Hungry black bears roam through Issaquah area
October 12, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
The scene is as charming as something from a dog-eared issue of Ranger Rick: a mother black bear and a pair of cubs sauntering through a wooded setting.
But the bear sighting is a potential problem, too. Residents throughout Issaquah and nearby unincorporated King County have reported sightings of such a bear trio to police and state wildlife officials in the past several weeks.
State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials urged Issaquah residents not to feed the bears, no matter how cute and cuddly the animals may seem.
“It’s exciting to see a bear from the safety of your home or out the window or from the deck, because you don’t get to see it all the time,” statewide Carnivore Manager Donny Martorello said last week. “Most of the time, the bears are just passing through. We don’t want to encourage it at all or exploit that in any way.”
The bears may be active in suburban settings because the crop of late-summer wild berries — a key part of their natural diet — is in short supply. The situation has prompted bears to roam farther in order to find food sources.
“Bears that normally spend their whole lives without any conflict with people, they’re just wandering around right now,” Martorello said.
Problems arise after people feed the animals — either by putting out treats for bears or neglecting to secure potential food sources, such as garbage containers, pet food and birdfeeders.
Bears tend steer clear of people, but the animals start to lose the fear if they become food-conditioned, or come to associate people with food.
“They tend to be pretty good about avoiding people,” Martorello said. “They’re looking for food right now. They’re not looking for trouble.”
Martorello said bear sightings should continue for about a month or so longer, before bears head into hibernation.
“Bears have a physiological switch that goes off about this time of year,” he said. “They need to double their caloric intake right now to prepare for den, for hibernation.”
Issaquah-area resident Colleen Perry said the female bear and cubs ambled to the apple tree in her backyard for a snack in late September.
“If they’re hungry, they’re hungry,” Perry said.
Perry snapped photos of the animals from inside her house — the right thing to do in order to keep bears and people safe, Martorello said.
“I really encourage folks, as exciting as it is, don’t put the treats out on the stump to attract the bear to come back again so the grandkids can see it,” he continued. “Resist that urge. Don’t do it. Don’t try to get closer to the bear. Don’t try to get closer to get the better photograph or don’t try to follow the bear to get the photograph as it’s leaving.”
Martorello said the agency handles nuisance bears on a case-by-case basis. Options include relocation or euthanasia of the problem animals.
“If we see these behaviors progressing the wrong way, then we step in,” he said.
The prospect of conflicts between bears and humans has received attention since a black bear attacked Bellevue City Councilman John Chelminiak near Lake Wenatchee in mid-September, but Martorello said the attack is unusual, considering the statewide black bear population of 25,000-30,000 animals.
“For having that number of bears, large carnivores, in the state, we coexist very, very, very well,” he said. “There are lots of encounters with bears that work out just fine.”
How to avoid bear conflicts
Do not feed bears
- More than 90 percent of conflicts between bears and humans result from bears being conditioned to associate food with people. A wild bear can become permanently food-conditioned after a single food handout.
Manage the trash
- Put garbage out shortly before the truck arrives — not the night before. If you plan to leave several days before pickup, haul garbage to a dump. Keep garbage cans with tight-fitting lids in a shed, garage or fenced area. Spray garbage bins regularly with disinfectants to reduce odors. Keep fish and meat waste in the freezer until they can be disposed of properly.
Remove other attractants
- Remove bird feeders from early March through November, when bears are active. Feeders allow residue to build up on the ground below them. Bring in hummingbird feeders at night. Harvest orchard fruit from trees regularly. Do not feed pets outside. Clean barbecue grills after each use.
Protect livestock and bees
- Place livestock pens and beehives at least 150 feet away from wooded areas and protective cover. Confine livestock in buildings and pens, especially during lambing or calving seasons. Livestock food also attracts bears and must be kept in a secure barn or shed behind closed doors.
Install fences and other barriers
- Electric fencing can be used where raids on orchards, livestock, beehives and other areas are frequent. But the fencing only works if it is operating before conflicts occur. Bears will go right through electric fencing once they are food-conditioned and know that food is available.
If you come in close contact with a bear:
- Stay calm and avoid direct eye contact, which could elicit a charge. Try to stay upwind and identify yourself as a human by standing up, talking and waving your hands above your head.
- Do not approach the bear, particularly if cubs are present. Give the bear plenty of room.
- If you cannot safely move away from the bear, and the animal does not flee, try to scare it away by clapping your hands or yelling.
- If the bear attacks, fight back aggressively. As a last resort, should the attack continue, protect yourself by curling into a ball or lying on the ground on your stomach and playing dead.
Source: state Department of Fish and Wildlife
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.