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.”
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.
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.)
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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