This past week I had the chance to visit one of my favorite places in the entire world, the Adirondack High Peaks, a section of the Adirondack Park that is home to forty-six mountains that reach around 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level. After climbing my first high peak in 2011 I fell in love with the mountains and made it a life goal to hike all forty-six peaks. Lucky for me my sister, Clare, also wants to climb the high peaks, so it was a no brainer where we would spend her last week before she headed back to school.
When we finally unloaded our car we headed straight for the trail register to sign in and start our hike, but before I even had the chance to write my name an Adirondack Park Ranger came up behind us and told us he had a few questions for us about our trip. After learning we would be spending a couple of days on the trail the ranger asked us what we were planning on doing with our food while we were in the park. Thankfully I had done my research ahead of time and told him we were carrying a big, black bear barrel to store our food. In the Adirondacks, especially in the High Peaks Region, many Black Bears have learned that the quickest and easiest way to obtain food is to steal it from people camping. In fact, Black Bears have become such an issue in the High Peaks Region that the DEC requires all overnight hikers in the Eastern High Peaks to use a bear canister to store their food.
Now, before I go any farther I should explain that even though Black Bears are the second largest mammal in New York, they normally don’t pose a threat to humans. A lot of people think that all bears are blood thirsty carnivores, but the truth is Black Bears are omnivores — most of their diet consists of plants like grasses, berries, and other fruits.
Anyways, the ranger went on to explain that this summer has been especially hard summer for bears in the Adirondacks because a lot of those foods aren’t available. So far it has been a relatively dry summer and the lack of rain has resulted in less natural food for the bears, which means more bears are sneaking into campsites to find food. The ranger explained that while most of the bears in the area were still relatively skittish around humans there was at least one bear that had to be killed due to its aggressive behavior. The bear must have eaten enough human food to tell him that interacting with humans was worth the risk. While I understood why the bear had to be removed, it was hard knowing the reason it was a problem in the first place was probably because people didn’t know how to properly store and dispose of their trash and food.
Bears, of course, aren’t the only animals that are negatively affected by being fed human food. Feeding food to animals, especially young animals, often results in the animals becoming dependent on the unhealthy human food for survival. These animals frequently lose their ability to forage for their own food and they often become comfortable around humans instead of skittish and scared. These unusual behaviors often lead people to believe that the animals are sick or have rabies, so they are often killed.
While feeding animals or leaving trash around may not seem like a big deal, giving animals human food can have a really big impact on the health and safety of the animal and sometimes even the people nearby. So please, next time you consider leaving your trash behind while you’re camping or feeding the cute little animals in your backyard a piece of bread, think again. Don’t feed the animals, especially the bears.
Margaret Foley is a Naturalist at Audubon Community Nature Center.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.