Why The Message 'Don't Feed The Bears' Bears Repeating In Vermont

Jul 16, 2014

A Montgomery man has been charged by the Fish & Wildlife Department for allegedly feeding bears.

Jeffrey Messier was charged with intentionally feeding the animals, according to a Fish & Wildlife press release.

“Game Warden Sgt. Carl Wedin received a report of a bear being killed in self-defense at a neighboring residence on June 22, 2014.  Sgt. Wedin responded and recovered the bear.  Its stomach contained a large number of sunflower seeds. 

The investigating warden went to Jeffrey Messier’s residence where he discovered evidence of bear feeding and encountered a bear walking around the residence.  The bear showed no sign of being afraid of people and walked right up to the warden.  The bear then approached a picnic table where sunflower seeds were placed.  It was obvious to the warden that this bear had been intentionally fed on several occasions and had lost its fear of humans.”

It was the first time that a person has been charged under a new law in Vermont that prohibits the intentional feeding of bears, or unintentionally feeding bears if a person has been warned for having attractants on a property. The penalties include a $1,000 fine and the one-year loss of a hunting, fishing, and trapping license. Bears are likely to enter properties with seeds and large amounts of unsecured garbage.

Forrest Hammond, a bear biologist for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that in cases of intentional feeding, people think they’re helping the bears.

“I think most of the people have big hearts and they like to see them,” Hammond said. But once a bear is fed, they change their behavior and begin to look at people as a source of food, which puts the bear, and humans, in danger.

“So even if you think you’re helping the bears out by giving them some food at a time that they might be hungry, they’re going to leave your residence and in the course of one night a bear might travel up to five miles and show up in somebody else’s yard and give them quite a scare,” Hammond said. “[The bears] will show up on their deck or back yard looking for food in a similar manner. And in some of these case people feel that for self-defense reasons, they’ll shoot the bear, or try to scare it off in a way that might injure the bear.”  

Hammond said that the people most at risk from bears are the people feeding them. “When you visit the residence of someone feeding bears, you almost always find signs that bears have tried to break into that house and that the people have put up different barricades and different kinds of things to keep the bears from breaking in and getting more food from them,” he explained. “In the case of this Montgomery home all the lower windows had electric wire around them to keep the bears from breaking in.”

There are 6,000 black bears in the state, and Hammond said people are around bears all of the time without knowing it.

“Often times, the bear will know that you are around and just kind of melt into the woods.” They have a very good sense of smell and hearing, and are quite wary of people, and will most often flee if they see a human, so your chances of encountering a bear while hiking, for example is pretty small.

“You’re actually lucky to see one. Most people think that’s pretty neat,” Hammond said.

But, he added, if you do encounter a bear, the best thing to do is talk in a normal voice, and the bear will likely run away. It’s best not to turn around and run, because that may encourage the bear to chase. Still, bear attacks are extremely rare.