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North Idaho debates whether to bite the hand that feeds bears

WILDLIFE -- Safety concerns have prompted North Idaho wildlife officials to urge Bonner County commissioners to pass an ordinance banning the feeding of bears and other wildlife.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game said the county logged 770 nuisance bear complaints from the public this year, about 740 more than any other county in the state. Bonner County has some of the best bear habitat in Idaho.

“It’s a public safety issue and it’s a bear safety issue,” Becky Haag, an environmental biologist with Fish and Game, told the Bonner County Daily Bee. “We’ve been asking and that’s the problem. I think we’re seeing that that’s ineffective, unfortunately. Asking people to do things nicely isn’t working.”

Authorities said many of the calls involve property damage to buildings, boats and vehicles, but no injuries have been reported to humans so far.

"We’ve been dodging the bullet by nobody getting hurt,” said Rob Soumas, a conservation officer who covers the Priest River and Priest Lake areas.

Wildlife officials killed a grizzly bear — a threatened species — at Priest Lake in 2007 after it became habituated to human food. Some black bears have also been killed for the same reason.

Conservation officers say bears are being drawn to neighborhoods by bird feeders, pet foods, backyard barbecues and unsecured trash containers.

Officials say it’s a continuing problem made worse by people who feed bears on purpose with cracked corn and molasses-laced oats.

Efforts to educate landowners about the dangers of bear baiting and proper storage of trash haven’t been as successful as officials hoped.

“If you’ve got one person in a neighborhood that’s still got the stuff out, it’s a problem for the entire neighborhood,” said Soumas.

Bonner County commissioners said they would consider the request.

“The main thing we’re looking for is to have that teeth so we can change that behavior for those individuals who don’t want to be reasonable,” said Ed Jochum, a conservation officer for the Sandpoint area.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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