A resident of Linden has been found guilty of violating a Virginia law that forbids people from feeding bears.
On Nov. 7, Jeffrey Sylvia, 58, was found guilty of unlawfully feeding bears.
The conviction marks a rare occurance for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Owen Heine, a conservation police officer for the department, said it was the first conviction he’s seen since he started working for the department.
Under state law, Heine said, Game and Inland Fisheries officers have to issue a warning to someone before charging them for feeding bears.
“Usually, you give them a warning and they stop,” Heine said.
But Sylvia continued to feed the bears for 1 1/2 years after receiving a warning, according to a search warrant in the case.
A news release from Game and Inland Fisheries notes that the department had received calls about bears in a “small area of Warren County” for 10 years before securing a conviction against Sylvia.
“Surrounding neighbors had been reporting vehicle and home damage, bears looking in windows, bears that stayed around the homes, and injuries to pets,” the release states.
After receiving a number of complaints about the bears from Sylvia’s neighbors, a conservation police officer spoke to Sylvia, according to the search warrant. Heine said that Sylvia admitted to feeding the bears and that the officer issued Sylvia a warning.
But according to the search warrant, the complaints kept coming. On July 25, Heine went to Sylvia’s house and found sunflower seeds with a bear scent on the front walkway.
Initially, Heine said, Sylvia denied that he continued to feed the bears.
“We were there for a total of 30 minutes and saw like six bears in 30 minutes that were not afraid at all and were walking right up to you,” Heine said. “We found plenty of sunflower seeds where he’d been feeding them.”
At that point, Heine said, Sylvia admitted that he had continued feeding the bears.
Sylvia was fined $500, the maximum allowed under state law.
According to a news release, Sylvia had been feeding the bears for over a decade “in order to keep them safe from poachers and help the ‘sick and injured’ ones.” Sylvia told department staff that he spent over $10,000 each year on food for the bears.
Heine noted, however, that feeding bears does more harm to the bears than good.
“They’re conditioning [the bears] to come to people for food; [the bears] cause property damage; there’s cases of people who have shot bears because they’re trying to get into their house, because they’ve been conditioned to seek out people for food,” Heine said. “So it just creates a huge problem.”
Feeding bears can also make them spread diseases more widely than they otherwise would, because large numbers of bears congregate in smaller areas, Heine said.