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After bear break-ins Great Barrington approves ban on feeding wildlife; fines up to $200

 Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Nancy Eve Cohen
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

The Board of Health in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, has adopted a regulation against feeding wildlife, whether it's on purpose or unintentional.

The idea is to stop human behavior that draws wildlife, especially bears, into neighborhoods.

Bears will eat out of unsecured trash cans, or plastic dumpsters, which they can break by jumping on top. At times people leave food out on purpose so they can see wildlife.

The regulation is not a ban on bird feeders, unless they attract wildlife that threatens public safety.

State wildlife biologist Dave Wattles said bears will show up when they smell birdseed or garbage on a screened porch and break in. He suspects that might be what led to incidents in Great Barrington this summer.

"On multiple occasions a bear or bears entered homes," Wattle said. "Going through a screen and into the living space of the home. So, into the kitchen, getting into the fridge."

Great Barrington Police Chief Paul Storti said bears also broke into sheds and garages this summer. He said people have to change their behavior.

"When we create a situation for bears to have that food source or get comfortable in a residential area, it puts people at risk," Storti said.

Under the new regulation, the first time there's a violation police can issue a written warning. After the second incident there's a $50 fine. If there are subsequent violations, the fine is $200.

Stockbridge adopted a bylaw against wildlife feeding a few years ago.

Stockbridge Police Chief Darrell Fennelly said before the bylaw bears were walking downtown at all times of day.

"We were seeing them daily, nightly," Fennelly said. " I mean three or four different bears, but we were seeing them constantly."

Fennelly said since the bylaw was passed, restaurants secured their dumpsters and for the most part bears stopped coming.

Northampton and West Springfield also have wildlife feeding bans.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.

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