OLYMPIA – A 415-pound male black bear trapped earlier this month after rummaging through garbage cans in a Black Diamond neighborhood is an unusually large example of a problem that is becoming all too common, say Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists.
Although WDFW field staff were able to capture and relocate the animal to a remote region in the Cascades, often in such situations the bear must be euthanized because it presents a danger to humans. And most of those encounters could be avoided if people refrained from feeding the animals, said Rocky Spencer, carnivore specialist with WDFW.
“There are several simple steps people can follow to help keep bears from becoming a problem,” said Spencer. “First and foremost, people should avoid feeding bears, either intentionally or inadvertently.”
While bears naturally avoid people, the animals can become accustomed to humans and increasingly aggressive when they are allowed access to garbage, pet food or birdfeeders. That leads to a dangerous progression – once a bear associates humans with food, it loses its instinctive fear of people, Spencer said. At that point, the animal poses a human safety risk and needs to be euthanized, he said.
“Feeding the bears doesn’t help them,” Spencer said. “In fact, it can lead to their death.”
WDFW officers euthanize dangerous animals such as bears and cougars that have clearly lost their fear of humans. In cases where the animal has not behaved aggressively, it may be marked with an identification tag and then relocated into the wild.
But even if a suitable release site can be found a sufficient distance from human habitation, the relocated animal may not survive. Most bears roam great distances after being relocated and are often hit by vehicles or return to the area where they had been receiving human handouts. Bears relocated more than 40 miles away may return to the area where they were captured within a few weeks, Spencer said.
“We have a two-strikes policy,” Spencer said. “Marked animals that return and cause problems are euthanized. That’s why it’s important for people to help ensure public safety, while also protecting bears and other wildlife.”
Wildlife experts say homeowners, especially those near forested areas, should take the following steps to reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a bear or other wildlife:
- Never intentionally feed wild animals;
- Keep garbage can lids tightly secured and store the cans in a garage or another secure area until collection day;
- Remove pet food from areas that are easily accessible by wildlife; feed pets indoors;
- Thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use;
- Take down birdfeeders in spring and summer. Birdfeeders can be filled again in the fall when natural food sources become scarce for birds;
- When camping, keep a clean campsite by thoroughly cleaning all cooking utensils after use and sealing uneaten food in airtight containers stored in bear-resistant canisters away from sleeping areas;
- Communities with reoccurring bear problems should consider bear-resistant garbage containers.
If a bear is encountered, wildlife experts advise people not to run. People should pick up small children, stand tall, wave their arms above their heads and shout. The animal shouldn’t be approached and should be left an escape route.
“Also, bears have poor eyesight, so try to get upwind of the animal,” Spencer said. “That gives the bear a chance to catch your scent and leave the area.”
WDFW responds to 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 black bears is available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bears.html.