Encounters between black bears and humans increase

August 2, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Jack Altree snapped a photo of a black bear in his backyard in the 3400 block of 239th Avenue Southeast at about 1:15 p.m. July 18, just before the bear destroyed a birdfeeder in search of a snack. By Jack Altree

Cool weather is factor in frequent sightings

The dreary summer is not just disrupting afternoons alongside Lake Sammamish or hikes atop Cougar Mountain.

The unseasonably cool conditions also impacted food sources for the black bears common in the forests around Issaquah and across the Evergreen State.

“The long, cold spring basically delayed the berry crop, and that leaves a lot of hungry bears wandering around,” state Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Craig Bartlett said. “Hungry bears get into trouble.”

State wildlife agents confirmed 122 bear reports in King County through July. The total could match or outpace the 2010 tally — 210 confirmed reports countywide. Both years reflect a sharp increase from the 49 confirmed reports in 2009.

“That’s not just people calling us and saying, ‘I think I saw a bear.’ That’s our officers going out and seeing footprints and stuff,” Bartlett said.

Residents from the Sammamish Plateau to Squak Mountain reported bear sightings — and emptied or destroyed birdfeeders — throughout July.

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

Conflicts can arise after people feed the animals. If a person puts out treats for bears or neglects to secure potential food sources, such as garbage containers, pet food and birdfeeders, he or she can attract unwanted attention from the animals.

On the Web

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife offers tips for people to avoid bear conflicts.

Learn more bear safety tips from the nonprofit Grizzly Bear Outreach Project.

Otherwise, bears tend to steer clear of people. However, the animals start to lose their fear if they become food-conditioned, or come to identify humans as a food source.

Usually, the Department of Fish and Wildlife traps and relocates nuisance bears. If relocation fails, a nuisance bear may be destroyed.

State wildlife agents prefer to release bears at least 40 miles away and across rough terrain from the capture site to prevent bears from returning. In addition, releasing nuisance animals near other populated areas is also undesirable.

The dense population in East King County presents a challenge for relocating nuisance bears.

“That’s sort of superimposed on top of a growing population, particularly as King County pushes toward the mountains,” Bartlett said. “With the population density, there are just more people to run into bears. Then, when you drop this weather pattern on top of it, that’s what you get.”

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3 Responses to “Encounters between black bears and humans increase”

  1. Lower Highlands on August 3rd, 2011 8:36 am

    We have not seen any bears but we have seen scat a few times on sidewalks and such.

  2. Anonymous on August 4th, 2011 6:32 am

    People who put birdfeeders out during bear season should be fined.

  3. K.Larsen on August 4th, 2011 3:59 pm

    We live just east of Waverly Hills and have seen a black bear twice on our property this summer. August 2 is the most recent sighting. It walked past our picture window and stopped to look in at us…a “wow” moment at our house.

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