals don’t understand the concept of gratitude or remorse.

    There is a law in my town against feeding wild birds in public places. I had always thought that it was because of the poop, until I started seeing a lot of footless blackbirds hanging around the fast food places. Normally these birds would fly around looking for food, sleeping in a different place every night. Because these birds are always staying and sleeping in the same place day after day, they get infected by a fungus that acts like leprosy from constantly using the same perches. It is spread to other birds who rest on these perches, and soon we have whole flocks of birds with no feet.

    If you want a pet, go to your local shelter and get a pet. There are plenty of domestic, tame animals that need a loving home. Then, once you have your pet, be responsible for it. Keep it clean, fed and housed, and protect it from predators, pests, disease, and unwanted pregnancy. This animal will depend on you, and it has generations of breeding to want to coexist with you. Don’t get a wild animal. Even if you raise it from a baby, it still has all its wild instincts and will some day act on those impulses. It is never fair to you or the wild animal.

    A good example of the wild animal reverting to instinct, despite being raised by loving humans: Roy Horn. -rc

  4. I hate going to national parks for the simple reason that the deer seem to *know* that not only humans will give them food, but that no one can do anything to hurt them while they take it.

    I once had a *big* buck with 8+ points stick his head over my shoulder to take the sandwich I was eating right out of my hands! I hadn’t held it out to him and I didn’t know he was even there until he loomed over my shoulder. Cute, huh? Not when one considers how much damage those antlers could have caused had he decided to fight me for the sandwich!

    Just this last week I went camping, and within 30 minutes of setting up the tent in an almost vacant campground, three deer walked into camp, begging for food. They were completely unfazed by the dog we had on a long leash that was growling at them. These things seem smart enough to know that dogs are expected to be leashed and couldn’t run after them. They weren’t even startled when I swung a stick at them. I actually had to throw rocks at them to get them to leave!

    On the way out I saw people in a big truck pulled over at the side of the road, hand-feeding bread to a doe… a little spotted fawn right by her side.

    And so the next generation learns not to fear humans, dogs, or the vehicles that come driving through the park.

  5. When will people learn that domesticated animals aren’t TRAINED to domestication… they are BRED to it! It takes lot of generations of deliberate breeding to result in a domesticated animal. You cannot ever domesticate an animal with “kindness” or food. It is impossible. And all you are creating is a problem. One that someone else is likely going to have to deal with. Way to help your neighbor. (sarcasm there)

    Just think of all the dogs that dog food would have fed… and all the horses that grain would have fed. If she had to feel altruistic… couldn’t she have helped the poor abused DOMESTIC animals in her area?!

  6. I live on 16 acres in northern California and have several bird feeders out. About this time of year, just before they migrate south, I have counted over 50 hummingbirds trying to get sugar water, over a hundred goldfinches, and around 100 grosbeaks, house finches, etc, all hanging around together.

    I have learned that this feeding does not keep them from migrating on schedule; when they are ready to go, they disappear practically overnight and I am left with whatever bird feed is extra at that point.

    I have also wondered if I am making them lazy, not having to hunt for food. I think not so much, since I don’t always refill them when empty and they don’t always notice right away when I do refill them. Sometimes I even wait a day or two just to break them of any lazy habits. Or am I making a nice all you can eat buffet for hawks? There are enough trees nearby that the hawks would have problems coming out of a dive if they did catch a bird and I seldom see them circling overhead. I don’t think four legged critters will start collecting, since the bird feeders are 10-15 feet off the ground and I have not once seen any four legged critters nearby except the tree squirrels, who I think I have mostly defeated (the feeders are far enough off the ground to be a painful drop, and hang from two foot long wires so that even if the squirrels did want to jump, they could get to the feeders but not back, and they seem smart enough to figure that out in advance).

    But I have always wondered what bad side effects I am causing.

    It’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer to this one — I’m sure other readers will weigh in. Seed feeders aren’t used here, since they attract deer (and sometimes bears). Some have hummingbird feeders, but they’re usually well above ground (second floor deck areas) to be well out of reach of bears. -rc

  7. Some people truly DO operate with little or no brains!

    We, in Michigan, have a little different problem. One of our big “sports” is hunting which is CLOSELY monitored by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). You have to be licensed to kill deer, there’s a limit on “kills” and any “kills” have to be reported.

    Almost every year we have some environmental activist or PETA-type person griping on the news about how horrible this “sport” is! Well, the truth is that the only real predator that’s left in most of the lower peninsula is a vehicle (car/truck), because although there have been reports of big cats, a few wolves, a bear here and there and maybe some adventuresome/hungry coyotes, the deer far outnumber them. When they breed/produce unchecked then they become sick (mostly tuberculosis) which can infect whole herds of cattle and other animals who all die very unkind deaths.

    Most hunters use the deer for food AND trophy and usually only “kill” what they can use to feed their families. Those are the “lucky” ones! I know far more who come home empty-handed but still enjoyed their time communing with nature. Most are not running unchecked just to kill Bambi to leave it rot and our DNR officers usually catch those that try to take more than their limit!

    Best of luck on YOUR state’s education program!

  8. Reminds me of the tale told by a Yosemite Park Ranger about the time he stopped a woman who was smearing HONEY ! on the face of her young child because she wanted to take a picture of a bear licking the honey off of her child’s face.

  9. What a great article and commentary. Not that what happened was a surprise but it’s really got me thinking. We live in suburbia next to a greenbelt that protects a salmon spawning stream. The local elementary school raises salmon fry and releases them into the spawning stream that travels between the school and its playground in an attempt to revitalize the river. Needless to say, this greenbelt goes for many miles and has many deer, coyotes, raccoons, and even bobcats and bears living in it. Most homes nearby this greenbelt are acre or less homesites although there are a few larger areas.

    In fact, Washington state encourages these sorts of plantings by offering classes and plaques for wildlife friendly yards. Realizing that our house was invading their natural habitat, we made a decision to plant native and berry producing plants on the back half of our yard to try to replace some of the lost habitat. We have a distinct clearing line that delineates the “natural” area from the “human” area. This clearing line does minimize the comfort level of the wild critters, but clearly we have to be careful to keep the “human” habitat uninteresting and unrewarding for any critter that chooses to cross the line.

    We have never seen the bear but a neighborhood two miles away which also abuts this greenbelt sees the bear every other year or so. We routinely see deer sleeping on our porch and have seen the bobcat probably three or four times over the last several years. When the missing cat posters go up, we know he is nearby.

    After reading this article, I am now torn over our decision. On the one hand, we are not feeding the wild animals anything unnaturally tasty or unusual but perhaps our wildlife buffet, albeit a natural one, is still a problem waiting to happen.

  10. …A fed bear is a dead bear.

    And a bear feeder is dead!

    Poetic Justice?

    I suppose posters would be tacky. 😉

    Hard to say for sure without seeing it. Send one in and I’ll let you know what I think! 🙂 -rc

  11. “Tearing into a grizzled old lady isn’t much harder”

    Even less harder when it’s a grizzly bear (sorry, couldn’t help it).

    I did of course choose that word on purpose, even though there are no grizzly bears in Colorado. Just browns…. -rc

  12. The first time we went to Yellowstone when I was a kid we learned never to feed a bear or have food where you don’t want the bear (as inside your tent). We saw the results despite Rangers warning people. I understand why people want to because they feel special to be more intimate with a wild animal. But wild is wild. People for some reason think it won’t happen to me but sadly it always will. Hard headed is a lousy excuse to die.

  13. Too bad for Donna Munson, but it’s even worse for both the neighbors who are now in danger from the bears she used to feed, and for the bears who are going to have to be killed to protect the humans that they now associate with food. I’m sure she was surprised when the bear ate her, but you could say that she died the way she lived, feeding the bears.

  14. Patricia, why all the quotes? The deer are being killed, and the hunters are lucky if they manage to kill one to supplement feeding their families. I suppose we could debate whether or not hunting is a sport. By the way, I agree with you about trucks being predators. I’ve hit 4 (killed 3), 2 of them only a month apart.

    My area also has a rule about feeding the ducks and geese in our parks. Some people complain about it, saying that this form of feeding has become the natural food source for the birds. Of course, they are ignoring that it is usually an intermittent source, so birds suddenly find it is missing just when they need it the most. Also, most people are feeding the birds bread, which is not a good food source for them.

  15. I agree with you about not feeding the wild animals, I live in rural Tennessee on a four acre forested site and “have” a herd of between 4 and 6 white tail does, and a roaming (and servicing) stag. Although they are nice to observe, I know I would be a danged fool to feed them; they’re WILD animals!

    Which leads me to the Unsubscribe about the koala. I had not seen the video prior to your mention, and I watched, amazed, as the firefighter gave the wee beastie some water. But, koala’s are wild animals, and if I remember my zoology correctly, have long claws and teeth that bite. Although they appear “cute and cuddly” on film, I believe (and admittedly, do not know) that they can inflict serious bodily harm when annoyed (any comments from members in or from Australia would be appreciated.)

    While I applaud the fire fighter’s humane gesture, I am, at the same time appalled that someone might get the impression that these animals are as approachable and easily handled as seems to be the case in this video. Your late neighbor proves my point (at least to me.)

    As you probably realized, I chose the koala “Sam” for the Honorary Unsubscribe as a contrast to the story (nice timing, Sam!) While I don’t know how vicious koalas can be, I would certainly be very cautious when approaching one in the wild no matter how cuddly it looked. Injured animals can often be desperate, too, making them even more unpredictable. Perhaps some Aussie readers will reply with more info. -rc

  16. Good commentary Randy and good comments everyone else.

    I used to live in bear country along the Alaska Highway and this is a true story.

    Groups 1 to N come along and feed the bear. Group N+1 (mom & 2 kids) come along and want to photo graph the “friendly” bear. People are present so the bear begins to feed . . . on the nearest kid. Mom tries to save the kid. Local man tries to save the mom. Final score card: N groups had a great time at the cost of one dead bear, one child maimed for life, two children who saw their mom torn apart by a bear, one dead mom, and one dead dad of four.

    And group N+2 wonders why we got so upset when they fed the bears. Thanks Randy for making an important point.

    Yep: that’s exactly why the locals around here are so furious. It’s bad enough she fooled around with her own life (and lost), but she fooled around with everyone else’s, too — animal and human. It wasn’t her right to do that, and we resent it. -rc

  17. Stories like this always remind of the Fraser Island incident (which I’m pretty sure has been repeated several times and in several places). Tourists feed the dingoes — oh look, they’re just like dogs! — until one boy doesn’t have any food to feed them, and… you know what comes next.

    Something that is often missed but has been touched on by a few commentors is that it’s not just the animal being fed that is affected. In the case cited here mountain lions followed deer; in the case of dingoes a plentiful food supply means a population explosion, and the subsequent endangerment of all of the dingoes natural prey. I read about one island where the dingo population boomed and they pretty much ate everything else on the island.

    The same thing applies to domestic animals that are allowed to roam free, they over-hunt. People who feed domestic animals that have gone wild (like cats, for example) refuse to recognise this.

  18. Some responses to comments:

    Posted by Felix, California on August 10, 2009:
    On the feeding of migratory birds, I think generally it’s a good thing. A lot of times their habitat on the route is being destroyed and it’s hard for them to get food to make it. On the other hand, I have heard of a situation in Canada where the migratory birds got fed so much that one year they just decided not to migrate, with obvious repercussions for their usual destination. So, I think feeding is good, as long as it’s not too much.

    Posted by Valorie, WA on August 11, 2009:
    I think that natural plants are OK — they come, they eat, they leave. It’s when an area has more food than it can naturally support that there is a problem.

    Posted by Guy, Tennessee on August 11, 2009:
    You’re right — Koalas can do some vicious damage. However, they spend most of their time 20 or 30 metres up a tree, and if they’re encountered on the ground they’ll run away and climb a tree. While I wouldn’t be grabbing a wild koala, it’d be a pretty unusual situation where I’d have the opportunity.

  19. I am a very ardent supporter of Operation Migration, a group dedicated to returning the Whooping Crane to its Eastern Migratory route. A very similar thing happened with one of their cranes. A person down in Fla was feeding the crane in her back yard even after repeated requests from friends, neighbors, officials, etc. When the crane went back north for the summer, it ended up pestering humans at a biodiesel plant in WI. It was even drawing other cranes into its negative actions. The crane was captured and brought to a zoo, to be kept on permanent exhibit, never to be free or migrate again. The actions of that one woman negated literally thousands of dollars and thousands of man-hours into trying to raise this crane to be wild.

    I would like to email your story to them (including the personal statements at the end), but do not want there to be an issue with your copyright on the stories.

    I never want stories excerpted from the newsletters. But there’s no need to excerpt this story, and then find the personal statements to include, since it’s all right here on this page. Just send your friends/colleagues the URL to this page, and they can read it, see the comments, and interact themselves by adding their own comments. It’s a winning idea for everyone involved. -rc

  20. I just spent a week at Yosemite NP, where every campsite has a bear box and campers are required to store their food (and toiletries-anything that has an attractive odor) in those boxes, not in their vehicles. Bears in the park have been known to tear doors off cars to get to food! Luckily, there was only one bear sighting in my campground during the week (Crane Flats for those interested), a mother and her 2 cubs. Of course, this mother is teaching those cubs that the campground is a source of food and those two young bears will probably become nuisance bears in the future.

  21. I agree about migratory birds. I am curious what others think about having brush piles and habitat for wild animals without feeding them. I see deer tracks often and evidence of badgers and such. The latter especially since my neighbors built a flimsy chicken coop that is a food source. What actions can one safely take to support wildlife without making them dependent?

  22. Right on! People feeding wild animals are doing that animal, as well as the rest of the food chain of which it is a part, irreparable harm. Wild animals dependent on humans feeding them are not prepared to survive in the wild when the food source is removed. However, a lot of bleeding hearts in Denver feel sorry for her, she was only trying to help. Heck, I won’t even feed the prairie dogs in my back yard hoping they will move to the West Slope.

    We’ll gladly take your prairie dogs — as long as we can send one human to the Front Range for every one of them. -rc

  23. Seems like folks living in bear country should be equipped with beanbag shotguns, and whenever they see a bear around their house, let the bears have it. With only positive reinforcement (feeding), why would the bears have any reason NOT to hang around homes? Give them a reason to stay away!

    Are there other repellent options? Garbage cans equipped with bear strength pepper spray? Remote operated pepper spray dispensers? Giant bear strength glue traps? (Ok, that is a bit fanciful, but how about a better idea?)


    I’d guess most of these suggestions would have more long-term negatives than positives (e.g., garbage collectors accidentally coated in bear-strength pepper spray), but I’m with you that some sort of negative reinforcement to counteract the feeding sounds like a good idea! -rc

  24. Our sister and brother-in-law have a house on the west side of Pikes Peak, with a lot of hummingbird feeders on their (high) deck. They also have several feeders filled with birdseed, one of which is on the ground. They keep a supply of loud firecrackers handy; when a bear comes around, they light one and toss it behind the bear.

    I have mixed feelings about this, given the usual danger of wildfire, but their yard is all rotten granite on which very little fuel-type stuff grows, so I keep my mouth shut. It does seem effective at scaring the bears away. (I have no idea whether a bear so scared will come back.)

  25. i live in bear country too, vermont, and feeding bears is, as you and the fish & game folks point out, not only illegal but dangerously stupid. i don’t look for trouble but when i go up in the woods i carry a .45, i don’t expect it to take down a bear but at least the noise might scare him away. if the bear is not aggressive i’ll give him room and leave him be. in the case of a she-bear with cubs i’ll una$$ the area as quickly and quietly as possible. wild critters are not “cute” and the woods are not a petting zoo, wild animals are just that, wild, and best left alone.

  26. A few years ago, while in Yellowstone, I saw a woman with her 2 young children (7-10) in the back of their pick-up, bags of chips in hand, “teasing” a bear and her cubs by holding the chips and when the bears reached towards it, pulling it back and laughing with delight.

    I yelled at her how dangerous and how stupid this was and she gave me the finger and a few choice words. I drove on, disgusted. Reported it at the ranger station.
    Later I learned that one of the kids got badly mauled and I was asked to make a deposition about what I had observed. Who knows, had I not reported it, the woman might have sued the Park. Often people do, even though they were the guilty.

    And certainly there are enough posts about the danger of feeding wildlife, especially bears.

    To bad it wasn’t she who got the claw.

    Hear hear. But at least it was her kid, not someone else’s. She can feel the guilt every time she looks at her kid’s scars until the day she dies. -rc

  27. It’s certainly sad to see how people just don’t realise that their misguided acts of kindness end up causing harm to people and animals around them.

    Here in Singapore, we have troops of long-tailed macaque monkeys living in many of our nature areas. In some of the more popular parks, there are people who deliberately drive down to feed the monkeys. They know where to stop and wait, wind down the windows, and toss peanuts, fruits, bread and goodness knows what else to the monkeys. There are others who walk around on foot, carrying plastic bags of food, and they get the monkeys to come up to them and take it from their hands. Some will even get their young toddlers to stand there and pose with some food in their hands, while the proud parents stand by with cameras, waiting to capture that perfect moment. Considering that some of the monkeys are almost as tall as the children, I’m relieved that attacks don’t occur more frequently.

    People living around these parks often complain about monkeys invading their homes to snatch food and small items. While this is partly the fault of the homeowners who fail to monkey-proof their homes, it’s also partly due to the feeders, who teach the monkeys to associate humans with food in the first place. These complaints usually lead to animal control being called in, which ends up with the monkeys being trapped and euthanised.

    I’ve seen the monkeys chase and snatch ice-cream out of kids’ hands. And they can certainly do a lot of damage with their teeth. I’ve witnessed a monkey charge into a group of young schoolchildren, teeth bared, and snatch an ice-cream cone out of a kid’s hand. There are cases of innocent visitors being harassed and even attacked just because the monkeys were expecting handouts and none were offered.

    Some of the monkeys learn to associate approaching vehicles with food, and they come running towards moving cars, often with tragic results for the monkey. And half the time, the people are tossing snacks such as potato chips or cookies, which probably isn’t very healthy for the monkeys.

    Heavy fines and even CCTV cameras don’t deter many of these idiots who insist on feeding the monkeys, although the recent news of a woman being fined S$3,000 (approx. US$2,078) made some people sit up and take notice. It may seem ‘cute’ to feed a fellow primate, but they don’t seem to realise the larger implications of their behaviour.

    The location and the species involved may be different, but the problem is the same. Here’s a link with more information about Singaporeans and their monkey-feeding habits.

  28. Several years ago we were visiting various National Parks (Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, etc.) and along the way our kids were earning their “Junior Ranger” badges. As any good Jr. Ranger booklet explains, “Do NOT feed the animals” and my kids absorbed this knowledge and took it to heart.

    Towards the end of our trip, stopped at stopped at Custer State Park in South Dakota. At the entrance to the park, the ranger handed us the multi-page guide to the park, the “Tatanka”. While flipping though the “Tatanka”, I noted two items: 1) Do not feed wildlife, and 2) the burros (descendants of formerly domesticated donkeys) are considered wildlife.

    Several hours later we were driving along the park’s “Wildlife Loop Road” when we got stopped by a “burro jam”. People were opening their car windows and feeding the burros various foodstuffs (carrots, bread, whatever). My kids, who had just spent a couple of weeks having the Jr. Ranger “Don’t feed the wildlife” code pounded into their tender little brains were frantic. “They’re feeding the animals!” my son cried, “That’ll hurt the burros!”

    Being a dutiful father, I grabbed a copy of the “Tatanka”, got out of our car (in retrospect, probably a stupid thing to do, but I digress), walked over to the nearest car, and showed them the park guide page which stated “Do not feed the wildlife”. The driver of the other yelled at me to “…Get back in your car, do-gooder!”.

    I was sort of pissed at this point. I drove a couple of miles to the nearest park station and explained to the rangers that people were (gasp!) feeding the burros a few miles back. One of the rangers replied “Oh yeah, that’s a tradition in this park, we call them the ‘begging burros'”.

    Now I was REALLY pissed. We drove to park headquarters, and I asked to see park superintendent. After waiting a few minutes, I was ushered into the superintendent’s office. I explained all of what had transpired, and pointed out that at best the park was sending mixed messages, at worst it was helping to perpetuate a culture of “wild animals are really just big, loveable pets that happen to live outdoors”. The superintendent agreed that they might possibly be sending a mixed message, and would “look into it.” He then sent the trouble making “do-gooder” on his way.

    Well, it’s now several years later. I’ve just looked at the 2009 issue of the “Tatanka” (here, 1.6 MB PDF), and, on page 13, the right column states “Feeding the park’s wildlife is prohibited” and left column taketh away “…visitors…even provide the burrows with a free lunch”.


    And right on the cover they acknowledge that there are problems in the park: “Buffalo are dangerous. Please, do not approach.” Yet they’re helping to create the problem. Ridiculous. -rc

  29. Unanticipated consequences have plagued human decisions and the actions thereof, from time immemorial, whether it is with matters dealing with nature, with education (as in “no child left behind), or in politics.

    I laud your warning, but doubt whether it will be heeded, much like our DWI laws, or the health consequences of smoking. But, warn we must.

    Intelligent readers — which is what I cultivate — will understand the “why” (if they didn’t already) and take heed. The obliviots will do what they will do, and will continue to be featured in my column as warnings to the rest of us. -rc

  30. It’s not only big wild animals being fed that causes problems. Neighbour of mine has a habit of feeding Seagulls, even though local council have sent letters to all of us in the scheme saying don’t do it. People say what’s wrong with feeding the birds. Well when a pensioner left some food to cool on a window sill and a gull broke the window to get it. That’s when the problem occurred.

  31. Reading about stuff like this never fails to make me absolutely nuts. I grew up in the suburbs, far from any wildlife bigger than a rabbit or the occasional raccoon, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the national parks, and even I know that feeding wild animals is a dangerous, selfish, stupid idea.

    Like the late, unlamented Grizzly Man, they get so wrapped up in this idea that they’re being benevolent providers to the poor hungry little animals or “becoming one with nature.” Well, he DID become “one with nature,” via a grizzly’s digestive tract, and posthumously took the bear with him when it had to be put down by local authorities.

    Somewhere along the line, humankind lost the fear of large carnivores that kept their ancestors from becoming sabertooth tiger food. More’s the pity.

    You refer to Timothy Treadwell. He thought himself a bear expert and spent 13 years living among grizzlies in Alaska to make documentaries. He and his girlfriend were killed and partially eaten — and the attack was captured on audio. A film was made about Treadwell’s efforts in 2005, titled “Grizzly Man”. -rc

  32. When in Bear Country: The Actions of Dumb People are the Cause of Smart Bears!
    The difference between the ‘intelligence’ of the bears at Philmont Scout Ranch and all the National Parks is phenomenal.

    You could never get away with ‘bear-bagging’ (the way we do at Philmont) at a National Park. (At Philmont we hang a bear-bag over a permanent cable strung between two trees, with a doubled rope and tie the rope ends to two other trees).

    But when you come down to the root cause, it is not a ‘bear-problem’ it is a ‘people-problem’, or closer yet… ‘problem-people’.

  33. This story hit home. I live in the boondocks. We have a few bears, the occasional wayward mountain lion, but mostly coyotes, coons, and bobcats. Rule number one- do everything in your power to keep from attracting them. All it takes is one goofy neighbor and there goes the neighborhood. Feeding wild animals is bad news kids. Bad for them. Bad for us.

  34. A few years ago, a family in Gold River (just outside of Sacramento, CA) found a half eaten deer carcass just past their back fence, their property backed up to the river park. Well when the Fish and Game guy got there, he found the deer carcass and a feeding station for the deer. The family said that, yes they had put up the feeding station, because they liked seeing the deer just outside of their backyard.

    The family just wanted the Ranger to get rid of the mountain lions, but they just didn’t understand how a deer feeding station was a mountain lion feeding station! Well at that point the Ranger started writing. One ticket for having an illegal deer feeding station on park land, and one for endangering the community.

    Good! That was (I hope!) effective enforcement. -rc

  35. Amen. And again, amen. A friend suggested that perhaps the DWM who had to kill the bear should have dumped the dead bruin on her porch so she could see the result of her “love of nature.” Ugly, but perhaps maybe, just maybe, she might still be alive. Probably not…

    Quick question: does the “Don’t feed wildlife” rule also apply to bird feeders and waterers?

    That might be an effective technique indeed. As for your question: you are expecting people to read your comment, but it’s very clear you haven’t read the comments thread yourself, since that is under active discussion. -rc

  36. If it’s a small area and most everyone knew she was feeding wildlife why did stores continue to sell the dog food to her?

    I lived in a small town once where the grocery store would refuse to sell eggs to kids/teens before Halloween in order to minimize the number of egging incidents. I would rather have an old lady pissed at me because I refused to sell to her than have wild bears harming others not to mention being harmed. I know in this economy that every dollar helps, but not at the cost of both human and animal lives.

    Ouray is a very small town — so small that it’s very expensive to shop at the tiny market in town, so most people do shopping trips to larger cities, such as Montrose (about 40 miles from Ouray), and sometimes even Grand Junction (about 50 miles past Montrose). Shopkeepers definitely can’t keep track of the out-of-towners who visit to stock up. -rc

  37. With some exceptions, like this woman in Ouray, I suspect it is city folk who are the problem, out on driving or camping trips to habitats they just don’t understand. They probably think rangers are just being prudes and killjoys for stopping the feeding, not realizing the damage they’re doing and the risks they’re running.

    If I could I’d tell them, if you want closer contact with magnificent beasts, volunteer at your local zoo. They really need your help, as they’re all strapped for money these days. And seeing how professional zookeepers interact with their charges will leave you IN NO DOUBT about how dangerous these animals can be. Even well-fed, contented zoo animals accustomed to humans.

  38. Thank you for a public service. These are the same idiots who go to a summer place and feed the hummingbirds for a few days because “they are so pretty”, not realizing that they come back year after year looking for food. I feed birds, and birds only, but I feed all year round and live in the city. There are always those who have to feed deer, elk, bears and then are amazed when there are terrible results. Feed people, they won’t kill you or each other – oh sorry, of course they will.

  39. I’ve just read all 38 comments, and it’s nice to see that subscribers to This is True quickly and easily understand the concept here (well, I’ve always known I’m in good company – you’ve created an excellent network of people who enjoy thinking, Randy).

    Just one observation I haven’t seen anyone make yet: while outwardly the feeders of wild animals foolishly speak as though they are ‘making friends with’ or ‘being kind to’ animals in the wild, I have to wonder if what we are really seeing in such people isn’t an unbridled sense of omnipotence and vanity. Certainly there was an awful lot of omnipotence in the woman who continued to feed bears against all the advice from officials AND her own friends and neighbors! One can only wonder if she realized it as the bear was killing her. In fact the movie “Grizzly Man” was darn near a documentary of what omnipotent thinking looks like, much more than anything else it purported to be.

    As for vanity, the people who film themselves and their children feeding wild animals might believe they are recording evidence of how much they are loved by animals in the wild, but what if their film was publicly shown with the title “A local family promotes & guarantees the death of critters large and small”? Would they wake to the reality of what really is happening in their ‘cute’ film?

    I guess we have two groups of people who feed wild animals: those who genuinely don’t know the harm they are doing, and those who don’t care. Probably a lot more senseless death will result before we begin to see this problem getting solved in communities where it is common.

    Your vanity insight is a good one; I do think “It won’t happen to me” is, in large part, vanity, just like its variants “It’s different with me” and “It’s OK when I do it, but others shouldn’t.” -rc

  40. “Grizled old lady”? Best to look up the word’s definition. (did the old lady have a grey/white beard?) Perhaps “gristly” old lady, probably not “grizzled”.

    Follow your own advice before you post, David. “Grizzled” means gray, not “gray beard”:

    grizzled (adj.):
    1. Partly gray or streaked with gray: a grizzled beard.
    2. Having fur or hair streaked or tipped with gray.
    –American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

    grizzled (Adjective):
    1. (of hair) streaked or mixed with grey
    2. (of a person) having grey hair

    –Collins Essential English Dictionary 2nd Edition

    My use was entirely within the definition, not to mention the play on “grizzly” (as in bear). -rc

  41. All of us who reside in areas where bears are indigenous have bear stories to tell. Several years ago a bear broke into our cabin (in a national forest), tore down one wall of the kitchen, deposited the refrigerator on the porch, and trashed all the places where food could be found (they know where these places are). I don’t leave food in the cabin any more when I’m away.

    And a few years after that, a bear broke into a neighbor’s cabin at night, WHILE HE AND HIS FAMILY WERE THERE, and my neighbor finally had to shoot it (you’re allowed to do that if there is an imminent threat to life and limb, though obviously one should take every precaution to avoid being in that situation in the first place). The bear crawled to the edge of the lake and died.

    The lesson: Don’t mess with bears; they’re big, incredibly strong and dangerous.

  42. Despite living in the city and only having gone camping twice, I have had several unafraid-animal incidents, thanks to the actions of others.

    The “mildest” is that the squirrels at our local college campus (Auraria) have determined that humans are a direct source of food, and will literally attack people for food they are actively eating, with no attempt to beg first. The medical center treats about half a dozen attacks of this type per semester. Unfortunately, the constant supply of new students makes it hard to keep awareness up that feeding the squirrels is a bad idea.

    The first time I went camping, it was to a festival that was being held in a campsite that has known bear problems. My boyfriend at the time was one of the safety officers who went around reminding people to put food in the trunks of their vehicles, and had read me the riot act the first night for forgetting to gather up a baggie that had contained food (I was unaccustomed to the level of fatigue even light camping can induce).

    The second night, I was again exhausted, and I slept in his tent. About an hour after I laid down, I heard a zipping noise, then the sound of something brushing against the nylon of the tent. I assumed it was him, and was slightly confused when he didn’t come in, but I was too tired to think about it too thoroughly. A few minutes later, I heard the bear alarm go up, as everyone flashed lights and banged pots to get a bear to leave the area. I considered getting up to help, but decided they had it covered.

    When I woke up the next morning, I could see sky; I had slid out of the tent through a huge rip in one side. Not two feet from where I had been sleeping, the oh-so-responsible safety officer had been storing baggies of beef jerky in his tent, and had not told me. The zipping noise I had heard was the fabric of the tent tearing after being stepped on by the bear — puncture marks two inches apart marked the claw spacing of an adult. If I had gotten up to help with that bear alarm, I would have been right in the face of a bear who was not afraid of people and who was in the middle of a meal. I am very glad I stayed in my sleeping bag.

    The third incident bothers me the most, even though it was much less personally dangerous. My uncle and his family go every year to a cabin camping ground in Mammoth Lakes, CA, and one year I made it out to go with them. We spent one day down by the lake, where I learned that the local bears have figured out about how long it takes fishermen to get a decent catch together, and then simply circle the lake, stealing the fish. This is bad enough, for all the usual reasons (plus the image of bears eating fish hooks is rather horrific), but it gets worse. This particular year, the bears consisted of a mama bear and two cubs, and when the cubs ended up near the pier without mama, people gathered around, oohing and aahing over how cute they were, completely oblivious to the fact that they were scaring the hell out of the cubs, who had a protective mama somewhere nearby. Cubs up a tree and squalling for their mother, who obviously has no real fear of humans… very bad situation. We left, so I don’t know precisely how it ended, but I didn’t hear about any maimings, so I assume no one died that day. That incident brought home to me the level of cluelessness that many people display when it comes to wild animals — people were calling their children over and holding them up near the bears for pictures!

  43. Hate to detract from the article, but this reminds me of the “good intent” that some government programs will mandate which causes the need for more government programs to fix the mess.

    Or medications that require other medications to treat the side-effects they cause, which then cause more side-effects, and…. -rc

  44. In NE Ohio bear are not a problem. We do however have problems with people feeding Canadian Geese (yes it is posted not to feed them). They have made parts of what was a beautiful park with walking path unusable because of extreme amounts excrement (there are easily over a thousand that flock there). It is nearly an inch thick. It is unsanitary & very slippery making it unsafe to walk on also. Many of the birds no longer migrate in the winter because of the plentiful feedings. Then during inclement weather the “Feeders” don’t get out to feed them. When we have extended cold stretches the birds suffer from lack of food. During nesting season the birds become very aggressive. A wing strike or bite will leave a bruise and it is downright dangerous for a curious young child that may approach them. I can easily see how this problem would be greatly magnified when applying it to a bear.

    At least bears can’t fly! -rc

  45. This ticks me off. People are so stupid and we are supposed to be the more “evolved” species and the bears are being killed because of some idiot.

  46. This may seem trivial but one reason I think so many people want to place their children near bears for photos, etc. is the Teddy Bear. I suspect there are a lot of unthinking folks out there who have fond memories of little fuzzy stuffed Teddy Bears and think the live ones are somehow similar…

    I don’t think it’s trivial at all. It’s surely a factor. -rc

  47. Just visited Yellowstone and Tetons. Most of the large animals have no fear of people, but I didn’t witness anyone feeding them. The rodents, however, are quick to stand and beg for the people parade that passes by. While (other than disease) these critters don’t pose much danger to people, people sure pose a danger to the rodents. The “junk food” people provide is neither appropriate nor sustainable. Chipmunks don’t have refrigerators or Tupperware, and when they put a high-fat, high-salt snack in with their natural food, it rots and destroys their normal food supply. Oh, well, enough survive to dance for next year’s visitors, right? Plus, they are so cute.

    Oh, and maybe I shouldn’t mention the domestic cats that help keep the local fox population up; it might upset someone who thinks their kitty deserves to experience nature first hand.

  48. We USED to have 2 bird feeders…one hanging, and one on a post. When we noticed the squirrels were eating the majority of food from the post feeder, we stopped filling it. We have almost no squirrels around our yard now.

    As for the hanging feeder, when we fill it…..mostly for the (indoor) cats and my wife to watch the birds……it is empty within a day or day and a half.

    I decided that it was getting too expensive, so we wait a few day before filling it again. The only time we keep it constantly filled is when the snow is 2-3 feet deep. Otherwise, I figure the birds can find their own food….and apparently they do, since they don’t come around when the feeder is empty.

  49. I have really enjoyed reading the comments on this. After visiting Yosemite National Park and seeing all the information on how dangerous it is to feed the wildlife it is amazing that anyone would think that it is ok. I was a bit disappointed that we did not see any of the big predators there, but with 2 small children with me more relieved not to have had an encounter.

    After reading the comments on feeding ducks and geese bread I may have to rethink our trips to the ponds, even if it is just getting something more healthy than bread.

    The comments of feeding dear reminded me of days out with my parents to feed the deer at a local stately home. I suppose they are not exactly wild deer as they are kept in an enclosed area (large but enclosed) and there are no large predators to attract in England, but there was always the danger of getting ‘nudged’ over by an over keen deer. This is not something we have done with our kids, and after reading some of the comments, I am not sure we will.

    Thanks for all the interesting discussions.

  50. Well, yes and no. Once you start housing development you are artificially depleting resources. If you don’t add natural resources to replace the ones that no longer exist,the wildlife “naturally” disappears. If you fence off areas, you’ve basically created pets out of wild animals. If you don’t take care of pets in a cage, they’ll naturally disappear. Here in LA, if you don’t have people with hummingbird feeders and bird feeders, all that’s left are crows.

    OTOH If this woman was trying to keep a small elk or deer herd alive in an artificially constricted habitat that couldn’t sustain the numbers, that’s one thing. But feeding large predators – that’s not so good. I’m sure most folk here know/knew of some person who fed local feral cats. Soon there’s LOTS of feral cats, and no birds, or other small wildlife. You also have a large area of fighting cats, competing for space and territory, and predating on each other. This also attracts feral dogs, who will feed on the cat food, and the cats.

    But feeding bears? A yardfull of territorial cats is one thing, but bears? Teaching large 300+ pound predators that people either have or are good things to eat? Darwin attacks!

  51. I work in Manly, Sydney, and the number of tourists that feed the seagulls is ridiculous. During summer there are huge numbers of seagulls and many seagulls have started taking food out of people’s hands instead of “begging” for it. Myself and colleagues have seen seagulls steal food out of peoples hands including the meat out of a burger it was lifted to someone’s mouth. Look on YouTube for a video called “Stumpy the Seagull” for an example of this. Consequently, I don’t eat lunch at the beach in summer despite how nice it is.

    I have seen mention in the local media of studies that track the seagulls to roosts 100km away and they come just because the food source is good.

    I have told tourists that feeding the birds is a bad idea but they don’t see the harm in 1 chip. It seems that this is a global issue with being fascinated by animals reactions to having food thrown at them and liking “helping” the animals.

  52. This was my Aunt. I am certainly mortified by this tragedy and am heartbroken with her loss. I have read many blogs since the mauling and her death and agree with nearly all of them on one level or an other. I had envisioned some time ago this as a possibility when I had been there last year for a month. I realized just how dangerous these circumstances were for her. I pleaded also with her. I had been frightened for her. I had encountered a huge bear trying to enter a window above where I had slept twice in one night while there. This is just horrible, what happened to her, and I think maybe it could have been prevented, of course.

    Imagine her children having to endure this, that their mother had to die in this manner. Imagine your mother losing her life by bear… What I would like to hear out there from others, also, is their well wishes for her family also, maybe some prayers for the plight in this. I am praying for them. No matter what was the cause, her children lost their Mother and her Brother, his Sister. Thank you!

    I know it’s hard for her family, and I pictured her daughter reading this page when I wrote it. It is sad that Donna chose to ignore what she knew to be true — that she was putting her life at risk, putting countless other people at risk, and doing exactly the wrong thing for the bears. It’s even more sad that her family knew all of this too, and yet wouldn’t take the difficult step of forcing a stop to this behavior. Now that Donna is gone, the bears are practically rampaging on the town, with countless cases of bears breaking into houses trying to find food, rather than doing what they naturally do in the wild. It all could have been prevented, but no one stepped up to actually do it. -rc

  53. “I’m sure most folk here know/knew of some person who fed local feral cats. Soon there’s LOTS of feral cats….”

    This is very true.

    “and no birds, or other small wildlife.”

    THIS however, is utter bullshit. If you are feeding the ferals, they have no reason to hunt. People love to blame feral cats for the disappearance of song birds and small wildlife but in every single case that I have heard about, it was easily proven that the disappearances were directly linked to destruction of the habitat by human building projects.

    Many cities now use what is known as TNR programs to control feral cat populations. First, a feeding area is set up. Watchers then go in at various times, trap animals, have them neutered and “ear tipped” so the treated animals can be identified from a distance and when they have recovered, they are released into the feeding area. Volunteers continue to monitor the group, watching for signs of illness, new animals and/or kittens. Kittens, when trapped young, can be tamed and homed.

    Many people think that the real answer is to kill all the ferals. Cities that have tried that have eventually found the population return and double. Why? Predator vacuum. Kill all the predators in an area and you create a free food source. This allows other predators to move in and with more food, they reproduce faster.

    I believe the best answer is to start treating cats just as you treat dogs. Require licenses, charge more for intact animals. In addition, provide low or no cost neutering for those who cannot afford it.

    And yes – I do put my money where my mouth is on this issue as I have been actively involved in TNR projects in every city in which I have lived.

  54. What a lot of people don’t realize is the issue of human-wild animal interaction isn’t limited to rural communities or small towns/cities on the edge of an extensive wilderness.

    I live in Houston, TX – one of the largest cities in the U.S, and I have personally seen a coyote less than a half mile from downtown! I’ve also seen raccoons in urban neighborhoods, had a co-worker who swore that she heard a noise on her 2d story apt balcony, looked out and saw a “large, short-tailed cat of some sort”. She screamed and it jumped over the balcony and was gone. And about 15 or so years ago, there was a case in west Houston of an alligator that crawled out of a drainage dish and was terrorizing the neighborhood. I called the Texas Wildlife Dpt after I spotted the coyote and the nice person told me that when they got a call, they’d put out traps and then take the animals to the nearest National Forest/Wildlife Refuge (about 50 miles away) and release it (and then hoped they’d make it back to Houston before it did…).

    So, just because a person lives in an urban area, that doesn’t mean that s/he doesn’t need to keep an eye out for wild animals.

  55. Posted by Lucy, Texas on August 24, 2009:

    “and no birds, or other small wildlife.”
    THIS however, is utter bullshit. If you are feeding the ferals, they have no reason to hunt.

    Sorry Lucy, your comment is “utter bullshit”. No matter how much you feed a wild predator none of them get all their food from humans. Cats are even worse, since they don’t just hunt to eat — they hunt for fun or to keep in practice or something. Any cat that has the opportunity will hunt, even if it’s not hungry. I was visiting a friend recently who has an old, 3-legged cat. It’s well-fed and not the most agile of creatures, but that week alone it had taken down two Myna birds. Which it didn’t eat, it just left on the verandah. Myna birds are fast and relatively cunning, enough to out-compete the local birds, so I don’t expect them to fair any better.

    The problem with feeding the cats is that their population explodes — as you have recognised — and this artificially high population eradicates prey species. It happens with feral cats, wild dogs, and pretty much any other predator species. Habitat destruction is also a big cause of the disappearance of animals, but exotic predators with artificially high populations are also a major cause.

    I thank you for participating in the TNR programs. If people stopped feeding the feral cats (and dumping kittens and so on) those programs are currently the best way to keep the problem under control and minimalise the impact.

  56. James, Mexico, I agree with your comment. When I was a kid some feral cats got into the neighborhood and soon all the squirrels and chipmunks were gone. They reappeared once the cats were trapped and removed.

    And I’m sure most of us have seen the recent story from Georgia about the elderly couple (excuse me, that probably isn’t politically correct; how about chronologically enhanced couple) killed by feral dogs apparently being fed by someone in the area.

  57. How ridiculous you are to think that all the bear problems around Ouray are because of my Mother. You live in bear country. Do you secure your trash? In town there are 3 or 4 bears that have been coming around to eat the unsecured trash left by everyone. It is such a problem that an ordinance was enacted last year ticketing those who were acting irresponsible. The “cage” was put up to secure an area for a former tenant who had 2 small children not to feed bears. A natural trail used by the bears runs behind the house leading to Elk Meadows. So much propaganda has been written to sensationalize this story. Much put out by DOW to cover there butts for not acting more aggressively. I myself talked with DOW last year about humane ways of detouring the bears without much aid from them as we already used airhorns, water and airsoft guns to scare them off. As you can see by the quicker response to bear calls, in the future they will act fast and swift. Also the caretaker who called to remove problem bears did so at my Mothers request. Unfortunately for her the two caught were not enough to stop the problem. Hopefully others will learn from this tragedy.

    Of course, neither my story nor my editorial charges that Donna Munson is responsible for “all the bear problems around Ouray.” I (and many others) have said that there is a significant and dangerous increase in bear problems around Ouray because of her actions over the past decade, and I don’t think you can dispute that. Yes, I do live in bear country — of course I secure my trash! But better, there are no nearby neighbors that are accused of luring bears in with food, and my area has virtually no problems with aggressive bears, unlike Ouray where three generations of bears were taught by your mother to seek food from humans.

    I understand that it is very difficult for you to hear the virtually universal criticism, but the facts are clear here. -rc

  58. I lived near a man that “loved” all animals and would feed the feral cats in the alley. Now, I love my animals, too—but he created a nuisance since we at one time had over 100 cats roaming the alley—they’d get in yards, drag chicken bones to where my dogs could get to them, got in fights with my dogs, kept everyone up at night with the fighting and mating that was going on. About the third time I had to sew one of my dogs up, I started working with the Denver animal control to capture the cats. My neighbor was furious—he said they had a right to live there as much as I did. I told him fine, let’s fix the females and cut down on the kitten population. He was against that, too. So I continued to do my part to cut down the population while he did his to explode it. I finally moved when I bought a house…but it was crazy. People have no idea how they are actually wrecking the eco-balance when they step in and try to “help”.

  59. I just returned from a 2-week visit to Colorado, including passing through Ouray. Beautiful.

    My cousin and his wife have a remote cabin in Gunnison County. She has several salt licks on a hillside and she enjoys seeing the occasional deer come down to them.

    After reading the postings about not feeding deer, I wonder whether her salt licks are ill-advised. (They supposedly do not have bears.) I welcome any comments.

    It’s a good question. It doesn’t get in the way of their foraging instinct, I don’t think, since they still have to look for food, but it could attract, say, mountain lions, which figure out that there are often deer in that spot. Hopefully an expert will weigh in. -rc

  60. First, part of the problem is simply one of scale. Each human who feeds a duck doesn’t consider the other hundreds (thousands?) of people who come to the same park and feed the same group of ducks. Maybe one person feeding a wild animal is not a problem, but it is never just one person or just one animal.

    Second, I receive another email list which recently sent out a “Cute Deer” story about some family that has been feeding the same deer in their backyard for 3 generations… complete with a dozen photos of people with deer.

    I’ve sent that list owner the links to this story and followup, but any specific comments on deer feeding that haven’t already been covered would be welcome.

    The biggest thing is what I said in my essay: that deer (prey) attract predators, such as mountain lions. The “cute deer” may not be a problem, but for some reason people tend to get upset when their dogs, cats, and children start getting eaten. And are the deer feeders blamed? Nope! The lions are, even though it’s the people who set the whole thing up, and are in fact ultimately responsible for the negative consequences. -rc

  61. The one thing that nobody has touched on directly (Gidgaf, LAX, and Jim Kirk Houston, TX mentioned it tangentially) is that we have been encroaching onto wild-animal habitats since we became our own distinct species, 50,000+ years ago. Now that the population of Homo Sapiens Sapiens is at 7 billion, we have not only taken over the primary habitats of wild animals (near the banks of rivers), we have also taken over secondary habitats around lakes, streams, and swamps (and drained a LOT of swamps to do this), and tertiary habitats in forests and plains. In many ways, what the Euro-American settlers of America did to the Native American population, they also did (and are still doing) to the animal population.

    The only way we will ever stop this is to stop building out, and build up/down. Cities work. Suburbs don’t. There should be a moratorium on building suburban communities, reclamation efforts to return unsuccessful or depressed suburban communities back to nature, and efforts to convince people that having your own lawn isn’t that important, all things considered. Imagine all the resources we could save by concentrating our efforts on 8 square-mile cities instead of 100+ square-mile of suburban communities.

  62. Steve in New Orleans (august 15) commented, “With some exceptions, like this woman in Ouray, I suspect it is city folk who are the problem, out on driving or camping trips to habitats they just don’t understand.”

    I think this statement is a matter of opinion without any facts behind it. What definition of “city folk” are you using? Does it also include “suburban folk?” I’m 40, and I have traveled far and wide around the world, and my parents come from exceedingly rural areas: I can assure you that ignorance as a trait is as much possessed by someone in the city as someone in the suburbs, as someone in the country. However, in my experience, “city folk” tend to be the type to follow rules, because rules are part of their daily lives. In parks, it is the suburban and rural living folks who leave their trash, feed the animals, and generally make it hard on everyone else. There is something very self-centric about suburban living and independent living people. City dwelling people take their trash out of parks with them, because city dwelling people have been acclimated to putting their trash in receptacles.

    City dwellers also know the ramifications of feeding birds, squirrels, and other animals all too well. The people feeding the animals in the city are usually from the suburbs.

  63. Phil in Peru, IN (august 17) posts, “Hate to detract from the article, but this reminds me of the “good intent” that some government programs will mandate which causes the need for more government programs to fix the mess.”

    Randy, why did you even let that one through? And comment on it? It is completely not related to this blog post. It begs a defense.

    Obviously Phil did not say that government is bad, or big government is bad, but that is the philosophical underpinnings of his argument, and I’m going to address this as if speaking to a Republican or a Libertarian. Phil, how do you think 7 billion people ought to coexist? Give everyone a gun and 5 acres to defend? I am sick unto death of people spouting off about the evils of government. If you think government is bad, try anarchy. Move to a continent with no government: Antarctica.

    The reason this woman in West Rural Bumsquat, Colorado was able to ceaselessly endanger wild-life and her rural neighbors is because the law was toothless. Not her family or friends, because it is not their job to police their own. That would be a familial and political nightmare. No, the law was toothless, and stronger laws, enforced by a stronger government, could prevent this stuff from happening. Education programs are great, but when they don’t work, there has to be a law in place that can take care of the problem by its enforcement. And I’m sorry: a $100 fine is not a very good deterrent.

    It is true that I typically reject comments that don’t address the topic, but I don’t think Phil was promoting anarchy; he was simply pointing out that there are other situations where things aren’t thought out well, and lead to unintended and sometimes terrible consequences. That’s true, and completely parallel to the point of my original article and essay. That said, your conclusion is also completely correct: when someone is spending hundreds of dollars a month on wild animal feed, a $100 fine won’t deter them one bit. This is, in fact, a case where more government intervention is called for. -rc

  64. When I was growing up, we spent a great deal of time in the wilderness areas of Northern Ontario and Quebec, and my parents taught me that there were NO exceptions when it came to feeding wildlife; it’s ALWAYS a bad idea, and it ALWAYS ends up with dead animals, and sometimes dead people too.

    On the flip-side of that same coin, my mother eventually became quite attached to (and even started feeding, eventually) a family of chipmunks who lived under the rear walkway behind our house in the city. Generation after generation of chipmunks learned to come up our back stairs, into our kitchen, and climb up my mother’s legs to take nuts from my mother’s hands, and even sometimes from between her teeth!

    When we visited Waterton Lakes National Park, in Alberta, feeding wild animals was expressly forbidden, and could get you kicked out of the park or even arrested and fined. Despite this, people were often encouraged by park staff to let wild deer and mountain goats approach them and lick the palms of their hands; we were told that they did this because they liked the salt in people’s sweat. I remember being amazed by how purple the deer’s tongue was, and how it tickled my hand when it licked me.

    Many years later, I discovered that the Garden Of The Provinces (a beautiful park in downtown Ottawa, about a five minute walk from Parliament Hill) had become a regular feeding station for chipmunks. Apparently, workers from the nearby government buildings were taking their lunches in the park; eventually, they started hand-feed nuts and other treats to the very fearless and extremely trusting chipmunks. I’ve even had my picture taken by a German tourist with one of these wild chipmunks sitting fearlessly in the palm of my hand, while eagerly stuffing its cheek pouches with Brazil nuts and almonds!

    In the three or more decades since local office workers first started feeding the chipmunks in Garden Of The Provinces, there hasn’t been a single recorded instance of anyone being bitten, or of chipmunks being harmed or put down for having no fear of humans.

    I guess it all depends on exactly what you’re feeding, and where; feeding urban chipmunks appears to be a fairly harmless habit, based on decades of incident-free feeding in Garden Of The Provinces. Feeding wild bears, on the other hand, is just plain dangerous!

    Bears that lose their fear of humans WILL become too bold, and will eventually begin preying on people, their pets and even their children; this is something we’ve seen time and time again, so you’d think people would know better. Still, some people just refuse to get it!

    Feed chipmunks in a city park if you really need to feel like you’re “loving animals,” but never, EVER feed wild bears…you’re risking their lives PLUS your own, your childrens’ and your neighbours’ lives too!

    I dunno, Gary: I think the “NO exceptions” rule that you started with sounds like the smarter policy. That’s a very steep and slippery slope you described after that. -rc

  65. I know that around here, the concern with deer licks is the associated increase in chronic wasting disease among the deer population. It has spread throughout our state because of the movements of the deer population into and through areas where they are fed and congregate. They are in the cities now too (right in our backyard). In part, it appears to be because of habitat incursion; while we live well within city boundaries of the state capital, but there are ever-expanding boundaries to the “metro” area with big, new houses. But it also comes from the fact that hunting is only allowed in-season, and outside of the cities. The deer find safe sources of food in people’s gardens and lawns, and they are not hunted in that roaming area.

    I am NOT saying that anyone should be allowing hunting inside city boundaries, by the way. The dangers from stray bullets around here are high enough from any criminal element! I am only stating that this could be one reason why we are seeing more wild animals within the city. Within one mile of our house IN the City of Madison, I have seen countless deer and raccoons, a bevy of foxes (I know, that’s not the right word for a group of them, but they were not all in one group when I saw them either!), several coyotes, and countless possums and skunks. Our city-supplied and required trash bins have fairly heavy, attached lids, but they are not lockable either. I hope the burgeoning black bear population in Wisconsin doesn’t start moving into the metro area.

    The collective noun for fox is skulk — “a skulk of foxes”. Really! -rc

  66. A bit off the “bear” point, but I feel the need to add something to Lucy’s comments. She wrote, “I believe the best answer is to start treating cats just as you treat dogs. Require licenses, charge more for intact animals. In addition, provide low or no cost neutering for those who cannot afford it.”

    All excellent points — but she left off the most important, which is keeping your cat(s) inside, as most people do with their dogs. Outdoor cats running wild, using neighbors’ property as litter boxes, killing wildlife, shredding furniture, etc., is the main reason there’s so much animosity towards cats. Pets of all kinds should be indoors.

    My cat is neutered, licensed, and indoors — and as happy as can be with his lifestyle. He’s safe, warm, regularly fed (no competing with wild animals for a bowl of kibble on the porch), and loved AND loving.

    I know many will disagree with that, but I’ll add one more tidbit: an indoor cat will live (on average) 5-7 times longer than an outdoor cat. -rc

  67. In terms of the daughter’s comment – we live in bear country in California. When we first moved here, we didn’t secure our trash well enough and a bear came to visit. Trash is now well-secured. We now close our windows at night after a bear leaned in the kitchen window to get a drink of water from the sink. So when she tries to blame neighbors for her mother’s actions – sorry. I’m sure most of them were as careful as we are and those that aren’t should get cited. Her mother was handing out dog food to the bears – that’s just not right.

    In terms of feral cats – I had a feral cat colony that did get a bit out of control in my previous residence, so I did TNR, got it back under control, and ended up with a small stable population of cats. If I had removed them all, more cats would have just moved in; as it was, with TNR I kept the population from growing and fevers and the natural ravages of life outdoors took care of reducing the population.

  68. Here’s a link to another story about a bear lady.

    In this case, they did find a way to prosecute. Unfortunately a few other people were put through some hell before that happened. My cousin lives close by this particular “bear lady”, where she has a small organic egg farm. This “bear lady” went on vacation and a hungry bear killed three flocks of my cousins birds — essentially knocking her business on its backside.

    This was after they’d had to shoot a bear attempting to do something similar. My cousin was charged with a violation for killing the bear, which was later dropped after spending money on a lawyer she could ill afford.

    Meanwhile her neighbors were having bears break into or attempt to break into their homes to find food. At least one other bear that I heard of had to be killed for inappropriate behaviors related to thinking humans are a food source.

    Eventually the Oregon bear lady had to face consequences for feeding the bears- before she had something as serious as your Colorado incident happen to her. She fared much better than some of the bears she was feeding.

    She’s potential “This is True” material. She’s quite upset about not being able to go home for three year-. She’s lucky she’s alive to complain about it. At the same time, there will be bears in the woods for years to come, who have the potential to be a real menace to her former neighbors.

    There IS a reason to not feed the bears! If someone really cares about bears, they won’t feed them, and anyone who does should be charged with a criminal act. It endangers the bears as well as the neighbors.

  69. Posted by Keith in Arlington, VA on August 29, 2009: “No, the law was toothless, and stronger laws, enforced by a stronger government, could prevent this stuff from happening. Education programs are great, but when they don’t work, there has to be a law in place that can take care of the problem by its enforcement. And I’m sorry: a $100 fine is not a very good deterrent.”

    I’m sorry but laws should not replace common sense. Common sense says if you see someone doing something wrong try to fix the situation. Feeding bears is wrong! I would rather have a mad relative than a dead one.

    Keith wants stricter laws and stronger enforcement, that’s where the next group complains that the government is taking our freedom. OK, it is the freedom to stupidity in this case but a freedom none the less.

    Stricter laws and enforcement won’t change much. Friends and relatives that are really concerned about ones health and safety will.

  70. We read the article and comments with both sadness and a sense of deja vu. We are both saddened by the death of a woman who obviously wanted to remain independent, but was also doing something very dangerous, both to herself and possibly to others. We have to say that there is a lot of “conventional wisdom” floating around.

    One of the “wisdoms” we need to take issue with is the “loss of their natural feeding instincts”. Bears don’t lose them. They simply go to other instincts, such as “follow the path of least resistance”, in other words, opportunistic feeding to stock up on body fat for the winter. They do not, we repeat, do not, have a “natural fear of humans”. They have a fear of anything that might kill them or hurt them badly enough that they might not survive the winter (evolution at work, people!) This pernicious attitude that humans somehow have no place in the natural world has caused more grief….

    We do take issue with the statement that somehow animals eating “human food” imbues them with aggressive tendencies. Not true. We have had deer raid our pea garden for years, without one of them ever becoming a threat. However, deer are hunted here. Back to opportunism. If you can get a free meal without too much risk to yourself, survival genes dictate you go back.

    To illustrate our point, we had a bear incident of our own four years ago. Four young grizzlies set up housekeeping in our front yard. They staked out our entire 40 acre property, charging fishermen at the river, and cyclists riding by. Proximate cause? We had (gasp!) three apple trees in our front yard, full of unripe apples. There were other yards and fruit trees nearby, a river full of spawning salmon within a hundred yards. We were gone, and Susan’s father, then in his vigorous mid-seventies, was taking care of the place. End result? One of the bears attacked him coming out of his own front gate, 10 yards from his front door. He was lucky, sustaining only minor puncture wounds, plus losing one ear and part of his scalp. Why? Apparently the bear didn’t like having him there. Food was not an issue, berry crops were good, the salmon run was fair, and there were plenty of other trees that could have been raided. In this case, territory was probably the issue. To ascribe aggressive behaviour to feeding on “human food” is very questionable. We believe it is a popular myth that resonates with people, because it seems to promise so much for so little.

    We have reluctantly come to the conclusion that hunting pressure does three things: one, it lowers the number of bears per square mile, thus making them less likely to go into human occupied areas, since there are now more bear-preferred areas to go around. Two, it engenders a healthy respect for humans as a potential threat into the bear population. Before anyone here starts in on “A dead bear can’t learn anything”, we need to point out that we are not concerned with individuals, but the population at large. Bears are very intelligent, probably brighter than most dogs, and can associate the smell of dead bears and humans. Three, one can think of it as a natural selection. The more aggressive, day-active bears will be the first to be removed from the population.

    We need to also say that the removal of someone’s liberty should never be done casually. It becomes especially difficult when it is a family member, especially an elderly one. You mentioned drunk driving. Let’s try another example. Let us say you have an elderly relative who is still driving. You know that they sometimes are extremely careless about signalling, and occasionally zone out while in traffic. You believe them to be a danger to themselves and others at those times. You don’t always know when they drive, and they keep promising that they won’t anymore. Do you go and get a court order to rescind their licence? What if they appear completely plausible in court? If that happens, it will be ten times harder to do it later. To suggest that the family should have done this earlier seems a bit simplistic. Woulda, shoulda, coulda….

    We’ve used enough of your server space with our rant, and it’s time to have someone else pick ours apart. BTW, we’ve been enjoying True for years, and we always appreciate the humour and the critical thinking that goes into it.

    Bears and many other animals “become aggressive” with humans, rather than fear them, when they associate humans as a food source. As you say, they fear anything that they think can harm them, but humans can overcome that fear with food. If food isn’t forthcoming, the no-longer-afraid animal can and often will become more assertive — which is a synonym for “aggressive”. You can quibble with the wording, but the effect is the same.

    Driving by the elderly is indeed another good example, and as my father aged we first discouraged him, and then “forbade” him, from driving. To his credit, he understood the wisdom exhibited by those who cared for him, and agreed with, rather than fought off, our demands. He understood it was for the best for all, and it didn’t take a tragedy to convince him. May all of you have a similar outcome if and when the time comes with members of your family. -rc

  71. In numerous comments it was pointed out that “feeding” the animals comes from the idea that people see “human” qualities in the animals. Considering we have a population raised on feely/touchy and endless Hollywood offerings about animals of all kinds behaving like people, this should not surprise anyone. Add to it that common sense is not all that common and the result is what we are discussing here.

    In one comment was a link to another “feed the bear” case where the woman received a sentence that prohibited her from living in or near her home for 3 years. Obviously, she was lucky, because the accompanying pictures showed her feeding a bunch of grapes to a black bear, literally holding them into his mouth, with a second bunch under her arm. How easily the bear could have focused on that second bunch and grabbed for it or wanted more after it was gone and she had no more to give. Instead, the silly woman complained over her sentence.

    Some people never learn or only the hard way.

    Maybe the Ouray woman should be nominated for the “Darwin Award.”

  72. I too am sorry for this lady and her family’s loss. Stronger laws are not really the need here; laws do not take away liberty, they define its limits. No, enforcement of existing laws is important.

    Do NOT think that bears will ever truly fear humans. If a bear is agitated, no matter how many are killed during hunting season, they will still attack.

    Basically the drill in bear country is;

    1.) Keep all trash locked up in containers that keep in odors.
    2.) Make your home as bear proof as possible.
    3.) Feed pets indoors, clean up any feed left by livestock.
    4.) I know this will upset some people, but you may want to arm yourself, either with some sort of bear repellent, or if necessary (repellents don’t work too well) with something lethal. Better to eat the bear than be eaten by it.
    5.) Discourage people from moving into bear country. If you don’t like the country with all its dangers, stay in the city!

    Indeed, quite a few people in the vicinity of Donna Munson’s house will not even go out for a walk these days without taking a gun. I cannot blame them one bit; it’s a rational response to a very real threat. -rc

  73. Consider the Law of Unintended Consequences and maybe some will understand the basis of the cliché about good intentions.

    But for those who argue against excessive government intrusion into the private activities of others, consider the delicate balance between individual rights and public safety. If individual rights always trumps public safety, then all laws are invalid, and we’re left with anarchy. On the opposite extreme, if public safety is the sole criteria, the individual liberty becomes extinct and we have a police state. The justification is determined when the exercise of one is certain to overpower the other.

    I dislike seatbelt laws because they assume that I WILL get into a car accident and, further, I WILL be seriously injured. While feeding bears is not a guarantee that they will attack human habitation, it’s overwhelmingly likely.

    The law should not protect me from myself, but it certainly should protect others from me. And it certainly should have protected the neighbors from the deliberate actions of one woman.

    I agree the law should not try to protect you from yourself. You want to drive without a seatbelt (or a motorcycle without a helmet)? I may think it’s dumb, but I shouldn’t have anything to say about it UNLESS it affects me. We agree completely! But here’s how those actions affect me: if you’re seriously injured in an accident, “you” (or your family) will expect “us” (the public) to take care of you. If you’re gorked with a head injury, you’ll likely not have enough health insurance to pay for your care, and you’ll end up on the dole, where taxpayers will take care of you. And that is why I’m in favor of seatbelt and helmet laws.

    It is possible that society would truly allow freedom, and you can drive without a seatbelt or ride without a helmet. Crash? You better have insurance (or family money) to cover it, or it’s the hospital’s duty to drag you into the gutter to die. That is indeed freedom. But I sure don’t expect to ever see such a society in my lifetime. -rc

  74. I live part-time in Grand Junction, just a few hours from Ouray, and go to Ouray every chance I get for hiking and ATV rides. I respect the environment and the laws. I am only sorry for the wildlife, the town and for the innocent people who have to live with the consequences of Munson’s ignorance. She and the family and friends who choose to ignore the dangers get no sympathy from me. They deserve every bit of guilt and shame this incident has created. Their irresponsibility is appalling. They knowingly and willingly participated in this horror. Too bad these accessories to the crime can’t be charged with anything.

  75. I think the point was missed. It was made in response to those who believe the law should not intrude into the privacy of the individual, even for the protection of others, while intrusion is apparently acceptable for the protection of ourselves. Certainly this woman’s actions are causing you more definitive problems than my lack of a seatbelt.

    I think I understood your point, but I don’t think you understood mine: your not wearing a seatbelt doesn’t affect me …until you crash and end up on public assistance and require taxpayers to provide your care (e.g., through medicaid). Then your actions do affect society. -rc

  76. Though this incident happened a year ago, it is a situation my family will always remember. We were visiting in the neighborhood when it happened and had our own incident the day before when one of the bears killed tried to get in through a window where my daughter was sleeping. The bear had no fear and stayed around 20 to 30 minutes before we managed to scare it off with loud noise. The sheriffs department finally responded after it left and told us it had just been attracted by earlier baking, though I suspect it smelled dog food my daughter had in the room for her dog. We had seen a larger grey colored bear earlier in the day which tried to get into one of the other neighbors houses. The death was tragic, but the feeding put all the residents of the area in danger.


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