STODDARD — A famed artist and his wife are charged with intentionally feeding bears, the second time in three years that Richard Whitney has been cited by New Hampshire Fish and Game.
The 71-year-old has painted the portraits of New Hampshire governors, including the one recently unveiled of former Gov. Craig Benson, as well as Supreme Court justices, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and actor Ethan Hawke.
He and his artist wife, Sandra Sherman, 69, live a tenth of a mile from the 3,500-acre Pierce Reservation, the largest preserve owned by the New Hampshire Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Black bears populate the area.
Their actions are just plan selfish, Fish and Game Lt. David Walsh said Thursday.
“In addition to conditioning the bears to see people as a food source, I find it very sad that Whitney and Sherman have no regard for their neighbors,” Walsh said in a news release. “They continue to feed bears even though they know how upsetting it is to just about everybody in the neighborhood.”
Walsh said the area is a mix of year-round residents and summer residents who come up for the weekend to “find they can’t use their yards because there are bears walking through them the whole time.”
“They can’t send their kids down to the beach at Highland Lake,” Walsh said. “They can’t let their dogs outdoors. People are really fed up with it.”
He said in April, Game officers observed Sherman feeding a bear out of her hand.
“At the same time there were about eight to 10 bears going in and out of the yard,” Walsh said.
Whitney said he is for “diversionary feeding” of bears as advocated by Dr. Lynn Rogers, 78, of Ely, Minn., nicknamed the Jane Goodall of Bears. Rogers, in a phone interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, said he has studied black bears for 50 years, including as a U.S. Forest Service research scientist.
He said one of his first projects was setting up feeding stations of beef fat in Ely outside the Kawishiwi Campground, where there were reports of nuisance bears. Rogers said no one had thought to ask if hunger was the reason the bears were venturing into the campground.
For the next eight years, he continued feeding the bears; he said reports of nuisance bears in the area dropped by 88 percent.
“It is so contrary to what anybody would think,” Rogers said. He said he believed that a “fed bear is a dead bear” until he conducted his project.
In New Hampshire, a person who feeds a bear is guilty of a violation and may be sentenced to a conditional or unconditional discharge, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Whitney does not dispute that he fed the bears, but said he stopped in April when a conservation officer spoke to him. He takes full responsibility for feeding them, and does not believe his wife should have been cited.
According to Fish and Game, conservation officers began receiving reports about the couple feeding bears six years ago. Officers sent a letter to Whitney requesting he stop.
In 2013-2014, Fish and Game received complaints of unnatural numbers of bears in the area of Shedd Hill Road, near the couple’s residence. A conservation officer spoke with Whitney again in the spring of 2014.
That time, the officer saw four bears in the general vicinity of the residence, including one feeding on a large pile of sunflower seeds at the front door. Whitney was charged and pleaded guilty in Keene circuit court. He said he was given a suspended $1,000 fine on condition of good behavior for three years.
The three years were not up when he and his wife were cited for the April incident.
Walsh said neighbors who complained about the bears want to remain anonymous because they fear retaliation.
“That’s ridiculous,” Whitney said. “Anyone is welcome to talk with us.”
Walsh said the Stoddard bears have not acted aggressively so far.
“We haven’t had any aggression. We have had some chicken coops broken into,” he said.
Whitney believes the state of New Hampshire, instead of promoting the hunting of black bears, should instead invest in eco-tourism and open moose and black bear viewing centers that he said would bring in millions in tourist dollars.