Bears awaken from hibernation

May 17, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Wildlife experts advise caution as local sightings increase

Bears take refuge in a Sammamish Plateau tree during a May sighting. By Bent Wiencke

State Department of Fish and Wildlife agents responded to a bear in a home last week, after a surprised Issaquah woman discovered the animal pawing around inside a locked garage.

The incident underscored the need for education about black bears as the close encounters between humans and bears start for the year.

State wildlife officials and organizations remind residents in Issaquah and other communities near bear habitat to take precautions as soon as possible to limit the potential for dangerous encounters.

Bear Awareness Week is observed in Washington through May 21.

The incident relating to the bear in the garage is the latest sighting in recent weeks as bears started to emerge from hibernation early last month.

Issaquah School District administrators spotted bears near several campuses in April and May, including Cascade Ridge, Clark and Newcastle elementary schools. Police received a call about a bear at the downtown Issaquah Salmon Hatchery in late April.

Residents have reported frequent sightings in neighborhoods throughout the city. In the latest example, Issaquah police officers received a call at 11:43 a.m. May 10 about a bear inside a garage in a tree-lined neighborhood near the Sammamish Family YMCA, not far from Providence Point.

State wildlife agents reached the home at about noon and, as the team used Krispy Kreme doughnuts to bait a bear trap in the backyard, the animal escaped from the garage. Agents later captured the bear.

Department of Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Kim Chandler said the bear broke a window to enter the garage, possibly late May 9 or earlier May 10, and then remained inside until residents heard thumping in the space. The bear escaped from the same broken window.

The garbage container inside the garage likely attracted the animal.

“The smell of that garbage was probably just a little bit too much for him, and he did what he had to do,” Chandler said.

The incident occurred days after a Sammamish man chased bears from a garage and, in a separate incident, bears scooped chicks from a Sammamish coop.

Chandler said the recent nuisance calls related in large part related to 2-year-old black bear cubs. Mother bears leave cubs at about age 2 1/2 or 3 1/2.

“Mom taught them bad habits before she kicked them out,” he said. “Now, they’re on their own and they’re still continuing these bad habits.”

Do not feed bears

Experts urged residents not to feed bears, no matter how cute and cuddly the animals may seem.

Issaquah Highlands resident Cathy Macchio, Interstate 90 field representative for the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project, said education is important to ensure bear encounters do not result in harm to people or animals.

“With the human population encroaching more and more on bear habitat, we are going be coming into more conflict with bears,” she said.

The nonprofit Grizzly Bear Outreach Project is dedicated to educating Pacific Northwest residents about bears and other large carnivores. The statewide black bear population in Washington is estimated between 25,000 and 30,000 animals.

“As human beings living in their territory and sharing the same woods, we just have to know how to respond to bears when we see them,” Macchio said. “We have to educate ourselves in how to coexist with the bears.”

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.

“They’re not interested in eating people,” Macchio said. “They’re just looking for food.”

Bears tend to steer clear of people, but the animals start to lose their fear if they become food-conditioned, or come to associate people with food.

“Every bear is very individual, just like human beings, so it’s very hard to predict their behavior,” Macchio said. “So, they’re each going to react differently.”

Usually, wildlife agents trap and relocate nuisance bears. If relocation fails, a nuisance bear may be destroyed.

The cold spring has created another problem for wildlife agents, because too much snow remains on the ground in the Cascades to release relocated animals.

“We’re really caught between a rock and a hard spot right now,” Chandler said.

Releasing nuisance animals closer to population areas is also undesirable. The state wildlife agency prefers to release bears at least 40 miles and over rough terrain from the capture site to prevent bears from returning.

“If we trap bears, we have no place to put them,” Chandler added. “You can’t take a Sammamish bear out to North Bend and turn him loose, because he’s either a North Bend problem or he comes back to Sammamish.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

On the Web

Learn more bear safety tips from the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project at www.bearinfo.org.

How to avoid bear conflicts

Do not feed bears

Nearly all — more than 90 percent — conflicts between bears and humans result from bears becoming conditioned to associate food with people. Experts said a wild bear could become permanently food-conditioned after a single food handout.

Manage trash

Put garbage out shortly before trucks arrive — 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. Do not put fish, meat or fruit into compost bins. Use lime in compost to reduce odors.

Remove other attractants

Remove bird feeders from early March through November, as bears become 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. Reduce oat and pellet spillage by feeding livestock from buckets. Clean barbecue grills after each use.

Install fences and other barriers

Use electric fencing to prevent raids on orchards, livestock and beehives. However, fencing only works if activated before conflicts occur. Bears can go through electric fencing once they are food-conditioned and know 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 you see cubs, and give the bear plenty of room. Increase your distance from the bear, even if it appears unconcerned.

If you cannot safely move away from the bear, and the animal does not flee, try clapping your hands or yelling to scare the animal.

If the black bear cannot be deterred and is intent on attack, fall to the ground as close as possible before the bear makes contact and play dead.

If the bear attacks, fight back aggressively. If the black bear attacks, use a deterrent, such as pepper spray or a stick, and fight for your life. Kick, punch or hit the bear with whatever weapon is available. Concentrate your attack on the face, eyes and nose. Fight any black bear that attacks you in a building or tent.

Sources: Department of Fish and Wildlife, Grizzly Bear Outreach Project

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