By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle
For those who enjoy spending time watching and feeding the wild birds, squirrels and chipmunks in their own backyard, it might be quite a temptation to feed the animals when you are out enjoying nature in one of our local national parks. But don’t do it.
Don’t feed the animals.
Easy answer: it’s illegal. If you get caught feeding animals in the park there is a $100 fine.
The not-so-easy answer to hear: You can cause harm or the death of the animal (or to yourself) by your “kindness.” Feeding wildlife invites aggressive animal behavior, road accidents, and harm to people. Feeding birds artificially concentrates nest predators, harming young songbirds.
“When you feed a squirrel a potato chip or piece of candy and he takes it back to his food cache, it can destroy the whole food cache as it rots,” said Sarah Yates, wildlife department, Mount Rainier National Park.
Biologists at Mount Rainier National Park have noticed a change in the natural behavior of the park’s wildlife. Animals have been fed by people and are now “food-conditioned” — meaning they seek out people for food.
“The birds will hang around the parking lot,” said Yates, “landing on cars, mobbing cars, they become very brazen in their behavior.”
These birds and animals learn to steal from picnic tables, trash cans, and will even forage through your stuff.
Feeding wildlife can be as direct as offering a bit of your lunch, to leaving your food or garbage exposed for animals to find. It may take just one experience for an animal to learn that “people” equals “food.”
“And the food you feed them just isn’t healthy for them,” said Yates.
Mount Rainier Hosts ‘Keep Wildlife Wild Day’
This Saturday, Mount Rainier National Park is hosting a “Keep Wildlife Wild Day” from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Paradise area of the park.
There will be several activities and adventures offered to park visitors, all geared around the native wildlife and the impacts of human interactions with wildlife.
Wildlife depend on natural behavior for survival. Once a wild animal becomes food-conditioned it loses its natural fear of people and public places. Not feeding park animals keeps you safe and the wildlife wild.
Don’t feed the animals.
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Go
What: Keep Wildlife Wild Day
When: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Mount Rainier National Park’s Paradise Area
Cost: $15 vehicle entrance fee buys a seven-day entrance permit to the park
From Packwood: East on U.S. 12 to S.R. 123. North on S.R. 123 to the Stevens Canyon Entrance. Follow Stevens Canyon Road west to Paradise.
From Morton: North on S.R. 7 to S.R. 706 in Elbe. East on S.R. 706 to the Nisqually Entrance.