A Yachats woman convicted last month of disturbing black bears by feeding them has been ordered out of her home for three years by a Lincoln County Circuit Court judge.
In a several page sentencing statement, Judge Thomas Branford lambasted Karen Noyes, 61, for putting her neighbors at risk by feeding about two dozen bears on her 5-acre property on Yachats River Road.
The Oregon State Police charged Noyes with five counts of recklessly endangering another person and four counts of harassing wildlife in August of 2008.
Noyes began feeding bears in 2003, shortly after moving to Yachats from California. An OSP trooper testified during her trial last month that Noyes admitted to him that she had spent more than $100,000 feeding bears.
The state maintained that when Noyes went on vacation last July, the bears — accustomed to being fed — began aggressively raiding her neighbors’ property looking for food. Noyes did not testify, but denies having gone on vacation or of having been warned by neighbors and an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist not to feed bears.
During a three-week period last August, neighbors and state officials shot dead four bears.
Vicki and Derek Prince run a hatchery for rare poultry breeds about a mile from Noyes. A marauding bear killed 60 turkeys last summer. The Princes testified that the bears had become so aggressive that the family did not dare go anywhere on their property without a firearm. Derek Prince shot one bear, and a few weeks later, a state game officer killed another on the Prince land.
Other neighbors testified that in the 20 to 30 years they had lived in the Yachats Valley they had never experienced problems with bears until two years ago.
A six-person jury deliberated for three hours on June 2 before finding Noyes not guilty on all counts of reckless endangering and guilty on one count of disturbing wildlife. At Noyes’ attorney’s request, Branford rolled the four harassing wildlife charges in to one count during the trial.
Perhaps the most damming piece of evidence against Noyes was a photograph showing more than a dozen bears laying in her yard, each on top a large pile of food.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Doug Cottam told the jury that once bears become habituated to humans and human food, they are usually destroyed. Transplanting a problem bear results in the bear’s death 75 percent of the time within three months, he said.
The district attorney’s office maintained that Noyes violated the harassing wildlife law by disturbing the bears’ natural feeding patterns. No one in Oregon had ever previously been prosecuted for feeding wildlife. Cottam said during his testimony that a person putting birdseed out would be disturbing wildlife as well, particularly in the summer when young fledglings should be eating insects and not grain.
Lynn Rogers, a bear biologist who has studied bears for 42 years, testified on Noyes behalf. Rogers is best known through his television show, “The Man Who Walks with Bears,” on the Discovery Channel.
Rogers blamed a poor berry crop and Noyes’ neighbors for keeping livestock and poultry feed — “attractants” — for the bear problems.
Before sentencing Noyes, Branford praised her love of animals but took exception to her methods.
“The Beatles were wrong when they crooned ‘all you need is love,’” Branford said. “It’s not enough to love. You have to learn to love the right way. And you still haven’t.”
After having been warned repeatedly by an ODFW biologist and neighbors about the dangers of feeding bears, Branford said Noyes had forfeited her right to be sentenced as well intentioned but naïve. Branford also took exception to the revelation by Rogers that he and Noyes had been feeding bears on her property during the trial.
Branford said he was ordering Noyes out of her home because the state does not have the money to pay for a probation supervisor for misdemeanor crimes such as harassing wildlife, and he felt she would just ignore an order to quit feeding the bears.
Noyes’ yard is not visible from the road, a fact Branford confirmed for himself by driving by her property.
“You could be feeding 100 bears on your property and no one off your property could witness such an event,” Branford told Noyes.
Noyes must vacate her home by Aug. 31 and provide the state with proof of her new residence. If she rents her home or allows a caretaker to stay there, she is required to have a written agreement with that person not to feed the bears.
As a condition of her probation, Noyes is not even allowed on Yachats River Road between its junction with Highway 101 and the north and south forks seven miles up river.
Noyes said after the sentencing that she probably will not appeal and plans to sell her home.
“He ran me out of town, unbelievable, shocking,” she said. “There’s no point of me being here if I can’t enjoy the wildlife, and my neighbors want me out of here.
Larry Coonrod can be reached at 541-265-8571, ext. 211, or email@example.com.For the complete article see the 07-03-2009 issue.
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