British Columbia bear feeder fined $60,000
VANCOUVER, B.C.; VANCOUVER, Washington––Three hundred miles apart, in different nations, the two west coast Vancouver areas recently witnessed remarkably similar court cases over back yard bear-feeding, with comparably sad results for the bears, but strikingly different outcomes for the convicted feeders.
The British Columbia Provincial Court for North Vancouver on September 29, 2021 fined bear feeder Zuzana Stevikova, of Whistler, $60,000. The fine was said by the Conservation Office Service to be the highest penalty ever imposed under the British Columbia Wildlife Act.
British Columbia Conservation Officer Service witnesses testified that Stevikova throughout the summer of 2018 fed bears up to 10 cases of apples, 50 pounds of carrots and up to 15 dozen eggs per week.
Most of the fine is to be paid to the British Columbia Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.
“Extraordinary public safety risk”
“These activities created an extraordinary public safety risk by conditioning bears to human food and presence,” the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service said in a prepared statement.
Because the bears had become habituated to human feeding, the statement continued, “In September 2018, conservation officers were forced to put down three bears who were repeatedly visiting the area, causing property damage, and showing no fear of people.”
Charges were also filed in 2018 against Stevikova’s companion Oliver Dugan, but the case against Dugan was later dropped.
The $60,000 fine made Stevikova the person most notorious in Canada for bizarre behavior involving bears since chuckwagon racer Devin Matsuing in June 2015 challenged a grizzly bear to fight him, and lived to tell about it because the grizzly bear apparently didn’t think Matusing was worth fighting.
Washington bear feeder fined just $1,000
While the British Columbia Provincial Court for North Vancouver threw the book at Stevikova, a jury in the South District Court for Pacific County, Washington on May 20, 2021 took less than an hour to convict Doris Parks, 77, for the second time, of illegally feeding black bears at her home on the Long Beach peninsula.
The court, however, on August 9, 2021 fined Parks only $1,000, the maximum for the offense in Washington state, and handed her a 90-day jail sentence, also the maximum, but suspended.
“She was tried on the same charge in 2014,” recalled Brandon Cline of the Chinook Observer, “but her lawyer at the time struck a last-minute deal with the prosecution to drop the charge if Parks paid a $500 fine and refrained from feeding any wild animals for the next two years — which she appeared to adhere to.”
Responding to complaints from neighbors, however, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife officer Paul Jacobson compiled evidence of as many as five bears at a time congregating around Parks’ back deck.
“Maybe it’s because I’m Swiss”
“They should be ashamed of themselves dragging me through the court,” Parks told Seattle Times staff reporter Eric Lacitus.
“Let’s say I’m not their favorite person, never will be,” Parks added. “Maybe it’s because I’m from Switzerland.”
Parks told Lacitus she would appeal her conviction.
The Chinook Observer, Lacitus recalled, “on October 8, 2013 ran a letter from Parks about her efforts to stop hunters with crossbows from crossing her property and going after bears. She parked her car, she wrote, ‘and played loud music way past dark. It kept the bears safe,’” but only temporarily.
“Now bears are dead about four weeks before entering their winter den after peace all summer,” Parks finished.
Monte Miller spent $4,000/year to feed bears
The Parks case reminded Lacitus of Monte Miller, 75, who reportedly died after a brief illness on September 26, 2021 in Spokane, Washington.
Miller, as of July 2010, was practically a neighbor of Parks, in the village of Oysterville on the Long Beach peninsula.
Miller was not prosecuted, but was warned by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to cease and desist.
Miller admitted to the Chinook Observer that for 10 years he had been feeding dog food to black bears, spending about $4,000 a year to give the bears 150 pounds of kibble per a week.
Wildlife officers shot the five most habituated bears among those Miller had fed, and relocated five others, some of them cubs, to Mount Rainier National Park.
Bear feeders share many demographic traits and behaviors with outdoor cat feeders, street dog feeders, pigeon feeders, and other feeders of wildlife who tend to create problematic congregations of animals not welcomed by most of their neighbors.
Among those traits and behaviors are steadfast denial that their activity is problematic.
But bears are much bigger and more dangerous than other commonly fed wildlife.
Bear feeders often cite in their defense arguments amplified by Lynn Rogers, 82, longtime director of the Wildlife Research Institute as well as the affiliated North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota.
Rogers has even appeared in court as an expert witness on behalf of some accused bear feeders.
Lost radio collaring permit
But the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in June 2013 refused to renew Rogers’ permit to radio collar bears because of Rogers’ own practice of feeding bears to help keep them under observation.
Reportedly radio-collaring and tracking 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.
Rogers cannot, however, be said to have had much success with diversionary feeding.
At least nine of Rogers’ radio-collared bears were shot by human hunters between 2000 and when he lost his radio-collaring license. Among the shot bears was Hope, whose birth was videotaped by a camera hidden in her mother’s den in January 2010.
Encouraged shooting bears over bait piles
Four of Rogers’ collared bears closely approached humans in 2011-2012, one of whom was shot by a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 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 argued 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.
The bottom line, though, is that far more bears have been shot as result of Rogers’ work than would have been shot if he had not practiced “diversionary feeding,” and if shooting bears over bait piles had remained illegal.
Diversionary feeding, of course, scarcely originated with Rogers. As recently as the early part of Rogers’ career, circa 1967, diversionary feeding was a widely accepted wildlife management technique, which only gradually fell into disrepute.
Diversionary feeding was abandoned after the advent of radio collar tracking demonstrated that the “diverted” bears were the same bears who were mostly likely to come into conflict with humans later, even many miles away.
Diversionary feeding, indeed, might have originated in Neanderthal times, if and when proto-human hunters discovered that leaving gut piles and bones far from their campsites could keep predator/scavengers away, including the giant Ice Age cave bears who are believed to have been their deadliest rivals for existence.
Diversionary feeding by the dawn of civilization had evolved into the practice of leaving offerings for various gods and demons. Villagers in many cultures to this day leave small heaps of leftovers outside their shacks to draw ghosts out of their homes.
The “ghosts,” observation reveals, tend to be rats, whose night-time rustling indoors makes noises multiplied by imagination into a palpable threat.
Eventually diversionary feeding fed medieval myths about knights killing dragons to rescue virgins who had been staked out as dragon food.
The saying “A fed dragon is a dead dragon,” however, seems not to have emerged.
Why “A fed bear is a dead bear”
Only after about a century of hunters shooting bears over bait piles does anyone seem to have remarked that, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
This saying gained currency around the same time, in the mid-to-late 20th century, that humans feeding bears in the mistaken belief that the bears would benefit began to become a widely recognized menace both to people and bears.
That a fed bear is a dead bear results chiefly from the tendency of wildlife managers to shoot bears who become habituated to human feeding, raiding trash cans and bird-feeders, and even breaking into homes to find edibles.
But a fed bear is also more likely to be hit by a car while meandering through the outskirts of small towns and suburbs at night, or to wander into a hunter’s gun sight.
Bear feeders themselves are at greatest risk
Wildlife managers who shoot habituated bears tend to emphasize in public statements afterward the potential risk that habituated bears pose to neighbors.
Reality, though, is that the primary risk from feeding bears is to the feeders themselves. Reviewing the cases of 22 of the most notorious chronic bear-feeders since 2008, ANIMALS 24-7 found that two had become bear poop.
Though the sampling is small, the relative risk is self-evident. Pit bulls are the most dangerous dog breed, by far, accounting for 423 human deaths in the U.S. and Canada since 2008, but if pit bulls had killed one in 10.5 of the people who feed them every day, the death toll since 2008 would be more than 382,000.
Along with Zuzana Stevikova, Doris Parks, Monte Miller, and Lynn Rogers, who were the other 18 bear-feeders of significant notoriety?
Hunting outfitter Gary Anderson, 71, of the Heaven on Earth Ranch, on the Smith River in central Montana, was in September 2008 fined $135 for feeding grain to black bears, both on the ground and from out of his hand.
State and federal wildlife officials testified that earlier that month they had been obliged to shoot five black bears near the Smith River who had become dangerously accustomed to getting food handouts from humans.
Anderson died of cancer in 2014.
Karen Noyes, 73, now of Santa Rosa, California, the former “Bear Lady of Yachats,” Oregon, began “in 2002 after losing her husband of 11 years when his pickup struck a tree and went off a cliff. A year before, her 35-year-old daughter died from health problems after years of drug abuse,” recounted Lori Tobias in August 2011 for the Portland Oregonian.
Noyes fought an August 2008 citation for harassing wildlife for three years, until the Oregon Supreme Court refused to hear her last appeal.
Initially also hit with five counts of recklessly endangering her neighbors, of which she was acquitted, Noyes allegedly spent more than $100,000 to feed as many as two dozen bears at a five-acre property on Yachats River Road, according to witness testimony presented at her June 2009 trial.
Four bears were shot in the vicinity before Noyes was charged. One of the bears was reportedly shot after killing 60 turkeys on the Vicki and Derek Prince farm about a mile away. Other neighbors agreed in testimony that they had not had bear trouble in the 20 to 30 years before Noyes arrived.
Lincoln County Circuit Court judge Thomas Branford eventually ordered Noyes to leave her Yachats home by August 31, 2009, and to stay away for at least three years, believed to be enough time for the local bears to re-acclimate themselves to not being fed.
Noyes told Tobias that she had no intention of ever returning.
Donna Munson, 74, of Ouray County, Colorado, “had been feeding bears, elk, skunks and raccoons for years,” reported Jennifer Brown of the Denver Post, after two women arrived to clean her home in August 2009 and found a bear devouring her remains.
“Colorado Division of Wildlife agents had asked Munson so many times over the past decade to stop feeding bears that she quit taking their phone calls or accepting their certified letters and tried to ban them from her property,” Brown wrote.
Munson and her husband Ridgway Jack Munson, who died in 1995, adopted a baby elk and made their home into an animal sanctuary, friends told Brown.
“The night before her death, Munson planned to feed an injured baby bear hard-boiled eggs and yogurt,” Brown learned. “And she had planned to swat a large bear with a broom who was bothering the baby bear.”
The net outcome, though, was not only Munson’s death, but the death of four habituated bears due to aggressive behavior.
David Ernest Stamm
David Ernest Stamm, 60, of Longwood, Florida, was in February 2010 fined $200, put on probation for six months, and ordered to donate $250 to a wildlife charity, after pleading no contest to having fed a female black bear who eventually slapped him in the face.
Defense attorney David Oliver told the court that “Stamm required several stitches to his eye and cheek, but recovered fully,” reported Rene Stutzman of the Orlando Sentinel.
The bear, whose two cubs were deemed old enough to survive on their own, was trapped and euthanized.
Charlie Vandergaw, the self-styled “Bear Man of the Mat-Su,” in the Yentna River valley, about 50 miles northwest of Anchorage, Alaska, was in April 2020 fined $20,000 after pleading guilty to eight charges of illegally feeding both black bears and grizzly bears.
The fine, then the highest on record for feeding bears, came after wildlife officials documented bush flights delivering five tons of dog kibble to Vandergaw, who had no dogs.
Vandergaw had been featured, feeding bears, on the 2009 Animal Planet show Stranger Among Bears.
Vandergaw died at age 76 in May 2018.
Lynne Gravier, 77, the “Bear Woman” of Laytonville, California, “who transformed her home into a bear bohemia with wading pools and specially prepared banquets of corn meal and peanut butter sandwiches,” according to San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Peter Fimrite, in August 2011 pleaded guilty to misdemeanor feeding big game, but received only three years on probation, and has apparently not been in further trouble.
Wrote Fimrite, “Gravier had been feeding bruins and other animals for decades, but nobody realized the extent of her devotion until neighbors began complaining.
“In all 15 loafing black bears hung out with Gravier inside the house and on her deck, and lumbered around the compound like kings at a feast. Some 6,000 pounds of rolled and cracked corn was delivered every month from a ranch supply house. Gravier stored the food in a 40-foot-long shipping container that she used as an ursine food dispensary.
“The hulking chowhounds turned Gravier’s home into a reeking outhouse. The cabin-style home was piled high with filth by the time of the raid and was immediately condemned by county authorities.”
Added Fimrite, “Gravier also fed 18 cats, three dogs, 40 peacocks and a steady stream of visiting turkeys and deer.”
“Bear Dude” Allan Piche, then 66, of Christina Lake, British Columbia, reportedly fed bears for as long as 25 years before the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in August 2010 charged him with growing more than 800 marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking, and alleged that he fed bears to keep other people away from his pot plantation.
The marijuana charges were in January 2013 thrown out of court “because the judge found
inconsistencies in RCMP testimony and the search warrant,” the CBC reported, but Piche “freely admitted to feeding the bears $200 worth of dog food a week for more than a decade at his rural property in the Kootenay region of southeastern B.C.,” the CBC added.
Piche and his wife Kathleen Wickie were both charged with illegally feeding bears.
Piche was in 2012 fined $6,900 for feeding bears, after allegedly repeating the offense in 2011.
British Columbia conservation officers told Canadian Press in November 2011 that they killed 24 habituated bears in the vicinity.
Richard & Vivianne Goguen
Richard and Vivianne Goguen, of Acadieville, New Brunswick, Canada, whose Little Big Bear Safari bear observation is promoted by the provincial tourism department, reportedly agreed in August 2013 to quit feeding bears.
By 2016, however, the Goguens had returned to bear-feeding, assisted by wildlife photographer George Hachey, reported Shane Fowler for the CBC.
New Brunswick is among the few North American jurisdictions that have no law against feeding bears.
Peter & Judy Chernecki
Peter and Judy Chernecki, of Gull Lake, Manitoba, were in March 2013 granted a discharge by Provincial Court judge Tim Preston for allegedly “secretly feeding bears sunflower seeds, pig fat and doughnuts over two summers on a neighbor’s property—despite being ordered by provincial wildlife officials to stop,” reported Winnipeg Free Press writer Bruce Owen.
The Cherneckis had allegedly been feeding bears for 17 years.
Peter and Judy Chernecki were in February 2014 fined $21,500, and Peter Chernecki was jailed for six months, after they were convicted of having severely neglected 64 dogs in 2010, of whom 34 were euthanized.
“The couple must also get rid of 40 cats within two weeks that they collected since the dogs were seized,” said CTV reporter Jeff Keele.
Mary Musselman, 81, of Sebring, Florida, spent the last five months of her life in a secured wing of an assisted living center, by court order, after Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission officers found her illegally feeding bears in 2013 and again in March 2014.
Montgomery, Vermont resident Jeffrey Messier, then 54, was in July 2014 the first person prosecuted under a state law against feeding bears that took effect a year earlier. Messier was charged after a necropsy of a bear a neighbor said he shot in self-defense discovered that the bear had been feeding on sunflower seeds.
Reported Burlington Free Press staff writer Mike Donoghue, “Game warden Carl Wedin,” while at the Messier residence, “discovered evidence of bear feeding and encountered a bear walking outside the home, who allegedly walked to within five feet of Wedin and showed no sign of being afraid of people. The bear then walked to a nearby picnic table and sat down on a bench
to enjoy sunflower seeds that were scattered there.”
Vermont chief game warden David LeCours testified that, “The investigation determined several other bears also came to the residence often enough to be named. He said many of them
may have been killed or injured in incidents with other landowners in recent years,” Donoghue summarized.
Wayne MacLean, then 57, of Rogers Pass, Montana, in September 2014 escaped with just a two-year suspended jail sentence after his fourth conviction of illegally feeding black bears since August 2005.
MacLean was in September 2008 reportedly fined $7,100 and lost his hunting and fishing privileges for life, following his third conviction.
Wrote Helena Independent Record reporter Julie Baughman, “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wardens and Lewis & Clark County sheriff’s deputies,” searching MacLean’s home in October 2013, “found empty bags of dog food that would have weighed upward of 750 pounds when full, 160 pounds of alfalfa cubes, jars upon jars of peanut butter and cake frosting, and multiple 10-pound bags of sugar.
“Fish Widlife, & Parks criminal investigator Bryan Goalie and Augusta game warden David
Holland said they were forced to kill more than a dozen other bears as a result of MacLean’s insatiable need to feed black bears.
“Despite the fact that he has paid more than $10,000 in restitution fees — typically at $1,000 per bear, though the 2013 incident is costing him $2,000,” Baughman said, “he continues to provide the animals with supplemental feed.”
Kay Grayson, 73, whose actual name was Karen Gray, “known as ‘the bear lady’ for feeding black bears on her remote property near Columbia, North Carolina, was found dead in the woods, probably dragged there by the animals she loved,” reported Jeff Hampton for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot in January 29, 2015.
Grayson had last been seen about two weeks earlier.
“For more than 20 years, Grayson was known for feeding bears and calling the sheriff’s office to complain about hunters,” Hampton continued. “She lived alone in a mobile home on hundreds of acres along U.S. 64, east of Columbia, with “no phone, electricity or running water.”
Brandon Sneed extensively profiled Grayson/Gray in “What Killed The Bear Lady,” posted by Outside Online on April 4, 2016.
Jo Ann Medina
Jo Ann Medina, then 62, of Colorado Springs, Ohio, was in August 2015 “released from the El Paso County jail on $800 bond after wildlife officers suspect she fed at least six bears at her house,” reported Jakob Rodgers for the Colorado Springs Gazette.
“Medina received a written warning for feeding a bear in 2007,” Rodgers added, “and
citations alleging the same thing in 2010, 2011 and 2012, according to citations and records provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She pleaded guilty to one petty offense and two misdemeanors, and paid a combined $800 in fines, records show.
“She also was fined $50 for feeding deer in 2008 and 2014, records show,” Rodgers finished.
The outcome of the 2015 case appears to have gone unreported.
Richard Whitney & Sandra Sherman
Nationally noted artists Richard Whitney, then 71, and Sandra Sherman, then 69, of Stoddard, New Hampshire, admirers of Lynn Rogers, were in June 2017 charged for the second time with violating a 2006 New Hampshire Fish & Game regulation against bear feeding.
Whitney had in 2014 paid the maximum $1,000 fine for the same offense.
New Hampshire Fish & Game officers testified that they had received anonymous complaints about bears congregating in the area since 2011.
The outcome of the 2017 case against Whitney and Sherman, like the outcome of the 2015 case against Jo Ann Medina, appears to have gone unreported.
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