Some states have laws against feeding wildlife. This includes bird feeders as well as piling grain, junk food and most anything else that would attract an animal. Other states have no regulation of such. In areas that people live where there are large predators, i.e. bears, wolves, coyote, mountain lions, etc., sometimes there are laws and sometimes not. What is becoming clear is that these areas are working to educate the people on how to live with these animals so as not to habituate them into becoming nuisance animals.
The truth of the matter is that many people move out into the suburbs in order to be “closer to nature”, whatever that is. I say that because isn’t it really all in the eyes of the beholder? Many times once these folks have settled into their new abode, they begin feeding the wildlife so they can enjoy it out their picture windows of which they often spend thousands of dollars to have. This innocent feeding of wildlife sometimes involves dumping corn, grain, apples and other “attractants” in order to draw wildlife for viewing or picture taking.
So what happens when your next door neighbor, who is spending good money, on his own property, is feeding deer and you, coming home from work one night, run full tilt into one of these well-fed deer and total your car, perhaps even resulting in injury? Is the neighbor liable?
Suppose the same neighbor continues his deer feeding – reminder here, there are no laws saying he can’t – and your wife gets bitten by a Lyme disease-infected tick rendering her very ill with lifelong battles with the disease. Is your friendly neighbor responsible?
What if your neighbor, in his attempt at feeding deer, inadvertently attracts a good-sized black bear or even a grizzly bear, and that bear attacks someone or kills your pet or some other tragic event. Is your neighbor going to be held liable for that action?
I’m sure by now I have an entire array of different answers to the above asked questions. The issue here becomes quite complex. First, there are no laws stating that you cannot feed wildlife and if there were, wouldn’t it have to be species specific? There are also property rights issues. Doesn’t you neighbor have a right of feed wildlife, especially if there are no laws prohibiting it? How does public safety factor in?
This issue can get much more complex. Let’s take a look.
What if you lived in an area where there were protected species? Let’s say for example, you lived in northern Maine in an area where the Canada lynx is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. I can tell you can already see where I’m going with this can’t you.
While feeding your much adored wildlife, for either simple or complicated reasons, a Canada lynx was seen frequenting the area. Perhaps what the neighbor was feeding with drew several snowshoe hares, a delicacy for the lynx. What if that lynx got run over by a car while heading for the feed station? Is the neighbor responsible for the death of that lynx? Is he in violation of the Endangered Species Act? What about the person driving the car?
Now we are onto something a bit different. We have been looking at this concerning property rights and laws governing the feeding of wild animals. Does this now become a different situation because we are talking about protected species?
Let’s twist the story a bit more and make it more complicated. What if a man who lived in northern Idaho began putting out food for the wildlife. By the way, there are no laws in Idaho forbidding the feeding of wildlife. This man, let’s call him Tom, had a bit of a different reason for feeding wildlife. He liked to take pictures of them. You may ask what’s so unusual about that? Lot’s of people take pictures of wildlife, especially those who feed animals in their back yards.
Tom is a professional photographer and he takes pictures of the wildlife that comes to his feeder and sells the photos on his website for a few bucks. Does this make a difference? Is it somehow less acceptable for someone to feed wildlife, take pictures and sell them than someone who just takes pictures for their own pleasure?
Tom lives in an area of Idaho where many neighbors like to feed wildlife. It’s not like he is the only one.
But here comes the twist. Because of his feeding habits, some are claiming that he had drawn in grizzly bears and some bears have become nuisances and accustomed to humans being around. We’ve all heard about this scenario before. Sometimes these bears continue to hang around because people refuse to take proper steps to reduce bear encounters and others just simply and deliberately continue to feed the animals. In Tom’s case, he wanted to take photos.
What if a grizzly bear turned into a problem bear and wildlife officials ended up killing the bear? We all know that once a bear loses all its fear of man and becomes accustomed to free meals, scare tactics and trapping and removing becomes ineffective. The end result often times is the need to kill the bear.
Not to pick on Tom here too much but we must realize this isn’t a unique situation to northern Idaho. We hear everyday of officials having to put down bears for the same reasons and sometimes these bears happen to be grizzlies, a protected species.
Here’s the million dollar question. Is Tom responsible for that bear’s death? There are no laws in Idaho that say you can’t feed wildlife. If he didn’t break the feeding laws, was he in violation of the Endangered Species Act? Did his actions cause the death of an animal that is protected by law and can he be charged?
Is this an absurd story? If you’re like me, there are certain aspects of this story that go beyond absurd but I have news for you. It’s a true story. Tom Holman, who lives near Nordman in Idaho, admits to feeding wildlife, along with many other people who live in his neighborhood. He admits to doing it to take pictures and sell them but the Idaho Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are considering bringing charges against Nordman for causing the death of a grizzly bear because of his feeding of wildlife.
There are statements that have been made about this case that leaves me scratching my head – nothing new in that. But what I’m puzzled at is why pick on Holman? Is he being singled out from all the others who feed wildlife in the Nordman area? Is this case any different than the thousands of other residents all across America who directly or indirectly feed wildlife and inadvertently cause their deaths? Is it because he is trying to make money by selling pictures? Does this somehow make it different?
Chris Servheen, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency was looking into Holman’s actions.
“People like that might as well just shoot these animals right out,” he said. “But the management agencies end up doing the dirty work.”
Is this comment directed at Holman or everybody who feeds wildlife? While I can understand the end result, what is Servheen suggesting?
Idaho does not restrict backyard wildlife feeding.
“We don’t have any options from an enforcement standpoint as far as dealing with people who are creating nuisance animals,” said Wayne Wakkinen, a biologist with Fish and Game.
But the federal Endangered Species Act could be applied, said Servheen, if such wildlife feeding resulted in the avoidable death of an endangered species.
Fish and Game admits they have no recourse in dealing with people who feed wildlife. USFWS is saying that they could apply the ESA if feeding “resulted in the avoidable death” of the grizzly. I hope that USFWS is prepared to bring charges against thousands of people nationwide for causing the avoidable death of endangered species. Would he please step up to the microphone and explain to all of us what is “avoidable”?
I agree with Mr. Holman when he says that if this is the action the feds are going to take in administering the Endangered Species Act, then they will be directly trouncing on our property rights. Are we all now going to be in violation of the ESA if owning property could prove the avoidable death of an endangered species? Think about it!
Here’s where I think a certain amount of the accusations against Holman are discriminatory.
Chuck Bartlebaugh, director of the Missoula-based Center for Wildlife Information, said putting out bait to get photos of grizzlies is unethical and can have lethal consequences for the bears.
“We don’t need any more grizzly bear photographs,” Bartlebaugh said. “We need more grizzly bears.”
Isn’t it wonderful that the world is blessed with people like Chuck Bartlebaugh who feel that it must be their appointed duty to determine what is ethical and not concerning taking pictures. I want to vomit when I have to deal with people who believe they are an equal to God by dictating what is ethical hunting. Now we have people that are going to tell us how to take an ethical picture. Give me a break!
It becomes clear what Bartlebaugh’s agenda is when he claims we need more grizzly bears. I need say nothing more on that issue.
This is a gross misinterpretation of the Endangered Species Act in my opinion and one that once again proves to me that the ESA is in need of change or total elimination. Should the USFWS become successful in bringing charges against Holman for causing the “avoidable” death of a grizzly, there will be no end to who can and will be charged. Such a ruling would give animal rights groups the equivalent of a nuclear weapon if the USFWS is allowed to proceed with an investigation in such a ridiculous accusation.