An elderly couple in Colorado received a citation and a total of $400 fine after reportedly luring and feeding bears, local officials report.
In a statement to The Denver Post, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Jason Clay said that the elderly residents of Castle Rock, Douglas County made the citation after receiving multiple complaints from the couple's neighbors. The local office also took the incident as an opportunity to remind people about the risks of feeding wildlife.
"It is selfish and unethical to feed bears," said Matt Martinez, Area Wildlife Manager. He added that the practice will result in "unintentionally killing those animals" as well as putting violators in harm's way. Martinez adds that if people are looking for pets, they should instead find a domestic breed adapted for cohabitation with humans and not with wild species like the bears in Colorado.
Attracting Wildlife to Domestic Properties
According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the $200 fine handed to each of the elderly couples constitutes the first offense. For the second and third offense, the penalty increases to $1,000 and $2,000 respectively, plus surcharges.
Clay explains that luring and feeding bears to homes further encourages them to gather in the same area, increasing risks for human-wildlife conflict. "Habituated" wildlife are potentially dangerous for humans. According to the National Parks Services, habituation of wildlife happens when animals are exposed repeatedly to the same stimuli, such as humans feeding them, eventually getting them desensitized.
The NPS cites the example of rock squirrels as a commonly habituated species among US parks. Wild rock squirrels naturally fear humans, so when a tourist tries to take a picture with these creatures, squirrels tend to scamper away. However, repeated attempts to interact with squirrels makes humans less of a threat for these animals, finding them as a potential source of food.
Its negative effect is highlighted in the case of elks, who often end up as roadkill because of their reduced fear of paved roads and the human-driven vehicles that pass through them.
Misconception In Human-Wildlife Conflicts
In the case of bears, habituation could lead to their species rummaging through trash bins and dumpsites. In severe cases, bears have been reported to break into establishments, cars, garages, and homes in search of food. This is particularly risky as bear attacks on humans can have lethal consequences.
"Wildlife is always the ultimate loser," Clay said.
The state wildlife department has also noted that this practice of luring and feeding wild bears is a "recurring problem" especially in the state's Castle Rock and Larkspur areas.
"I find that there are some misconceptions that feeding bears will lead to fewer conflicts with animals," said Sean Dodd, District Wildlife Manager. He clarified that feeding bears would only attract more bears, subsequently increasing risks of conflict in an area. Dodd summed the practice of luring and feeding bears are selfish, and that it ultimately ends up in death for the bears. The agency encourages people to report wildlife violations through its official channels.