An update on the Bear Story from a couple of weeks ago, about the Colorado woman and the bear.
Now that Donna, the woman who was feeding them, is dead, sure enough: more bears are now invading town, breaking into houses far more than before to try to find food — Donna isn’t there to feed them, and what they now know is humans = food. Winter is coming, and they need to fatten up for hibernation; they’re ravenous.
Last week another of my friends had her place broken into; she has two teen daughters; one was home at the time, and came face to face with the unafraid bear.
The Family Weighs In
Today, one of Donna’s family members commented on my earlier blog post. She laments that the family has to deal with such a horrible way for her aunt to die, but acknowledges that she essentially agrees with the blog posts she has read. She even admits that last year, she stayed with her aunt for a month, and saw what was going on. Yet she didn’t do anything.
She did nothing even knowing how much danger her aunt was in; that danger became a reality, and her aunt is now dead. She did nothing to reduce the danger to the hundreds — thousands — of people who live in the roaming range of the bears: 35 miles for females, even wider for males.
Yeah, I feel sorry for the family, but they were part of the problem: they knew this was going on, and they chose to do nothing.
Yet I still understand it: who should have taken action? A niece? A daughter? A brother? It’s a big step to have a family member declared incompetent and forced to move out of their home and into (very expensive!) care. I can understand wanting someone else to take the lead — while this continued on for a decade….
(Update: After this was posted, Munson’s daughter also posted a comment.)
Enough Blame to Go Around
Some of the locals blame the state Department of Wildlife, who also knew for certain this was going on, but couldn’t get the proof needed for filing charges: Donna’s house was deep enough in wooded acreage that in order to see what was going on required them to be on her property, and she would not give them permission to be there, as the original story notes.
Perhaps they could have gotten a search warrant and raided the place, but really: what judge would grant such a warrant, knowing that the maximum fine for a first offense is (hold on to your hat!) $100? Sure, maybe DOW let us down, but even more so our state legislature, which isn’t being serious about penalties for the crime that will, in this extreme case, result in the destruction of three generations of bears.
Oh, It’ll Be OK
The bottom line, though, is everyone who knew Donna knew she was doing this. I know they didn’t want to “cause trouble” for her; they didn’t want to have to be “the” witness for the prosecution, getting on the stand to say “Yes: this is what she was doing.”
So everyone — wildlife officials, family, friends, neighbors — ended up looking the other way, so now Donna is dead, several bears are dead, other bears will be killed, a lot of damage is being done to people’s houses and property, and hundreds of people, adult and child, are at a much greater risk of being mauled or killed.
Everyone who had firsthand knowledge of what Donna was doing, but said nothing, must share her guilt. I live here, and now know about it; I’m not going to join that silence and be guilty too, even if that means I have to be one of the few to say it directly to Donna’s family members.
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36 Comments on “Bear Country Update”
I can tell it was uncomfortable for you to write the first entry, knowing that the family would surely see it (and they did!) And I can tell it was uncomfortable for you to reject the heart-tugging plea to remember the survivors in her family. But you’re right: no one really wanted to say what needed to be said, and your part of the world is significantly worse off because of that. Kudos to you for saying what truly did need to be said, even though you know the family is reading.
I’m not exactly rejecting her plea: I did and do remember the family, and feel for their loss. But one can do that and remind them of their part in the story. -rc
You did the right thing Randy, and it is a shame that EVERYONE who KNEW about this for the last TEN YEARS, chose to ignore “hurting her feelings” by maintaining their silence. They can now assume a bit of the guilt for her and the bears deaths and the ones yet to come until the ones used to humans are either dead or moved out… I find it funny (in a sad way) how those living so close to this could be so unconcerned at the disaster that was in the making! This whole tragedy could have been avoided had a few bothered to offend feelings and gone to the authorities as witnesses to get this stopped. I would much rather offend a neighbor, than bear the burden of knowing my silence cost them their life, and could be the cost of others as well. People really need to think about this sort of thing when dealing with wildlife. Bears are WAY too quick to habituate to us humans, and they will opt for the easiest grocery store Look what Yellowstone CAUSED, and the trouble they had re-training those bears to forage….This was a VERY avoidable tragedy….and hopefully no one will be so foolish to do anything like this again.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke
A Big Step? Ursine Terrorists? Blame It On The Lawyers.
It’s a big step indeed to have someone declared incompetent: it involves lawyers, meaning it’s time-consuming and expensive.
The family was caught between the bears and the “sharks,” so to speak. Perhaps they played possum hoping the threat would go away. Or stuck their heads in the sand…
Once feeding those bears became an obvious public safety hazard, Donna’s actions became criminal, like the guy who lets an aggressive dog off leash at the park. Law enforcement should have ensured the safety of the community at that point, measly fine or not. Maybe the teenager who inadvertently played Goldilocks should get her own lawyer…?
And who speaks for the bears?
DOW is supposed to speak for the bears, of course. But yeah, you’re right: I was definitely acknowledging the difficulty in getting someone declared incompetent. It does involve lawyers, it does cost money, it is a hard job — but it is sometimes vital to do it anyway. And when it’s not done, yeah: it becomes an obvious public safety hazard, and yet no one wants to take point and do it. And we all suffer because of it. -rc
Hard for me to have sympathy for someone who caused their own demise. If her family really wants something good to come of this, they should do exactly what Randy is doing: talk about the dangers of what she did.
While I can sympathize with the family to some extent, isn’t this an occasion where the greater good outweighs personal pain?
You are ex-act-ly correct, Randy. The feeding of wild animals directly contributes to a shorter life expectancy of said animal. Your story demonstrates that very clearly. Thank you for speaking the truth and sticking with it.
*sigh* I can understand the thinking behind what this woman did – my mother did something similar, though thankfully far less dangerous!
Here in Australia, possums (not much like your opossums except in superficial looks, I think) are cute, fuzzy… and easily tamed and tempted by food. My mother, who is normally fairly stern on the whole “wild animals are meant to be wild, you shouldn’t do anything to change that” thing and frequently tells me off for owning (aviary-bred) cage birds, had a possum move into a tree in her yard and started feeding it. At first she was being at least somewhat ‘responsible’, feeding it fruit and other things that approximated a natural diet… but possums LOVE bread and honey. And it’s so cute when the possum gets used to the idea that humans = food and starts coming down the tree to meet you. And it’s even cuter when the possum gets so tame and unafraid that it will eat the bread and honey out of your hand…
I did point out that (1) bread and honey is NOT healthy as a large percentage of a possum’s diet, (2) she was teaching it to be unafraid of humans and not all humans are as ‘safe’ to approach as she is, (3) she was – by association – teaching it to be unafraid of her cats, and (4) what happened to letting wild animals be wild? She sort of hemmed and hawed and then came out with “Well, if he dies early but happy I guess that’s OK”.
Way to stick to your principles Mum. My cage birds should be out flying free (and starving, and falling to the first predator to spot them, because they have never had a life outside an aviary and have no idea whatsoever how to forage for themselves), but ‘your’ possum is **cute** so taming it is A-OK. Suuuuure…
*ahem* anyway. My mother discovered her mistake when she went out one evening to give the possum his bread and honey, looked up in the tree making kissy noises to call him – and her leg was grabbed from behind, because the possum was down on the ground, about to climb her to get to his honey. Please note: possums, while far smaller and less dangerous than bears, have very impressive sharp claws that do an excellent job of digging into wood. They do an even better job of digging into people.
Mum was sensible enough to just drop the bread and honey, so the possum lost all interest in climbing her and let go. She escaped with a few scratches and a scare – and the possum isn’t getting fed any more. I guess Donna’s rude awakening, unlike my Mum’s, didn’t come with a second chance to change her ways.
I think it’s a bit unfair to say that the family did nothing. They didn’t do enough, certainly, for the reasons you give. In the first post, you said that she “kept promising to friends and family that she would stop”, which implies that the matter had been raised many times, although I’m not sure whether she believed that she was doing harm, or whether she just said that so that people would leave her alone to “help”.
Then again, she may have been like the burro feeders encountered by John in Winfield, considering people who object to be “do-gooders”. Accusing people who object of being sanctimonious amounts to an admission to being selfish, and having no regard for the consequences.
My compliments. No one ever wants to reduce these kinds of things to the real issues because they are painful and even if it means concealing the problem to avoid the pain we’ll do it.
Some years ago in State College a young college student stepped of a curb into the side of a turning school bus, was struck, knocked down under the bus, run over, and killed. There was clear evidence that she was listening to music through headphones, did not look up, and stepped right into the bus. Regardless, there were calls to investigate the bus driver, redesign the intersection, make some new turning rules, but no one wanted to say that she was the author of her own destruction. A fact that would have hopefully illustrated the consequences of inattention.
This whole story is very sobering…if only enough people read it and understood the implications of their actions. Just the other day, I saw a couple feed the seagulls at the beach with something out of a plastic grocery bag. One would feed the gulls while the other took photos. Then they would switch places, smiling the whole time. We’ve had frequent beach closings in Chicago due to unsafe levels of E-coli and other substances in the water. Seagull waste is believed to be a big contributor. Canadian geese flocks have taken up residence in some places because of plentiful food (provided by humans) and few predators. On hiking vacations, I’m always stunned at the photo-ops people create with food and wild animals. I suppose in some ways I contribute to the problem by not speaking up if the opportunity presents itself. Thank you, Randy, for speaking up.
I once saw a busload of tourists chase a mother grizzly bear and two cubs through the scrub brush at Mt. McKinley national park. Those cute bears will do the darndest things. Three days later a grizzly killed a wildlife photographer in the park. I wonder if those two events were related?
not being a wild life expert at all, and being more than a bit worried about the state of the matter in your neighhborhood, let me offer some advice, naturally open to scrutiny:
maybe it is possible to revert the custom of the bears about looking for humans to get food, if such food was left somewhere away from humans, in the place where bears would naturally find it, for some extended time to tapper off to nothing after the bears “forget” the equation humans=food.
Probably the real wild life experts have reached some better way. I sure hope so. I drool with envy when you describe the place where you live, but having bears (bears, not rabbits!!) rowing the place…. no, no es bueno!
I read this and it reminded me of my trip to Alaska. Juneau has a problem with bears and other places moose. The locals take seriously ‘DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS’. If only others would follow suit. The only wild animals I feed are birds. I even got a feeder that squirrels cannot eat out of. When blue jays and cardinals start attacking me, I will stop feeding them too. Here in Florida there are stories of tourists feeding the ‘friendly’ alligators until one of their kids get chased or attacked. Then they complain about the wild animals. Locals know better. If only tourists would learn.
“…and yet no one wants to take point and do it.”
Perfect analogy. Nobody wants to be the first to take the position since it puts them directly in the line of fire if such a position proves unpopular, even for the good of the many.
It’s good to have the support (mine included) for taking point, but it’s better to have at least some of those supporters taking point along side of you.
Obviously, I’m not referring specifically to the responders in this blog since most, if not all, are just too far away. But while you live in a rural area, it’s not uninhabited and that’s exactly your subject, that no one else was willing to take point, even to share such a position with others, when they knew about it.
We are starting to see a problem with bears here due to two causes. First being that we are eating up land the bears use at alarming rates, the second is that the bear hunt has been stopped causing the population to be uncontrolled and in some years there isn’t enough food for the bears to go around. You can see what the combination of the two leads to. When the bears are over populated everyone suffers, including the bears.
As has been mentioned before, we in Alaska take bears VERY seriously. However, we do “feed the bears”, but only to hunt them, and only after we have completed the necessary paperwork and classes. And never, ever, EVER hunt alone. A really good way never to return alive.
Again, I will say you are right to condemn the actions of “Donna” and her entire family. Up here, if it’s found out you are feeding bears, no mercy. Alaska Fish and Game has lots of enforcement power over that, and they will have you arrested pronto, taken to jail and wait for your day in court. Yup, it’s harsh, but less so that what Donna and your community will be dealing with for years to come.
She was 74, and had been doing it for ten years. What took the bears so long to ummm. you know… I don’t want to say it.
I knew a man who was going hunting for deer one time, and what he had done was repellent to me. He’d planted a salt lick in an abandoned apple orchard. The next week, he walked up the hill, bang, came back down with the deer slung over his shoulders. Is that hunting? Naw, to me that is cheating.
I knew a man who lives way up in a small town in the mountains and during a particularly hard winter he noticed the elk were coming to the city limits to forage for food. Being the nice man he is, he started taking a couple of bales of hay just inside the forest, and leaving it there for them to eat. He did this for several weeks… then early one morning he heard shots. He yanked on his jeans and jacket and made it up the hill to the forest edge, and found some neighbors had shot two of the elk. He just happened to have his cell phone in the pocket of his jacket, and called the police.
The police took the elk, took the rifles and fined the two shooters something like $150.00 each.
Like he says, no good deed goes unpunished, and the poor old lady got punished, but so did her whole family, and the whole county, maybe even state, because, as you said, the legislature is not working hard enough to protect the animals from the stupidity of the people, sometimes.
We, here in Florida, we have an assortment of wild animals, including bears. One had been spotted a few times in Weston Fl. We all knew it would be put down, but it wound up in Georgia. It went into a garage, where it was shot and killed. The owner of the home said that she didn’t see what all the fuss was about. She said that it was claimed to be 300 pounder, but she disputed that. Claimed it was only about 200 pounds. The bear had an ear tag.
We live on the edge of the Everglades. There are lots of other animals we have to be concerned with. People started to dump their boas and pythons there. Then came the Nile Monitor lizards. This is because people got a weird pet, and find there is no place else to get rid of it. To top that off, a few years ago, there was a picture in the papers about a python was trying to eat an alligator. Both died. This is all part of the stupid human tricks.
Someone asked if there was a way to keep bears out of trash cans. The short answer is: Keep your trash cans inside until collection day.
Two stories: We live in the geographic center of a city that now has a population of about 400,000. For years, I kept birdseed in galvanized trash cans in my backyard, where it was handy for refilling the feeders. I put bungee cord through the handles to keep the raccoons out — until they learned to defeat it, at which point my husband rigged heavy chains to hold the lids on. We never had bears until about 10 years ago, after more and more people had built houses in the foothills.
Our introduction to bear problems was seeing a black bear that had already pulled down all the feeders whack the side of one of the galvi cans, denting it deep enough that he could pry the lid off. Since then, we’ve kept those cans inside, and take the feeders inside every evening at dusk.
Two years ago, one of our neighbors posted an email to everyone in the neighborhood boasting about the jim-dandy bear-proofing device he’d bought to secure the lid on his heavy plastic roll-away trash can. He even posted a photo of it; pretty impressive.
Last year they had a big church picnic in their yard, put all the leftover food (including the remains of a big sheet cake) in the trash can, secured the device, and went to bed. That night three black bears came through our yard. No, they didn’t get the lid off the can; they just pried the lid up and scooped out the food.
Just keep your trash cans in your garage or a good, stout shed — there’s NO WAY to secure the lid on any ordinary trash can.
Our county is fairly close to Ft. Worth (in Texas terms) and we have a fairly large deer population anyway (deer hunting brings in many people from the Dallas-Ft.Worth area in the fall). Lately, we have been seeing a number of cougars coming into the northern part of the county which is thinly populated and fairly rugged, but isn’t that far from my house. I am wondering now, because of your article, if the hunters, as well as possibly someone else, putting out feed for the deer isn’t having the unintended consequence of drawing the cougars.
People have to be so careful of what they do when they mess with mother nature. We already have to deal with fire ants and killer bees around here because someone couldn’t leave things alone, I hate to think about possibly having to take a rifle and escort my wife and daughter when they go into the back yard (our yard backs onto the woods that extend all the way to the problem area).
I sense a lot of disgust in your rant, and a rant it is! But your comment: “Everyone who had firsthand knowledge of what Donna was doing, but said nothing, must share her guilt,” is a bit overboard. People do stupid things all the time, and they get killed sometimes. Exchange the “bear” issue for another, e.g., drinking and driving, and does your rant still sound justified? While I do not live in Ouray, we have property there and we were camping there, very close to this lady’s house, the day she was found. I heard what was going on via the radio/scanner at a neighbor’s home who is the County Emergency Coordinator. And I heard what was going on from other neighbors, first-hand. There was a general sense of loss of the lady (from the neighbors) as well as a general sense of disgust that wildlife officials were unable to stop this lady’s actions – she was told, she was warned, she was threatened, all to no avail; she indigently continued with her risky behavior of feeding bears – because “she loved the bears.” Like the gentleman from Alaska posted – our laws would not have allowed it.
Randy, save your breath about spreading guilt, and clamor for a change in the laws. Wildlife officials do not need a person like you to say that they are guilty when they do not have the tools necessary to stop a dangerous behavior with wildlife – like bear feeding. That lady has the liberty to feed wild animals just like the person who puts out a bird feeder filled with seed; albeit, bears of inherently more dangerous than birds. Habituated bears are dangerous, I agree. Killing habituated bears may be necessary; they are no longer normal. We have those issues here on our ranch and we don’t feed the bears!
My concern, and it is yours too, are the folks who live near to this lady’s home who now have hungry habituated bears looking for the next handout. Trapping and relocating is a non-lethal option, however, it does not always work for some bears who cannot resist the temptation to seek human food. We have had habituate bears trapped near Mammoth, CA released (by Wildlife officials) near our place, and guess what happens!?!
Bottom line, this lady’s actions were foolish, indeed, and equally foolish is your finger-pointing and labeling GUILTY at “everyone who knew it”…in my humble opinion. If you feel that strongly, work for a change in wildlife laws in Colorado, e.g., First offense – citation and a fine, Second offense – jail. If anyone warrants compassion and protection right now, it is this lady’s neighbors. They are justified in being concerned and worried – they are my neighbors too. They too knew what was going on, but were powerless to stop it. Give them the tools necessary to take action, then, hopefully, these stupid behaviors by stupid people will diminish somewhat.
Michael, you haven’t convinced me — at all. Let’s use your drunk driving example. Family and friends know you drive drunk, and do nothing? “There goes Michael again: he’s already drunk and weaving down the road. He’s probably headed for the bar.” And yet they do nothing? Yes: they should share the guilt if you run over a kid on her bike! Why wouldn’t they? When they “know” there is a drunk driver, they should call the police and report it. Simple as that. When they know their neighbor is feeding bears and do nothing, then indeed they’re part of the problem. They are certainly not the only problem, as I made clear.
So clear, in fact, that I’m amazed you missed it: I did in fact call upon the legislature for stronger laws, as well as the Department of Wildlife who should have done a better job of enforcement, on the very page that you entered your comment on. And my main point was, in fact, that the neighbors are in danger. Some may have been aware that there was a problem, but didn’t have evidence to report to the sheriff. That’s fine; I’m not saying they need to go confess to a priest — let’s keep some perspective here! -rc
I don’t believe it’s so much a case of everybody wanting to “look the other way” in order to “not cause trouble.” In my opinion, if state officials, for 10 years, couldn’t get the woman to stop, what chance would her family have of accomplishing that task?
That’s just my PoV, of course.
It’s a good point, though state officials have a lot of other things to do too. Still, in my opinion, both failed her. -rc
I think you put too fine a face on the issue when you said that more people would be killed or mauled. Why not say it like it is: More people will be eaten!
Not that many are actually eaten; more are mauled, sometimes to death. It takes a really hungry bear to actually eat a human, which is why it’s so rare, but one swipe of a paw (to get you out of the way, or to get you away from their cub) is all it takes to be severely injured or killed. But yeah: people are horrified at the thought of being eaten by a predator, so: “You can be eaten!” -rc
I note that you said that DOW could not “permission” to go onto Donna’s land. If she had lived in SC that would not have been an issue. Our Department of Natural Resources folks have more latitude than any other official in cases of wrongdoing (even when it is only suspected).
Interesting. I believe they would have needed a warrant here, once she refused them entry. -rc
You put a share of blame on the niece for not putting a stop to the nonsense. And yet she said she pled with the Bear Woman to stop. No one can force their will on others without a really serious cause, such as dementia. That’s the whole point of freedom. Neighbors could have taken her to court to get an order stopping her, but they didn’t.
I’m very familiar with how hard it is to see a family member doing something completely irresponsible and yet not being in a position to stop it. In fact, if I’d tried using force to stop the bad behavior, then I put myself in a legally precarious position. The Bear Women was doing something stupid and illegal, and yet the DOW didn’t set up hidden cameras to gather evidence or get a warrant to allow them access to her property to spy on her. The sheriff didn’t arrest her. Short of physical restraint, there was no way to stop her.
And…if we develop legal ways to stop other people from doing what we don’t want, what’s to say we can’t force people to stop smoking or failing to wear seatbelts or, for that matter, being fat? Or force people to exercise. Or make them keep to-do lists. Or set the silverware correctly? At what point can we step in with physical restraints to stop someone from doing stupid things? The answer is it takes *overwhelming* evidence that has to be enough to persuade a judge to take away someone’s freedom. Thank goodness! (And, besides, if people were no longer allowed to be stupid, you’d run out of fodder for True stories!) This is a sad, sad case of a stubborn person who would listen to no one.
Your points are well taken, but indeed the family could have petitioned a court to have her declared incompetent — and indeed, that’s what they’re saying now (that she clearly had Alzheimer’s). Was that true when she started 10 years ago? I have no idea, but they’re saying they knew she was incompetent, refused logical requests to stop behavior that was endangering herself and others, etc. Would you rather have the family petition the court, or the sheriff? Certainly the family knew the situation better than anyone, and their inaction led to her death. That’s my point. I do (and did already in this space) acknowledge the difficulty of that, on both the legal and personal levels. -rc
Randy, her behavior was foolish and dangerous for herself and her neighbors, but why do you think it would have been possible to have her declared incompetent? You frequently write about folks who are foolish and taking risks (often with dire consequences), but how many of them are actually, legally, incompetent?
It might have been possible for visitors or family to testify to her illegal activity – and then they would have perhaps been banned from further visits, after she paid her $100 fine.
I’m unsure if you wrote your comment before the previous one was approved, or if you’re responding to it. I didn’t meet the woman, so have no opinion personally on whether she was truly incompetent. I can only go with what her family said after her death: that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Whether that (and her behavior) is truly enough for a judge to make such a declaration, I don’t know — and we never will. -rc
What a shame. I mean that more for the bears than for dear ol’ Donna. I’ve been camoing in Ouray a few times over the years. One year I went further up the Rockies after Ouray and into Montana. While driving down the road I noticed a car stopped and photographing something. Sure enough it was a bear rambling along a hillside heading for some houses.
I turned around and drove back a few hundred yards where I had seen some people outside playing. By the time I got there they were inside and hiding as I watched from across the street. The bear searched around their house for food knocking the trash cans all around. Must of been garbage day as they were empty. The bear made his way on down the road checking each house for food. I talked to the lady who was hiding for a minute and informed her the bear was on its way. So I decided to drive down and see where it went to. When I caught up to the bear it was sniffing around a backyard eating berries or something off a bush. When that ran out it went back to foraging around the house and when it went around the corner it disappeared.
When I rolled down the road a little to watch it again it was nowhere to be found. The garage door was open on the house but you could not see in as it did not face the road but was slightly angled to the road. The sign on the front post at the mailbox said “No Trespassing”. I know a big ol’ bear like that could not just vanish on a treeless hillside. I blew my horn in the drive hoping to arouse someone inside the home. No sign of anyone so I set off thinking of the worst.
I seen a state trooper 1/4 mile down the road writing a ticket. After he was done he came my way so I stopped him. I told him someone was either in peril or about to get the surprise of their life. When he seen the No Trespassing sign he said there was nothing he could do. I asked him about maybe trying to call the people who own the house and he just pointed to the sign again. He then drove off. I always wondered what happened to that bear or the people who lived there. I was only there for maybe 30 minutes but the bear was not seen again.
Why all this rambling you ask?… Is that No Trespassing sign that powerful? I mean so much that no one will cross it or inquire about it. I have no trespassing signs in my backyard but would never be angered if someone interrupted my life to let me know I was in, or could be in, trouble.
On a side note I no longer tent camp in the mountains because of bears and other animals losing their fear of humans. KOA is your friend or as I look at it.. there are a lot of other snacks around you and your chances are better being unhurt. Kind of like a “baitball” of sardines.
It is quite difficult – intentionally so – to have someone declared incompetent. Circumstances such as those outlined in the movie “Changeling” have forced this state of affairs. Family members of the woman were faced with the possibility of a bad outcome if they did nothing (and this did occur) versus the certainty of splintering the family forever with no very good chance of success if they’d tried this avenue. There is no sovereign test for Alzheimer’s.
It’s easy enough in the aftermath to say “they should have done so-and-so”. Would it be better had they tried, failed, wrecked the family, and had to deal with the same outcome? In my view, this is the likeliest scenario.
There are no good choices here.
In light of the dominating headlines of late (and the vitriol coming from both the pro and con sides) I saw this sad Donna Feeds the Bears and Gets Eaten story as a metaphor for what is going on in our country right now. Donna is the Federal Government, feeding the “bears” who are the banks, the car companies, the uninsured, Medicare, Medicaid, the welfare recipients, Cap and Trade beneficiaries, and every other government program, old and new. All those individuals and entities with their hands out and those that think it’s okay for Mama “Donna” Big Government to feed all the “poor, broke, uninsured, starving, fill-in-the-blank-here” might look at the ultimate outcome of poor Donna, and most importantly, the three generations of bears that will ultimately be destroyed because now these younger “bears” won’t — or can’t — feed themselves.
While watching the Today show this morning I noted that feeding dolphins in South Florida carries a $12,000 fine while feeding bears carries only a $100.00 fine. Am I the only one who notices the dolphins obviously have a much better lobby group? I understand the need to not feed any wild animals having grown up in a rural area but feeding a ‘cute’ dolphin endangers the dolphin bringing them to close to boats and other water traffic. Feeding bears endangers everyone, they are very large very dangerous animals. Why such a large difference in fines? Is it just a question of good PR?
Your statement gives me pause: “It’s a big step to have a family member declared incompetent….”
I was up north (Maine) visiting my mother (89) who insists on feeding the raccoons out her back door. I’ve told her I didn’t think it was a good idea, but she insists, even after I noticed a dead raccoon along the road. I told her she contributed to its death by inviting the wildlife to her property so near the road.
Is there really a case for declaring someone incompetent? I wouldn’t do it, but maybe the threat would be enough to stop her. I fear rabies or an attack on her person. Also processed food (bread and milk) can’t be all that good for wildlife either. At the very least she’s wasting her limited funds and putting herself through extra work every day by washing the pans. Am I being alarmist? On the other hand, if it’s raccoons now, might it not be bears to show up next?
There’s a line — a fuzzy, gray one — between competent and not. It’s hard to say that feeding raccoons puts someone across the line. It’s EASY to say that feeding bears, and going after one with a broom because it’s “naughty,” is over that line. In your case, if it’s not obvious to you, it won’t be obvious to a judge. -rc
Just a quick note – I noticed another bear attack in the Daily Press (Hampton Roads) in Aspen, CO. I take it the situation hasn’t gotten any better. You mentioned in the original post that “a fed bear is a dead bear.” According to the article 9 bears have had to be euthanized this summer. It also mentioned he was attacked at his home while checking on his barking dogs. Here’s hoping that the actions of others don’t put you and your family at risk.
Aspen is actually about a four-hour drive from here, so it’s not directly related to the situation here; they have their own bear problem. I haven’t heard if there was someone feeding bears in the same way in Aspen, or if it’s simply a problem with a multitude of people not properly securing their trash in bear country. -rc
I applaud your position on the matter and that you have provided a public forum that addresses the dangers of habituating wildlife to humans. Like Timothy Treadwell, Donna Munson naively grew to believe that the bears had befriended her and while she fed and enjoyed seeing “her” bears roaming onto her property it is clear that she had no consideration for her neighbors or for her own safety. From what I understand, her late husband, Jack was a wildlife “expert” — He was inexcusably careless in his treatment of wild animals, even to the point of bringing them inside the cabin. He should have known better as anyone who has undertaken serious study of wild animals knows that they cannot be domesticated. As a result of embracing the mythology that humans have an innate ability to coexist with wild predators combined with an arrogant refusal to exercise common sense, Donna’s ghastly death was a foregone conclusion. The aftermath, subjecting her neighbors to conditioned bears and the subsequent euthanasia of animals who, if left alone would not seek out human dwellings to search for food is the real tragedy.
The problem here is that an animal lover forgot a simple principle when it came to wild animals. That principle is:
You can take the animal out of the wild, but you CAN’T take the wild out of the animal.
I don’t know Donna’s mental state, though I remember reading your original story in 2009. There was more than enough information for her to make better decisions, surely. But she stuck to her guns, despite the warnings of wildlife officials, who must have to know a thing or two about wild animals in order to BE wildlife officials, despite the laws, despite the pleas of neighbors, friends and family.
When it came down to it, it was what she perceived as pleas by the bears (and probably other animals, too) that mattered the most to her. The poor things were hungry, why shouldn’t she, an animal lover, respond?
Sadly, she forgot the above mentioned principle to dealing with wild animals, and it cost her her life. It is now costing the lives of her beloved animals, too, because she just couldn’t let them BE wild animals, and fend for themselves.
I make it a point, where I live now, to let the wild animals BE wild animals. We have coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons around here, as well as other animals who may not be showing themselves. I secure my garbage and recycling, and I NEVER feed any of them. I enjoy seeing them, and view them as “sort-of pets” that I don’t have to feed or clean up after. I have enough of that with my cats, who are indoor only cats.
I do not think that the family could have gotten a petition sustained for Incompetency based on the fact that she fed the bears after being told repeatedly not to do so. If it were THAT easy to get a petition sustained then there would be no more alcoholics and drug addicts. To be honest, I prefer it the way it is regarding Incompetency petitions. Was she ‘incompetent’ according to established law and procedures? We will never know since she died in the attack.
Have the laws in Colorado changed since this incident took place? If not then I say “Shame on YOU Colorado!” I understand and RESPECT private property rights but I also understand that sometimes the welfare of the MANY trumps the property rights of the FEW. Make it easier for DOW to make a case to preserve the rights of the rest of the people in the area to LIVE, which stopping such feeding programs would do. That does NOT mean that I think it is OK for DOW (or any other agency local state or federal) to “storm the place” with guns blazing or to otherwise deprive the owners of the properties their rights to have and use said properties without due process of law. I do not live in Colorado but Randy YOU DO! How many elections have been held since this happened and how much time did you spend lobbying your lawmakers about this issue in the interim?
I live in a suburban setting but there are forests and open fields within a mile of my house. I have seen deer in a field near my house and there is a wild rabbit that seems to have taken up residence on my street. I don’t feed the rabbit and have never gotten close enough to it to even touch it. Recently a dog was sleeping under one of our cars when we came home from Church–I made it a point to tell my sister NOT to feed it because we do not need a dog just now and that is what usually happens when you start feeding an animal–the animal comes to expect and depend on the food.
We can say that “Common Sense” would say that we should not feed animals unless we want them to be dependent on US for their next meals, but Common Sense these days is often a rare commodity, even in Senior Citizens like Ms. Munson.
It’s pretty rare that I think it’s a good idea to make new laws based on the actions of a single person. Even if that person was an incompetent fool (and as you say, it’s hard to say whether or not she was incompetent, in the legal sense), we should leverage that to dictate actions of 5.3 million others? I’d rather tread carefully. -rc
I come to this discussion late in the game, but it struck a deep cord for many reasons.
My late mother lived in the San Bernardino Mountains of California, above Lake Arrowhead, and worked at a restaurant where she collected leftovers; suet for birds, nuts/breads for squirrels and fish/meat for ‘Mama,’ a wild brown bear. I learned from others that, un-armed, she once had a 5-hour standoff with armed, unlicensed poachers trying to bag Mama on her property, till Mama went uphill and a deputy found truck and poachers stuck in the gully below.
On a month-long visit in 1995 she told me Mama only came by her place as a last resort, when she had cubs and there was no food to be had anywhere else. I had an opportunity to see and photograph Mama and her two cubs while there, from the safety of an upper deck overlooking the hillside and lake, from which my mother threw food packets to them. Mama was magnificent, her female cub skittish, but her male cub was something else again.
About half-grown, I locked gazes with him for a few seconds. The camera shook in my hands and I have never been more afraid of ANYthing in my life, nor found words to describe it: in human eyes that look would have screamed ‘killer!’ He was shot about two years later after breaking into a locked cabin’s refrigerator. Not long afterwards Mama, old and ailing, was hit by a semi and found about a mile away, dead of her injuries.
Reading Donna’s story, it struck me that the real reason she and my mother fed the bears was that they were lonely, but loath to admit it — or lose their independence. It may also be why her family didn’t ‘act.’ Fortunately my mother let a cousin take her in and care for her until she needed a care facility, where she died a year ago. Could Donna’s family have done the same?
When and how do we decide when ‘intervention’ is needed, desirable, required? And, humans being what they are, how long before such criteria are abused for other ends?
Hopefully, by now Colorado has found a workable solution to deter humans from feeding wild animals.
As far as I’ve heard, Colorado hasn’t updated their toothless law. -rc