Rich Beausoleil, Human–Bear Conflicts Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Lindsay Welfelt, Large Carnivore Laboratory
Human–bear conflicts often result from the availability of high-calorie, human-related foods. In an effort to reduce these widespread attractants and thus human–bear conflicts, 23 North American jurisdictions that manage American black bears and grizzly bears have passed anti-feeding legislation (AK, AR, AZ, BC, CA, FL, LA, MB, MD, NH, NJ, NV, NY, OR, PA, RI, SC, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, YK).
In the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., diversionary feeding (also referred to as supplemental feeding) has been used and promoted as a means of reducing black bear damage to commercial timber. The concept is that by providing an attractive alternate food, hungry bears will not attempt to strip the bark of trees to obtain a lower quality food (cambium). The state of Washington currently enforces an anti-feeding legislative rule but the diversionary feeding program was exempted because it was considered a useful forest management practice. The use of dogs and baiting for hunting bears on these properties was also exempted when these hunting methods were banned in Washington in 1996. The diversionary feeding program allows private timber companies to provide pelletized food ad libitum to bears in timber stands of vulnerable age classes during March–mid-June (at which point natural foods become readily available and bears stop feeding on cambium). It has been estimated that in western Washington alone, the Western Forest Protection Association (WFPA), a consortium of private timber companies, currently places ~800,000 pounds (360,000 kg) of bear food annually (exact numbers are unknown as they have been considered proprietary since 2007).
The perceived efficacy of this diversionary feeding program stems primarily from a single study (Ziegltrum 2004) conducted by the animal damage control program (ADCP) of WFPA. Since 2004, a pair of additional articles have accompanied that publication describing the program as a non-lethal success but do not contribute additional scientific evidence of damage reduction (Ziegltrum 2006, 2008). Other manuscripts have also recognized this diversionary feeding program as a successful strategy for reducing commercial tree damage, based on these publications (Garshelis et al. 2017). However, the original studies seem to have neglected the effects of bears that were killed while the feeding program occurred: that is, the targeted removal of bears combined with general spring and fall hunts were not considered when touting the benefits of the feeding program.
The diversionary feeding program has been ongoing for 3 decades in western Washington yet timber damage complaints have not declined; as a result, some timber companies have ceased feeding. Additionally, requests for agency-issued kill permits have increased on these properties since 2004 and some forest representatives have stated that the problem continues to increase. Whether the bears being killed are those that damaged (or would have damaged) trees, or other bears that simply took advantage of feeders is unknown. Other studies have found that predictable artificial foods may attract bears from other areas (Massé et al. 2014), and also cause earlier den emergence. Artificially fed bears also grow faster and get larger, have an earlier age at first reproduction, and may have increased litter sizes. Given the amount of food being provided, it is likely that den emergence, reproduction, dispersal, survival, and density are all affected in the feeding areas, so it is unclear whether the feeding actually has a net positive or negative effect on timber damage. Addressing the problem by altering silvicultural practices, such as planting mixed species of trees and more natural spring bear foods (clover and graminoids) or altering stocking densities and thinning practices has not been tested.
A significant source of food being provided to bears in other areas is via baiting for hunting purposes. Baiting has the advantages of (1) increasing hunter success; (2) enabling greater hunter selectivity in terms of sex-age and presence of offspring; and (3) attracting (and removing) animals that are more accustomed to feeding on human-related foods. However, hunter baiting can be at odds with a conflict-management program. Currently, 19 jurisdictions allow baiting for black bears (AB, AK, BC, ID, MB, ME, MI, MN, NB, NC, NH, NJ, NL, NS, ON, QC, UT, WI, WY), and in Wisconsin alone an estimated >15 million L of food was placed by hunters annually (Kirby et al. 2017). Such large amounts of bait on the landscape has been shown in at least 1 case to significantly bolster population growth rates through enhanced reproduction, and additional concerns include disease transmission, intra-species aggression, and toxicity from chocolate-based food items (Beringer et al. 2016).
Baiting and diversionary feeding programs generally operate under a different classification than other attractants like garbage and bird feeders as they are considered wildlife agency management tools that occur away from people. But in Washington, there is no area >30 km from a human development; even many of the mountain ranges directly abut large scale human-dominated areas. Both baiting and diversionary feeding stations are typically placed only a short distance from a road network, so the perception that these activities occur away from people may be a misinterpretation, as a bear can cover this distance in a day. What effect this feeding has on bear behavior and whether this activity is contributing to habituation and food-conditioning and increased human–bear conflict continues to be debated (Steyaert et al. 2014).
Given these perspectives, where 1 or more of these programs exist, could baiting and feeding be complicating a wildlife agency’s analysis and evaluation of existing bear management programs? Might feed stations reduce some conflicts while increasing conflicts elsewhere? Do feeding programs contribute to inconsistent and confusing public messaging about attractants and feeding of bears? Will feeding result in higher bear densities than the habitat can support thus resulting in increased human conflict? Where damage occurs, are feeding stations attracting more bears to the very areas that are trying to be protected thus perpetuating damage? It is our hope that future research can be designed to test the assumptions of these complex issues in a more comprehensive manner.
Beringer, J., A. Timmons, and T. L. Hiller. 2016. Unintentional toxicosis from methylxanthines in chocolate-based baits consumed by American black bears. Wildlife Society Bulletin 40:380–383.
Garshelis, D. L., S. Baruch-Mordo, A. Bryant, K. A. Gunther, and K. Jerina. 2017. Is diversionary feeding an effective tool for reducing human-bear conflicts? Case studies from North America and Europe. Ursus 28:31–55.
Kirby, R., D. M. Macfarland, and J. N. Pauli. 2017. Consumption of intentional food subsidies by a hunted carnivore. Journal of Wildlife Management 81:1161–1169.
Massé, S., C. Dussault, C. Dussault, and J. Ibarzabal. 2014. How artificial feeding for tourism-watching modifies black bear space use and habitat selection. Journal of Wildlife Management 78:1228–1238.
Steyaert, S. M. J. G., J. Kindberg, K. Jerina, M. Krofel, M. Stergar, J. E. Swenson, and A. Zedrosser. 2014. Behavioral correlates of supplementary feeding of wildlife: Can general conclusions be drawn? Basic and Applied Ecology 15:669–676.
Ziegltrum, G. J. 2004. Efficacy of black bear supplemental feeding to reduce conifer damage in western Washington. Journal of Wildlife Management 68:470–474.
Ziegltrum, G. J. 2006. Cost-effectiveness of the black bear supplemental feeding program in western Washington. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34:375–379.
Ziegltrum, G. J. 2008. Impacts of the black bear supplemental feeding program on ecology in western Washington. Human-Wildlife Conflicts 219–222.
Member: Human–Bear Conflicts Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Chair, IBA Bear Management Committee
Bear & Cougar Specialist, Karelian Bear Dog Program (Cash & Indy)
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
3515 State Highway 97A
Wenatchee, WA 98801
Large Carnivore Laboratory
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164
originally published in International Bear News 2017 Fall Vol. 26 No. 3 on pages 18-19