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Jury finds Washington woman, 77, guilty of feeding bears. Is it ‘because I’m from Switzerland’?

UPDATED: Mon., June 7, 2021

“They should be ashamed of themselves,” says Doris Parks, convicted of leaving food for bears at her Long Beach Peninsula home. Here she is shown with attorney Orlando Tadique in 2014, the first time she was in court for feeding bears.  (Natalie St. John/Chinook Observer)
“They should be ashamed of themselves,” says Doris Parks, convicted of leaving food for bears at her Long Beach Peninsula home. Here she is shown with attorney Orlando Tadique in 2014, the first time she was in court for feeding bears. (Natalie St. John/Chinook Observer)
By Erik Lacitis Seattle Times

The case of Doris Parks, 77, convicted of intentionally feeding black bears at her Long Beach Peninsula home, was front-page news in the Chinook Observer.

She joined a long list of characters who over the years have made for fascinating reading in the local weekly in the community of 12,000 full-time residents. In many places there is more to the news than the latest Seattle City Council squabble, celebrity divorces or Amazon’s world takeover.

“To my knowledge, she’s been the only one prosecuted,” said Sgt. Todd Dielman, of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Typically, we try to work with the property owners. ‘Hey, stop providing food for bears.’ There’s probably some infractions written.”

Parks had a one-day trial May 20 in Pacific County’s South District Court. The six-member jury took less than an hour to convict.

Evidence presented included security videos taken by Parks’ neighbor across the street, showing big and little bears casually strolling around. No video of bears eating or of food left explicitly outside her home for them was introduced.

But there was a 23-page report by Wildlife Officer Paul Jacobson, who said he’d periodically check on the Parks property in Ilwaco. In 2019, for example, he said that on several occasions “I observed up to five bears enter and leave the back-deck area.”

Some of the bears, he wrote, “were extremely fat and not what a normal bear would look like.”

It’s against state law to leave food – intentionally or not – that attracts bears. State wildlife agents say bears used to humans can lose their normal wariness. That can lead to dangerous encounters with a 150-pound female or 200- to 250-pound male, either one with powerful muscles that can easily flip a boulder.

In a phone interview after the trial, Parks denied feeding the bears:

“They should be ashamed of themselves dragging me through the court. Me, a 77-year-old woman. Let’s say I’m not their favorite person, never will be. Maybe it’s because I’m from Switzerland.”

Parks said she’s appealing the verdict, as she faces a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine on the misdemeanor charge of intentionally feeding or attempting to feed large wild carnivores, or intentionally attracting large wild carnivores.

This was Parks’ second time around in court. In 2014, she faced the same charge, dropped when she agreed to pay a $500 fine and refrain from feeding wild animals for two years.

Feeding bears can lead to tragic situations, says Scott Harris, a state wildlife “conflict” biologist. He testified at the trial.

In some cases, he said, bears that have lost their fear of humans and associate them with food take to breaking into homes. To protect people, it can mean euthanizing them, Harris said.

Euthanizing means walking up to the bear and shooting it, he explained.

“It’s not easy,” said Harris, who thinks of black bears not as ferocious but as “fluff balls.”

In some cases, he said, development is encroaching into black bear territory. On carnivorespotter.org, run by the Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle University, crowdsourced images show black bears and other wildlife in our midst. For the bears, they’re all over the Eastside outskirts of Seattle.

“In Washington we’re blessed that we have much more abundant wildlife than a lot of people realize,” Harris said. “Bears move around, looking for food, and if they happen to stumble upon a hummingbird feeder in somebody’s backyard, for them this is the mother lode of calories. They’ll get the nectar, lick it out, suck it out.”

The state’s Fish and Wildlife website says there are 25,000 to 30,000 black bears in Washington, with “hundreds of black bear complaints each year regarding urban sightings, property damage, attacks on livestock, and bear/human confrontations.” The more dangerous grizzlies are found in isolated areas of the state’s northern border.

Parks says she wasn’t feeding bears, but raccoons with dog kibbles and birds with Costco bird feed.

Maybe some bird food was dropping down from her deck, and maybe bears were attracted to the food, Jacobson’s report said she told him.

In court, Parks said she didn’t remember saying that.

Gerry Douglas, the neighbor whose video was part of the evidence, said about Parks after the trial, “I don’t want her punished. We enjoy seeing a bear come through occasionally. We don’t want them living with us in the yard when we walk out the door.”

In his report, Harris said the only reason bears access one property is because of “a substantial food source.” Despite Parks’ denials and no video of her feeding bears, the jury convicted.

That report on Parks also included past comments from her published in the Chinook Observer.

On Oct. 8, 2013, it 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 the hunters apparently returned. “Now bears are dead about four weeks before entering their winter den after peace all summer.”

Parks continues, ” … with tears in my eyes, I look up at the night sky, the big bear and whisper, ‘I am so sorry bears, I failed you, but you won’t be forgotten, you are eternal …’”

In the bear-feeding stories, she joins the late Monte Miller, whom the Chinook Observer wrote about in July 2010.

Then 71, Miller, of Oysterville, told the paper that for 10 years he had been feeding dog food to black bears. It was costing him $4,000 a year, he said, with the bears eating 150 pounds a week.

Wildlife agents showed up after one bear broke a neighbor’s garage door looking for food, and another bear followed a couple 4 to 5 feet behind them as they walked to the post office. “If I’d looked back and saw him, I’d have had a heart attack,” one said.

Because some of the bears had lost their natural fear of humans, said agents, five that Miller had been feeding were killed. Five others, including cubs, were taken to Mount Rainier National Park.

“The state is blowing this whole thing out of proportion,” Miller was quoted.

Matt Winters, who for 30 years has been the publisher and editor of the Chinook Observer, said that perhaps the kind of individuals who are the center of such stories have to do with the movement west by Americans.

“They migrate until they finally end up here,” he said, last stop, by the Pacific Ocean. “Weird, eccentric, I don’t know how to characterize them. It’s a wonderful place to have a newspaper.”

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