Woman found guilty of feeding bears

Oregon Fish and Wildlife — NEWPORT, Ore.—A jury at the Lincoln County Courthouse today found Karen Jean Noyes of Yachats guilty of Harassing Wildlife in the case State of Oregon vs. Noyes.The charge and conviction stems from her feeding of black bears from August 2006 to August 2008. Oregon State Police (OSP) and ODFW believe this is the first time the Harassing Wildlife charge has been used in a case involving the feeding of wildlife.

ODFW and Noyes’ neighbors had asked her to stop feeding bears on several occasions before she was cited and charged. ODFW’s first contact with Noyes to discourage her from feeding bears happened five years ago.  OSP cited Noyes for one count of Harassing Wildlife on Aug. 1, 2008.

“Feeding bears is bad for people, for property and for bears,” said ODFW Mid-Coast District Wildlife Biologist Dr. Doug Cottam, who testified during the trial. “Please, don’t feed the bears.”

Bears fed by people become habituated and food-conditioned, losing their natural fear of people and becoming nuisances or public safety threats. Bears that become human safety issues are often destroyed to protect the public safety. Bears like this often cause property damage, too.

ODFW routinely urges people to never feed black bears and to secure food sources such as garbage cans so bears are not accidentally fed.

Evidence presented at trial

During the trial May 28-29 and June 2 at the Lincoln County courthouse, evidence was presented that Noyes and another person living on the property fed bears a variety of different foods including fruit, vegetables, sunflower seeds, honey and pet food. Photographs presented as evidence show Noyes hand-feeding bears and 14 bears on the property at one time. Cottam testified that bears are typically solitary but will tolerate each other when there is a high concentration of food.

Several neighbors testified that the bears on their property showed no fear of people, whereas other bears they had seen while hiking or in other situations always ran away. Most of the neighbors had not experienced damage by black bears before the summer of 2008, even though some had bird feeders and compost piles on their property. One neighbor testified that the bears bypassed available apples and berries, a natural food source that they had previously eaten, and broke into her barn to get at feed sacks instead.

Oregon Revised Statutes 498.006 says “no person shall chase, harass, molest, worry or disturb wildlife…” Lincoln County’s District Attorney argued that Noyes had disturbed wildlife by altering the bears’ natural behaviors, including their feeding habits and their wariness of people.

“These bears’ natural cycle—what they ate and where they got the food they ate—was changed. It was disturbed,” said Lincoln County Deputy District Attorney Elijah Michalowski during closing arguments. “The way they interacted with humans was also disturbed. Experts said bears are naturally afraid of humans but these bears were not afraid.”

Damage and human safety concerns

Five of Noyes’ neighbors testified about experiencing property damage, domestic animal losses and human safety concerns from black bears on their property in summer 2008. The damage peaked from late June through mid-July when, according to a statement made during the trial, Noyes went out of town.

One neighbor testified that she lost 60 turkeys and was so concerned for her family’s safety that she carried a firearm while outside on her property and forbid her children to walk alone. Another neighbor had her kitchen window smashed by a bear at approximately 2 a.m. Another had the door to a locked storage area in her barn ripped off by a bear trying to get to sacks of feed inside. A bear also stuck its head through her dog door and took the dog door off on its way out.

During this period, four bears were destroyed on Noyes neighbors’ property because they threatened human safety.

Oregon Revised Statute 498.166 defines the type of behavior that constitutes a human safety threat allowing a person to take a bear without a license or tag. Criteria include breaking into, or attempting to break into, a residence; attacking a pet or domestic animal; and loss of wariness of humans as displayed through repeated sightings of the animal during the day near a permanent structure. When a bear exhibits these behaviors, “we consider that bear a human safety concern and have little choice but to put it down to protect the public’s safety,” testified ODFW Assistant District Biologist Tami Wagner during the trial.

Lincoln County Deputy District Attorney also brought five charges of Reckless Endangerment against Noyes, one for each of the neighbors that experienced black bear problems and testified, but the jury found her not guilty of these charges. To find someone guilty of reckless endangerment, the jury would need to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Noyes “recklessly engaged in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.” (Oregon Revised Statute 163.195) Black bear attacks are rare.

About black bears in Oregon Oregon is home to about 25,000 to 30,000 black bears, North America’s most common bear species. Bear densities in the mid-coast district, which includes Lincoln County and western Lane County, are among the highest in the state. Similar problems have arisen in Florence, Waldport and other cities where residents are purposely or accidentally feeding bears. Several cities in Oregon have specific ordinances against feeding wildlife, including Waldport, Florence, Warrenton, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi and Klamath Falls.

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