by Merritt Clifton
MINNEAPOLIS––Feeding deer is legal in Minnesota, though baiting deer in order to shoot them is not. Feeding bears is illegal, except to bait them during hunting season.
Arguing that feeding bears could get someone killed, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in June 2013 refused to renew North American Bear Center founder Lynn Rogers’ permit to radio collar bears because Rogers also fed the bears to help keep them under observation. On May 27, 2014 the Minnesota DNR won a ruling from state chief administrative law judge Tammy Pust that it acted correctly.
But on May 6, 2014 feeding deer got Todd Stevens, 46, killed in New Brighton, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. Neal Curtis Zumberge, 57, was charged with second degree murder and second degree attempted murder after allegedly fatally shooting Stevens and wounding Stevens’ partner Jennifer Damerow-Cleven, 48. Stevens’ dog was also hit in one foot by shot fragments.
“Zumberge fired across the street at Stevens and Damerow-Cleven after a years-long dispute over the two feeding deer in their yard,” reported Emily Gurnon and Sarah Horner of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Stevens died on his front steps. Damerow-Cleven was struck twice in the abdomen, but survived. Zumberge told investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension after his arrest that the feud with his neighbors had been going on for 15 years.”
Three days before the shootings, Zumberge’s son Jacob Howard Zumberge, 23, “confronted Stevens and Damerow-Cleven about their feeding deer, blaming his father’s Lyme disease on it,” Gurnon and Horner continued. “He threatened to ‘burn down (their) house and kill’ Stevens and Damerow-Cleven, police said.” As result of that incident, Jacob Zumberge was arrested earlier on the evening of the shootings and charged with making terroristic threats and committing assault.
Paula A. Zumberge, 50, wife of Neal Zumberge and mother of Jacob Zumberge, allegedly approached the Stevens/Damerow-Cleven home after the son was arrested, triggering the fatal confrontation. Said by witnesses to have yelled “Shoot! Shoot! Keep shooting,” as her husband killed Stevens, Paula A. Zumberge was charged a day later with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.
Added Gurnon and Horner, “Damerow-Cleven obtained a harassment restraining order against Neal Zumberge in April 2013 after reportedly finding deer parts, dead squirrels and two deer carcasses,” a doe and fawn, “on her and Stevens’ property, according to a petition filed in Ramsey County District Court. Zumberge also threatened to beat Damerow-Cleven, the petition said. Under the restraining order, Zumberge could not contact Damerow-Cleven or enter her property until June 2015.” New Brighton police chief Bob Jacobson said Neal Zumberge had violated the restraining order at least once.
Hunters vs. Minnesota DNR over feeding policy
The Minnesota DNR made baiting deer to shoot them illegal in 1991, and has tried to discourage feeding deer at other times. Under pressure from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, however, which represents as many as 500,000 hunters, the Minnesota DNR itself in February 2014 fed deer in the northern part of the state about $175,000 worth of fodder to help the herd survive a difficult winter. This was the first time the Minnesota DNR had fed deer since the winter of 1996-1997, wrote Dennis Anderson of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The Minnesota DNR, like most other state wildlife agencies around the U.S., urges against feeding deer because feeding can cause deer to congregate in abnormally large numbers, leading to disease transmission. Feeding deer in suburban areas is also associated with deer/car collisions.
Wildlife agencies discourage feeding bears for some of the same reasons, but mostly because bears who become familiar with human food often break into homes looking for more. Then the habituated bears are shot to prevent potentially fatal confrontations and accidental encounters.
Wrote Judge Pust in her verdict against Lynn Rogers, “The preponderance of evidence at hearing showedthat 15 years of Dr. Rogers’ study activities has significantly contributed to bona fide public safety concerns. Approximately 50 bears, each human-habituated and food conditioned to varying degrees, roam wild in the Eagles Nest Township area,” where Rogers has done radio collaring.
“The evidence established,” Pust said, “that some of these bears, both collared and uncollared, have exhibited unnatural behaviors around humans,” including “failing to startle when confronted with loud and unexpected noises; learning to climb human-constructed stairs in purposeful efforts to locate food; closely approaching young children; remaining on human-occupied property in spite of hazing activities that would typically cause a bear to retreat; standing up and pawing at cabin and car windows; and nipping and slapping at people [who are] unable to provide them with expected food.”
Rogers, 74, longtime director of the Wildlife Research Institute as well as the affiliated North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota, told Brian Bakst of Associated Press in June 2013 that losing his permit to do radio-collaring would be “the end of my 46-year career.” Rogers had reportedly radio-collared and tracked as many as 15 bears per year since 1999.
Rogers favors an approach to avoiding conflict between bears and humans called diversionary feeding, meant to accustom bears to seeking food in areas away from houses and campgrounds. Widely practiced in the mid-20th century, diversionary feeding fell out of favor partly because of the difficulty of doing it, and partly because of incidents in which people who ventured into remote areas encountered dangerously habituated bears.
At least nine of Rogers’ collared bears have been shot by hunters since 2000, including Hope, whose birth was videotaped by a camera hidden in her mother’s den in January 2010. Four of Rogers’ collared bears closely approached humans in 2011-2012, one of whom was shot by an MDNR agent in August 2012 for lingering in an area where children were present.
Rogers for years unsuccessfully sought an amendment to Minnesota hunting regulations to protect radio-collared bears from being shot. But, stipulating that he was not opposed to all hunting, or even just bear hunting, Rogers helped to write Minnesota bear hunting regulations that allow hunters to shoot bears over bait piles, a practice widely opposed as unsporting. Rogers contends that using bait piles gives hunters a better chance at killing a bear with a single shot, and reduces the rate of bears escaping with severe wounds, from which they often die later.
(See also “Animal control is people control,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-eT.)