Begin Ban on Bear Bait with Ban on Bird Feeders
Craig Medred / Outdoors / Anchorage Daily News / February
No doubt, the millions of people who bought that birdseed thought they were
doing birds a favor.
"Let's face it,'' confessed Bill Thompson III, the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, "birds
did just fine before we decided, a few hundred years ago, to feed them. Birds
do not need the food we provide for them."
Then again, it isn't like feeding hurts birds that much either.
Thompson again: "When bird feeding is done in a conscientious manner, it is also
not bad for birds.''
On the scales of good vs. bad, bird feeding appears to be a wash. At least for
All of which brings us to the bigger questions:
No. 1: Why do we think it's OK to feed birds when we think it's wrong to feed
No. 2: What message does bird feeding send the masses?
America is today an urban society. Consequently, many people have little or no
contact with wildlife. The contact they do have is likely to be with birds, quite
often around a bird feeder or in a park where they throw crumbs to the birds.
How is someone whose common sense is built on this limited foundation supposed
to know that it's bad to feed wildlife?
If you grew up feeding birds in Hartford, Conn., and then moved to Anchorage,
wouldn't it seem natural to feed the moose that venture into the yard? It's out
there. It looks hungry. You've got some carrots in the refrigerator.
"Here moosey, moosey, moosey!"
Of course, informed readers will know that feeding moose is a violation of state
"A person may not intentionally feed a moose (except under terms of a permit
issued by the Department of Fish and Game), bear, wolf, coyote, fox, or wolverine,
or negligently leave human food, pet food, or garbage in a manner that attracts
these animals,'' the law says.
The reason is simple: Biologists do not want these animals getting habituated
to human food, because once they do they become less wild. They start hanging
around human neighborhoods looking for handouts. Large mammals that do that tend
to cause problems.
Birds don't. The worst thing a bird will do is fly into your windows and kill
itself. No risks to humans there.
The worst the bird can do is cause some emotional trauma. The dead birds used
to make my poor, old grandmother -- an avid bird feeder -- very upset, but never
upset enough that she stopped feeding the birds.
She liked to watch them. I'm sure every bird feeder does. There's nothing quite
like playing with nature just for the heck of it.
I find it somehow troubling.
If you want to kill an animal for food to eat or fur to wear, I can understand
Catch-and-release fishing, a slightly more involved form of playing with nature
than bird feeding, is a little harder to deal with, but I can intellectually
justify it on the grounds of letting the little ones live while trying to catch
the big ones (an old form of conservation) or seeking to preserve the last, cultural
remnants of the hunter-gatherer societies.
Catch-and-release lets a lot of people pursue an activity related to the hunter-gatherer
activities from which we all evolved, even when there aren't many fish available
to be killed.
Bird feeding owns no such connection to the natural world of the cave man.
Watching birds at a feeder is like going to a dump to watch bears or bald eagles.
It's unnatural. It's contrived.
Don't get me wrong. I think watching wildlife is a wonderful thing. I think everyone
should enjoy watching wildlife. But it should be wild life.
Bird feeders undermine the whole idea. They have more in common with the television
than nature viewing. Bird watching appears mainly to satisfy some sort of human
craving for a visual spectacle, and if you can put a frame around it, all the
By now you've probably figured out that I'm not a bird feeder.
But one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood did involve a bird
feeder. A grosbeak visiting my grandmother's bird feeder hit her window and knocked
itself silly. I nursed it back to health, but about a week later it fell over
dead for no apparent reason.
I cried for hours.
Eventually, I got over it. I even came to tolerate bird feeders and the people
who seed them.
Now, though, my opinion is beginning to shift back the other way. And it's not
just because of the birds at the feeders.
From what I've seen in Anchorage in recent years, bird feeders are one of the
most prevalent forms of bear baiting in the state. Every spring we bait dozens
of bears into town with the seeds, nuts and droppings of bird feeders.
Some of these bears have to be shot. Others get hit and killed by motor vehicles.
Seven bears -- five blacks and two grizzlies -- were shot in Anchorage last year.
Another three blacks and four grizzlies were struck and killed by motor vehicles.
There has been a lot of talk about cleaning up garbage to keep bears out of town.
There has been far less talk about bird feeders. Maybe it's time to do something
about that. Maybe it's time for the residents of Anchorage, who really do seem
to like to tell the minority of rural Alaskans how to run their lives, to lead
by example for a change.
If Anchorage residents are against bear baiting -- and the polls indicate they
are -- let's ban the local form of bear baiting before voting on the form practiced
in those areas where people are still allowed to hunt. Let's show the rest of
Alaska how we're above manipulating wildlife for no reason other than our simple,
Let's ban the bird feeder, if for no other reason than there's no need for it.
At best, it's simply a form of toying with wild animals. At worst, it could kill
a bird or two, and a bear or two. And we can end that.
Think of this as our chance to show the way -- not only for the rest of Alaska,
but for the rest of the country. Just imagine, if we could get everyone to follow
our lead, we could free up $2.6 billion for starving people in Africa -- people
who would be overwhelmed with happiness if all we did was ship them the birdseed
Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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