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Please Don’t Feed the Bears…

July 3rd, 2013 at Wed, 3rd, 2013 at 6:33 am by maribeth crandell

It’s summer!  The kids are out of school.  The gear is packed and you’re ready to go.  You take off for your favorite beach, campground or trailhead and as you pull in you read the signs including the infamous, “Do Not Feed the Bears”.  At least that’s what it said when I was a kid.  As a kid I never fed the bears (that I know of) but I still wanted to throw down bread crumbs for the squirrels and apples for the deer, but my parents wouldn’t let me.  Now I know why.

As a naturalist working in Olympic National Park I saw plenty of deer along the Hurricane Ridge road.  The road is curvy with steep mountain slopes on each side.  There’s a never ending caravan or tourists driving up and down in their camper trucks and RVs.  Imagine a sweet young family sees a deer by the road.  They stop to take a picture and lure it closer with an apple.  Some elderly couple in a small car comes down the hill around the curve and finds a formidable stationary road block.  Do they hit the back of the RV or the deer that are gathered next to it?  Or do they plunge over the side?  This is one reason why it’s not smart to feed the wildlife from a car.  You’re encouraging them to hang out on the road where they’re most likely to be injured or killed.

By feeding wildlife at your picnic table or campground you’re training the animals to seek out people and see them as an easy food source… until summer is over.  Suddenly the people and food are gone and the animals have to quickly learn how to find food in the wild, or die.  Or you could be attracting wildlife to your family… and wildlife is wild.  You don’t know what they’re going to do.  Even cute little squirrels bite and can spread disease.    If a bear starts hanging around a campground, it will likely be “removed”.  A bear that’s transported to a new territory is probably a dead bear.  We call these “problem bears” but the real problem is the people that trained it to eat from the cooler left out on the picnic table.  If you’re out camping or picnicking this summer, please make sure your food is secure before you leave your site.  Please don’t feed the bears.

Now let’s bring this a little closer to home.  I have a neighbor that feed the squirrels.  They think they’re cute.  The squirrels bring their peanuts over and plant them in my garden.  They dig up the things that I planted there and insert peanuts.  Another neighbor feeds her cat on the front porch.  Raccoons love cat food.  Raccoons attack cats.

Another neighbor feeds the deer.  She’s done this for years, casting cracked corn on the ground around her home, which is very close to my home.  The deer come in herds to eat the grain, graze in our yards and munch on our shrubbery.   A couple of years ago she had to hire professional exterminator to get rid of the rats in her crawl space.  What a surprise.  They did a good job and now the rats are in my crawlspace.

Rats are a big problem on Whidbey.  They’re attracted to bird feeders and food in compost piles.  If you want to compost food waste do it in a worm bin, a closed rat proof container.  I use a metal garbage can with ¼ inch holes drilled in the bottom and sides and sunk into the ground.  A tight fitting lid should keep it out of reach of rats, squirrels, raccoons, deer… and bears.

For more information on worm bins or bird feeders call 360-678-7974 or visit www.wastewise.wsu.edu

Maribeth Crandell has a green thumb. Most of the rest of her is "green", as well. She's worked in city, state and national parks as a naturalist, educator and guide, on ships and on shore from the Columbia River to Southeast Alaska. She offers presentations for 6 year olds to seniors. She publishes articles, sings songs, plays the banjo and hikes trails. In fact, in 2006 she hiked the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. She's been an educator for the Whidbey Institute, Fort Casey State Park, the Whidbey Watershed Stewards Outdoor Classroom, Island County Recycling, Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve and for 5 years worked as the Environmental Educator for the City of Oak Harbor. She's been a consistent voice on Whidbey Island leading the way toward sustainability. Because Maribeth has a green thumb, along with the rest of her.

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