Spring means more bear encounters in Issaquah

April 17, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

A male black bear surprised residents of the Overdale Park neighborhood — and ate some garbage for a quick snack — the afternoon of April 15. Contributed

The calm afternoon in the Overdale Park neighborhood April 15, a sun-splashed Sunday, changed in a heartbeat after a surprise guest greeted resident Wendy Brown.

The arrival of a black bear in the neighborhood marked the start of spring — and the annual balancing act to ensure safety for bears and humans.

Brown’s adult daughter, Melissa, emerged from the house’s back door as Brown’s husband, Barry, yelled, “There’s a bear! Get the dogs!”

Wendy Brown headed around the house to see Logan, a golden retriever, and Tank, a blue heeler, on alert in the front yard as a black bear stood on the grass. Only about 5 feet separated the dogs from the bear.

“I just couldn’t believe the scene I saw coming around the corner — my husband and daughter throwing rocks at a full-grown bear on his hind legs swatting at our dogs,” Wendy Brown said the next day.

The bear eventually fled the Browns’ property, only to reach a neighbor’s house and dig through a garbage can for a quick meal.

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

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

“I realize bears were here long before people, but this guy, it’s a matter of time in my opinion,” Wendy Brown said.

Jason Capelli, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife game warden, responded to the incident at the Brown residence.

The bear involved in the Overdale confrontation is familiar to state wildlife officers. The animal is also suspected of digging through garbage in nearby neighborhoods.

“This bear is on our list to get trapped,” Capelli said.

Capelli estimated the male bear weighs between 100 and 150 pounds. The animal learned to use garbage as a food source from its mother.

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.

“It’s the superiority of the food that’s in the garbage can,” Capelli said. “There are so many more calories and nutrients in our leftovers and birdfeeders than there are in skunk cabbage and stuff like that that they’re eating this time of year.”

The problem is not limited to food scraps and birdseed.

“People think, ‘Oh, that’s a recycle container. It doesn’t have any garbage in it,’” Capelli said. “But bears associate any garbage-looking receptacle with food.”

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 far from capture sites across rough terrain to prevent bears from returning. In addition, releasing nuisance animals near other populated areas is also undesirable.

“With such a wet, cool spring that we’re having, I really have nowhere to take him,” Capelli said. “If I could get there, there’s not going to be any food available for him there yet. If I drop him off and there’s no grub, he’s going to come back.”

Conditions at higher elevations should make relocating nuisance bears difficult for at least a few more weeks.

“We ask people to be patient with us for a couple of weeks, and then we’re Johnny-on-the-spot,” Capelli said.

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

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