Man charged with feeding bears feels he is doing NH 'a great public service'
STODDARD — A New Hampshire man feels he is doing the state "a great public service" by feeding bears on his 81-acres of land.
Fish and Game recently charged Richard Whitney, 71, and his wife Sandra Sherman, 69, for intentionally feeding bears after they allegedly received multiple reports of nuisance bears in the area of their Stoddard home. However, Whitney disagrees with their claims that he recklessly endangered the public safety, saying that what he is doing would help the state's economy.
"Many years ago, before I got deeply involved with feeding bears, I researched the literature and found much support for what I was doing. In conversations with the world's leading bear biologist, Dr. Lynn Rogers, I was relieved to know that I was not endangering the public — but in fact performing a great public service," Whitney wrote in a letter to the editor to NH1 News.
Rogers studies diversionary feeding, a concept that struck the interest of Whitney. This form of feeding consists of people providing food to the bears in carefully selected locations within a forest, generally near a source of water, as food outdoors becomes scarce.
Research conducted by Rogers in Ely, Minnesota, showed that reports of nuisance bears decreased with diversionary feeding because the animals were no longer looking for other sources of food. He also added that no serious injuries resulted from these feedings.
N.H. Fish and Game advises against any type of bear feeding, including unintentional feeding through the use of bird feeders or improperly stored garbage.
"Experience in New Hampshire indicates that (feeding bears) can enhance the likelihood of property damage, bear/human conflicts, or possibly result in bear behavior that leads to their removal," the Fish and Game website reads.
However, Rogers stated through his research that without offering the bears food in areas where it is lacking, they will begin to break into homes in search of food.
"Reducing attractants means the only food left is inside," Rogers said in a video posted to his website, bearstudy.org.
Whitney agrees that general feeding should be discouraged but believes diversionary feeding doesn't only help bears from becoming nuisances, but also would help increase ecotourism in New Hampshire.
"I believe the answer to many economic woes in this State is to set up nature viewing sanctuaries and promote ecotourism," Whitney wrote in his letter.
Alaska and Africa are two examples of places in the country that bring in money through the use of nature viewing sanctuaries, Whitney cited.
"Why should tourists spend thousands of dollars to view animals in the wild in Alaska and Africa — when they could much more easily travel to New Hampshire and spend their money here?" Whitney asked.
Whitney said he brought the idea of using diversionary feeding to create a bear sanctuary to Fish and Game years ago but said the department did not seem interested.
NH1 News has reached out to Andrew Timmins, Wildlife Biologist II and Bear Project Leader of the New Hampshire Fish and Game, to find out the department's viewpoint on diversionary feeding of bears. We are awaiting a response.
For now, Whitney has stopped feeding the bears due to financial costs and the time-consuming nature of the process.
"I wish I could show you, your editor, and the Governor, diversionary feeding in practice but I have promised F&G I can no longer continue the practice," Whitney said.
Read Whitney's full letter to the editor.