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Backyard Chickens Luring Bears into Neighborhoods

Bear with chicken coop

When bears strike farms, it seems that if they are going to take one animal, they have to take 100. Once that becomes a habit, it turns out badly for the bears, who have to be exterminated.

The Griffith family of Montana began raising chickens in their backyard, with their flock eventually growing to 116. Late last summer, a grizzly sow and cub got into the yard and killed 99 of the birds, leaving behind only feathers and legs strewn all over.

Montana residents who raise chickens for fresh eggs in their backyard are now the latest topic of discussion among wildlife managers with the Montana Fish and Wildlife Department (FWD). “Five years ago all we talked about was garbage, garbage, garbage,” said Jamie Jonkel, a Missoula-based wildlife manager with FWD in an interview with the New York Times. “Now it’s chickens, chickens, chickens.”

State Wildlife Manager Tim Manley captured 18 bears that raided chicken coops last year. Of those, nine were euthanized since they were perceived as a continual threats to humans. “The biggest threat to grizzly bears in my area is people with chickens,” Manley said to the New York Times.

“Bears that are habituated and food-conditioned don’t have much of a future,” said Dr. Chris Servheen, grizzly bear expert and grizzly bear recovery coordinator in Missoula for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The trend of raising backyard chickens for Montana residents has become a frustrating experience for Dr. Servheen. He has worked for 20 years to restore grizzly bears to the northern Rockies. The bear population has grown to almost 1,000 along the northern Continental Divide in the past 35 years, whereas before there were only 300 to 400.

“Does it make sense to kill a grizzly because of a 25 cent chicken?” Dr. Servheen asks. Wildlife managers have already brought numerous bear-attracting locales under control over the years, most brought about by human movement further into bear country. Between Missoula and Glacier National Park, houses unintentionally attracted bears with bird feeders, open garbage bins, beehives and dog food.

On the other side of the country in New Jersey, bear specialists say that more people are starting backyard chicken farms in the northwestern part of the state where brown bear populations have been growing. A bear hunt reintroduction there in 2012 has helped curb problematic bear-human encounters.

However, grizzly bears are illegal to shoot unless an immediate risk to human life is present, as described under the Endangered Species Act. Most often bears are tranquilized and relocated to a remote area, but repeat offenders are euthanized.

For now, those with chickens in their backyard are advised to set up electrical fences to teach bears not to come back looking for food before they receive the protein reward.

Image copyright Laura, OnceAndFutureLaura on flickr

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