Legislature moves to prohibit feeding predators

A bill banning feeding or otherwise habituating black bears and other predators to humans passed through the Oregon Legislature last week but without as many teeth as planned.

The bill was prompted by the actions of a Lincoln County woman who fed black bears that later broke into neighbors' homes in search of food while she was on vacation. House Bill 2175 makes it illegal to knowingly lure, attract or entice bears, cougars, coyotes or wolves with food, garbage or other attractants.

Violators would first be warned and given two days to clean up the food or garbage. Those who ignore the warning face a Class A misdemeanor charge of intentionally violating Oregon's wildlife codes.

The intent is to protect the public against health and safety risks from wildlife that lose their fear of humans or relate humans to food, thereby becoming potentially dangerous, said Rob Bovett, the Lincoln County district attorney who wrote the bill.

"If you habituate these animals to humans, you risk humans," Bovett said Friday.

The original bill, written by Bovett after consultation with Oregon State Police fish and wildlife troopers and state wildlife biologists, included deer, elk, raccoons, feral swine and turkeys as animals that would be illegal to feed.

Feeding some of these species is commonplace in Southern Oregon rural communities and around cities such as Ashland and Jacksonville.

People feeding turkeys can attract large flocks that become neighborhood nuisances, tearing rooftops and coating lawns and decks with their droppings. People feeding black-tailed deer have created unnatural concentrations of animals that are blamed for the spread of diseases such as the adenovirus that in recent years ran through the so-called "city deer" populations, notably around Jacksonville and Ashland.

The original list of no-feeders "certainly got at some of the problem species we have," but some legislators were wary of banning feeding critters such as raccoons, said Ron Anglin, Wildlife Division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Still, the bill represents a step forward in helping curb problems with bears that grow fearless by their misplaced human assistance and then break into garages, barns and even houses while following their noses in search of easy meals.

"We're delighted to get bears and coyotes on the no-feeding list," said Anglin, who said his agency was neutral on the bill. "If they want to start with bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves, we're OK with that."

The bill exempts activities related to forestry, farming and ranching as well as research programs, waste-disposal facilities, zoos and animal-rehabilitation facilities. ODFW biologists can also authorize intentional feeding of animals to prevent damage to private property or to supplement food for wildlife such as elk during bad winters, according to the bill.

Classified as an emergency, the bill will go into effect if and when Gov. John Kitzhaber signs it.

Bovett sought the bill after he successfully prosecuted Yachats resident Karen Noyes in 2009 on a charge of disturbing wildlife. Noyes admitted to spending at least $100,000 over five years feeding dozens of bears.

The bears were habituated to humans and began breaking into Noyes' neighbors' barns and residences.

Biologists and police asked her to stop feeding the bears, but they could not force her to stop under existing law, which does not ban feeding of wildlife in Oregon. She was prosecuted under the wildlife harassment law, and her conviction was upheld this week on appeal, Bovett said.

"We couldn't do something about her until it got bad," Bovett said. "They just didn't have the tool. Now they will."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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