Note: This is the fourth in a five-part series discussing tactics that land hunters and anglers in jail.
Scores of people last winter flocked to Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania for a glimpse at a rare black-and-gold feathered visitor.
Some theorized it was a black-backed oriole, far from his native haunts of Mexico’s moist, lowland forests. Perhaps he flew the coop of someone’s private aviary.
At any rate, BB, his nickname, became a media sensation. A Facebook page created for him reported nearly 2,000 people flocked to see him darting to and from neighborhood bird feeders.
BB’s story shows how much Pennsylvanians love birds, so much so that the thousands of feeders form a food infrastructure for many of the 420 species spotted throughout the commonwealth—and also some hungry bears.
Wildlife officials warn, however, that bears and bird feeders spell trouble.
“If you see a bear at your feeder, or find that your feeders have been smashed by a bear, stop feeding immediately,” according to an article from Penn State Extension service. (The information appears under the heading “When should I stop feeding bird?”)
“In early spring when bears arouse from hibernation, they are hungry and often attracted to bird feeders,” the article stated. “Bears are particularly fond of black-oil sunflower seeds.”
“The bear or bears will return as long as food is available, and this can lead to other problems for both you and the bear.”
Yes, it’s dangerous to block a bear from breakfast.
“But other encounters can bring about costly legal fines,” said Justin McShane, an Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Pennsylvania.
Feeding bears in Pennsylvania has been illegal since 2003. A person caught feeding the bear faces a hefty fine.
And conservation officers won’t be sympathetic if a person kills a bear to protect family or property, but failed to remove birdseed or other attractants. The shooter may have to reimburse the Commonwealth for the dead bear.
“That’s called civil restitution,” McShane said. “One guy was in that situation a few years back. We read that he had to pay $6,000 in fines and restitution.”
“Similar consequences exist for a bird lover who has a feeder, and is aware that bears use it too,” McShane said.
“Conservation officers can give written notices to stop feeding songbirds if bears are being lured by feeders and causing a nuisance,” McShane said. “But this isn’t intended to restrict bird feeding; it’s to protect the public from bears.”
The problem has grown in the past few decades, according to Mark Kropa, a Pennsylvania wildlife conservation officer.
“In the 1970s, it was estimated that 4,000 black bears lived in Pennsylvania,” Kropa said in a 2015 news release. “Today approximately 18,000 live in the state.”
Unfortunately, according to Kropa, what is often called a “nuisance bear” actually is just “a bear being a bear.”
“Birdseed left out in feeders can potentially become ‘bear seed,’” Kropa said. “The black bear is an omnivore which means it will eat just about anything.
“That sometimes leads to conflicts with humans.”
But Kropa and McShane agreed that bear-human conflicts are avoidable and, thus, so are the fines.
“Put bird feeders and seed away or keep it inside at night,” Kropa said. “Birds don’t need supplemental feeding in the spring and summer months.
“(Also) keep garbage inside until trash day.”
Kropa said don’t leave extra pet food outside and be sure to burn off all grease and food on the outdoor grill.
“If you have tried the aforementioned deterrents and a bear still frequents your property, or, if a bear is acting aggressively or damaging property, you may want to call the Game Commission,” Kropa said. “The agency may deem the bear a candidate to trap and relocate.”
“Another good idea is a U.S. Law Shield membership with the Hunter Shield add-on,” McShane said.
“This service keeps you protected in the field and at home,” McShane said. “We also provide great legal education to keep you a law-abiding gun owner and sportsman.”
“Education, after all, is one of the best protections in all circumstances,” McShane said. — Bill Miller, Contributor, Texas & U.S. Law Shield blog