OLYMPIA – Enforcement officers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are investigating a report by a man who said he was bitten in the arm by a black bear in a remote part of western Cowlitz County late yesterday (June 8).
A 21-year-old Longview man said he was bitten by the bear while walking in the Abernathy Creek watershed near the boundary between Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties at about 7:30 p.m., Wednesday. The man was treated at a Longview hospital for four small puncture wounds on his left forearm.
WDFW enforcement officers, accompanied by two tracking dogs and their handlers, spent several hours Thursday morning searching for the bear in heavily wooded commercial timberland. No bears were located.
Murray Schlenker, WDFW Southwest Washington regional enforcement captain, said officers are continuing their investigation of the circumstances surrounding the reported attack.
The Department’s policy when responding to a reported attack by a bear or cougar on a human is to lethally remove the animal. Animals that are caught in traps and not associated with human safety incidents can be sedated and released in remote areas – often with an identifying ear tag.
Meanwhile, WDFW enforcement officers have been following up on a number of bear sightings in King and Pierce counties over the past week. Baited “culvert” traps have been placed in or near Tacoma, Issaquah, Preston and High Point where bears have been reported.
The high number and visibility of recent bear sightings is typical for late spring, when the animals are active, WDFW biologists say.
“At this time of year, bears have been out of their winter dens for a few months and are drawn to the ripening of salmonberries in low elevation areas,” said Rocky Spencer, WDFW carnivore specialist.
Also, this is the breeding season for bears, and males roam large territories in search of females, Spencer said. They often move through areas occupied by humans and leading to increased sightings, he said.
While bear sightings are not uncommon at this time of year, attacks on people are extremely rare. According to historical records, there have been four previous bear attacks on humans and one reported fatality in Washington.
“Bears are timid and will go to great lengths to avoid contact with humans, but they can find it hard to pass up an easy meal if it’s offered,” Spencer said.
“An unsecured garbage can that’s full of table scraps, or a bowl of dog food that’s left out on the porch is a strong attractant for bears,” he said. “Eliminating these easy food supplies is usually all it takes to encourage a bear to move on and search for natural offerings.”
Wildlife experts say homeowners can take several simple steps to reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a bear or other wildlife:
- Keep garbage cans in a garage or another secure area until collection day;
- Remove pet food from areas that are easily accessible by wildlife;
- Thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use;
- Birdfeeders filled with seed are unnecessary this time of year and will attract bears. Birdfeeders should be filled beginning in the fall when natural food sources become scarce for birds;
- Never intentionally feed wild animals, such as deer, raccoons or squirrels.
Spencer said the first rule that hikers and campers should follow is to keep a clean campsite.
“Bears will follow their nose to a campsite, so reducing or eliminating the sources of those food smells is important,” he said. Thoroughly clean all cooking utensils after use, seal uneaten food in airtight containers and store containers in bear-proof canisters away from sleeping areas.
If a bear is encountered in the wild, don't run. Pick up small children, stand tall, wave your arms above your head and shout. Do not approach the animal and be sure to leave it an escape route. Try to get upwind of the bear so that it can identify you as a human and leave the area.
Although rare, if the animal does mistake you for prey and attacks, fight back aggressively.
WDFW responds to cougar and bear sightings when there is any threat to public safety or property. Report sightings to the local WDFW regional office, or WDFW’s dangerous wildlife hotline, 1-800-477-6224. In the case of an emergency, dial 911.
More information on living with wildlife is available on the WDFW website, at on the Internet.