Board of Health Takes On Bear-Feeding Man
NORTHAMPTON — An irate Northampton resident came to Thursday’s Board of Health meeting to plead for the city to act on her neighbor’s continual feeding of black bears.
Janel Jorda lives on Rockland Heights, off of North King Street and at the edge of the Fitzgerald Lake, Marion Street, and Pines’ Edge Conservation areas. For over two years, her neighbor, Thomas Wooster of Stonewall Drive, has been feeding local bears.
According to Jorda, the bears trail through her yard at all hours to reach the food that Wooster puts out.
“They go through our property morning, noon, and night,” Jorda said angrily to the Board of Health on Thursday.
Jorda said that the bears wrought thousands of dollars in damage and pose a threat to her dog, Marley.
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Jorda said that she knows enough to keep her dog leashed, but once when he saw a bear cub, he pulled free to chase it. The cub’s mother was not far behind.
Jorda expressed fear for neighborhood children, emphasizing that she has seen what mother bears will do to protect their cubs from humans.
The bears broke through the garbage enclosure that Jorda had constructed, despite her efforts mask the smell of the garbage with ammonia powder.
She said she has called the Northampton police, but was told they cannot take action because feeding bears is not against the law.
She personally asked Wooster to stop feeding the bears, but he laughed at her and said he saw no problem with his practice, she said.
Last year, state environmental police tracked a population of local bears to Wooster’s address. According to Jorda, they tried to educate Wooster about the dangers of his hobby.
She said she’s also been in contact with her City Council representative, Maureen Carney, who referred her to the Board of Health.
“The city has to help us,” Jorda said at the Board of Health meeting.
Jorda said that if she does not receive the help she needs, she will have no choice but to start shooting the bears that damage her property and threaten her family.
The board agreed that bear-feeding should be regulated and explored legislative and more immediate options.
“The complaints are such that we should consider some sort of regulation on the matter,” said Health Director Benjamin Wood.
The board connected the matter to a series of complaints they have recognized about poorly managed compost piles attracting rats and other “vermin.”
While the board said that they will begin work on regulation and legislation on feeding bears and other wildlife, they emphasized that the process takes time. They agreed that they should find a temporary solution.
Wood sent Wooster a letter last month, threatening a fine of $1,000 under the nuisance law.
Since the letter is considered a written warning, the board needs proof of intentional bear-feeding since the receipt of the letter in order to impose the fine.
A violation of nuisance law is not an arrestable offense. If the fine is not paid, however, the city can take the offender to court.
“We need a local ordinance against feeding bears,” Jorda told Northampton Media. “Property is being damaged and pets are being threatened… They don’t even seem afraid anymore.”
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Video courtesy Janel Jorda