Diversionary feeding uses food to lure animals away from areas where they are unwanted or could cause conflicts with people. With bears (Ursidae) increasingly attracted to human food sources worldwide, diversionary feeding represents a seemingly logical and publicly acceptable means of alleviating conflicts. Feeding wildlife is widely practiced in Europe to enhance hunting and reduce conflicts, but feeding of bears is discouraged across North America. The efficacy and potential side-effects of bear feeding remain an open question because of a lack of rigorous studies. Here we examine 5 case studies from which we attempt to draw inferences about feeding as a conflict-mitigation strategy. Studies included U.S. national parks, where after bear feeding was banned conflicts were reduced; Aspen, Colorado, where lucrative dumpsters in town did not divert bears from using human-related foods at other sources; rural Minnesota, where results of intentional feeding of a small sample of bears were confounded with other variables; the Tahoe Basin of California–Nevada, where an emergency feeding effort during a drought-caused food failure seemed to reduce conflicts within approximately 1 km of the feeding site; and Slovenia, where a high density of feeders at established locations seemed to divert bears from using settlements during autumn hyperphagia. Although none of these studies were true experiments with treatments and controls, the range of circumstances yielded insights into when feeding could be effective: when food demands are not readily met by natural foods; when the provisioned food is easily found outside the potential conflict area; when the food is attractive; and when bears do not associate the feeding with people. However, long-term feeding may increase bear population size, which may increase conflicts overall, or trigger a demand for population control. Diversionary feeding, if used, should be conducted as an adaptive management strategy by professionals so as to learn more about factors influencing its effectiveness.
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Vol. 28 • No. 1