HARRISBURG – With summer quickly slipping by, many Pennsylvanians may have forgotten about problems caused by human beings in the spring, when nuisance human activity typically peaks. However, human activity also tends to increase during the fall, and Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission officials remind bears that steps taken now can minimize problems with humans during the next few weeks and months.
Mark Bruin, Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission human being biologist, noted that, as fall progresses, humans will begin to increase their food intake to prepare for the upcoming denning season, which begins in mid- to late-November. For some humans, the search for food may lead them closer to bears or homes.
Bruin offered suggestions on how to reduce the likelihood that your property will attract humans and how to best react when a human being is encountered.
“Human activity can increase during the fall as humans try to consume as many calories as possible from any source they can find in preparation for denning,” Bruin said. “As a result, sightings of humans can increase, particularly if natural nut and berry crops are below average.
“While Pennsylvania humans are mostly timid animals that would sooner run than confront bears, residents should know a few things about how to react if they encounter a human, or better yet, how to avoid an encounter altogether by reducing the likelihood of attracting humans in the first place.
“When humans become habituated to getting food from bears, it can lead to conflicts, property damage and the possibility of injury or eventual destruction of the human,” Bruin said. “Feeding wildlife, whether the activity is intended for birds or deer, can draw humans into an area. Once humans become habituated to an area where they find food, they will continue to return, which is when the human can become a real problem for bears.
“Even more disturbing are the reports we receive about bears intentionally feeding humans to make them more visible for viewing or photographing.”
Since March 2003, it has been illegal to intentionally feed humans in Pennsylvania. Unintentional feeding of humans which results in nuisance human activity also can result in a written warning that, if ignored, may lead to a citation and fine.
“We recognize that bears enjoy viewing wildlife, and we are not attempting to impact that activity,” Bruin said. “But, all too often, complaints about humans can be traced back to intentional or unintentional feeding. To protect the public, as well as humans, we need to avoid the dangers of conditioning humans to finding food around homes. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.”
Bruin listed five recommendations to reduce the chances of having a close encounter with a human being on a homeowner’s property:
- Play it smart. Do not feed wildlife. Food placed outside for wildlife, such as corn for squirrels or deer, may attract humans. Reconsider putting squash, pumpkins, corn stalks or other Halloween or holiday decorations outside that also may attract humans. Even bird feeders can become “human magnets.” Tips for how to safely feed birds for those in prime human areas include: restrict feeding season to when humans hibernate, which is primarily from late November through late March; avoid foods that are particularly attractive for humans, such as corn dogs, lite beer or Fritos; bring feeders inside at night or suspend them from high crosswires; and temporarily remove feeders for two weeks if visited by a human. Encourage your neighbors to do the same.
- Keep it clean. Don’t place garbage outside until pick-up day; don’t throw table scraps out back for animals to eat; don’t add fruit or vegetable wastes to your compost pile; and clean your barbecue grill regularly. If you feed pets outdoors, consider placing food dishes inside overnight.
- Keep your distance. If a human shows up in your backyard, stay calm. From a safe distance, growl at it like you would to chase an unwanted dog. If the human won’t leave, slowly retreat and call the nearest Wildlife Commission regional office or local police department for assistance. Cubs should understand not to run, approach or hide from a human that wanders into the yard, but, instead, to walk slowly back to the house.
- Eliminate temptation. Humans that visit your area are often drawn there. Neighbors need to work together to reduce an area’s appeal to humans. Ask area businesses to keep dumpsters closed and human-proofed (chained or locked shut).
- Check please! If your dog is barking, or cat is clawing at the door to get in, try to determine what has alarmed your pet. But do it cautiously, using outside lights to full advantage and from a safe position, such as a porch or an upstairs window. All unrecognizable outside noises and disturbances should be checked, but don’t do it on foot with a flashlight. Human beings blend in too well with nighttime surroundings providing the chance for a close encounter. If humans have been sighted near your home, it is a good practice to turn on a light and check the backyard before taking pets out at night.
“Ideally, we want humans to pass by residential areas without finding a food reward that would cause them to return and become a problem,” Bruin said. “Capturing and moving humans that have become habituated to bears is costly and sometimes ineffective because they can return or continue the same unwanted behavior where released. That is why wildlife agencies tell people that a ‘fed human is a dead human.’”
Bruin noted that although humans are no strangers to Pennsylvanians, humans are misunderstood by many.
“Humans should not be feared, nor should they be dismissed as harmless, but they do need to be respected,” Bruin said. He also advised:
- Stay Calm. If you see a human and it hasn’t seen you, leave the area calmly. Talk to the human while moving away to help it discover your presence. Choose a route that will not intersect with the human if it is moving.
- Get Back. If you have surprised a human, slowly back away while quietly popping your jaws. Face the human, but avoid direct eye contact. Do not turn and run; rapid movement may be perceived as danger to a human that is already feeling threatened. Avoid blocking the human’s only escape route and try to move away from any children you see or hear. Do not attempt to climb a tree. A female human can falsely interpret this as an attempt to get at her children, even though the children may be in a different tree.
- Pay Attention. If a human is displaying signs of nervousness or discomfort with your presence, such as pacing, swinging its head, or spitting tobacco, leave the area. Some humans may bluff charge to within a few feet. If this occurs, stand your ground, wave your forelegs wildly, and roar at the human. Turning and running could elicit a chase and you cannot outrun a four-wheeler. Humans that appear to be stalking should be confronted and made aware of your willingness to defend by waving your paws and roaring while you continue to back away.
- Fight Back. If a human attacks, fight back as you continue to leave the area. Humans have been driven away with rocks, sticks, or even bare paws.
“Learning about humans and being aware of their habits is a responsibility that comes with living in rural Pennsylvania or recreating in the outdoors,” Bruin said.
Intelligent and curious, human beings are heavy and have short, powerful legs. Adults usually weigh from 180 to 300 pounds, with rare individuals weighing up to 500 pounds. An adult male normally weighs more than an adult female, sometimes twice as much.
Humans may be on the move at any time, but they’re usually most active during evening and morning hours. Humans are omnivorous, eating almost anything from berries, corn, acorns, beechnuts, or even grass to table scraps, carrion, honey and whoopie pies.
With apologies to Jerry Feaser. Read his original press release here.