OLYMPIA – With reports of bear and cougar sightings on the rise in parts of Washington state, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reminds citizens of simple steps they can take to reduce the likelihood of an encounter with these animals.
“Public safety is our first priority in managing potentially dangerous wildlife,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. “And while we’ve taken a number of steps— from setting up a dangerous-wildlife hotline to authorizing special public-safety cougar-removal hunts—to reduce the risk of encounters, citizens also have a major role to play.
“It’s up to each person at home or in a campsite to take care to avoid attracting the animals in the first place. That means appropriately securing garbage, pet food and the like.”
In King County, WDFW received 142 reports of black bear sightings this year through the end of July—an increase of nearly 50 percent over the 96 calls received during the same period last year.
There are no obvious reasons for the increase in reports.
“Despite this jump in the number of reported sightings, bears will almost always go out of their way to avoid contact with humans,” said WDFW North Puget Sound Enforcement Capt. Bill Hebner, adding that just a handful of bear attacks on humans have been recorded in state history.
“Problems result from bears that lose their natural fear of humans, usually at least in part because people intentionally or unintentionally feed bears,” he said. “Bears have a keen sense of smell, and any food sources that are available, such as garbage, pet food left in the open, and even a birdseed feeder can attract bears and cause them to lose their fear of humans.”
The increase in bear sightings doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an increase in our bear population, noted Donny Martorello, WDFW special species section manager.
“Black bears are always on the move in search of their next meal, which is primarily huckleberries at this time of year, and it could be that bears are simply moving through more areas in search of food and are being spotted by more people,” he said.
Meanwhile, in southwest Washington, reported sightings of cougars have “at least doubled, if not tripled” in frequency this year compared to 2004, said WDFW Southwest Washington Enforcement Capt. Murray Schlenker.
While there has been a big jump in reports, Schlenker said his officers have yet to find a cougar when responding to citizen calls.
Wildlife experts say homeowners should take the following 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. Pet food attracts bears directly and can draw the small wildlife that is prey for cougars;
- Thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use;
- Take down birdfeeders for the summer season. Birdfeeders can be filled again in the fall when natural food sources become scarce for birds;
- Never intentionally feed wild animals that can draw cougars, such as deer, raccoons or squirrels;
- When camping, keep a clean campsite by thoroughly cleaning all cooking utensils after use and sealing uneaten food in airtight containers stored in bear-proof canisters away from sleeping areas.
In the event of an actual encounter, WDFW offers the following advice:
If a bear is encountered, 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.
If a cougar is encountered, stop, stand tall and don’t run. Pick up small children. Do not approach the animal. Try to appear larger than the cougar. Never take your eyes off the animal or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide. If the animal displays aggressive behavior, shout, wave your arms and throw rocks. If the cougar attacks, fight back aggressively and try to stay on your feet.
More information on living with black bears is available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/blkbear/blkbear.htm.
More information on living with cougars is available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/cougar/cougar.htm.
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.
Cougar sightings and incidents reported to WDFW are now listed on the Department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/enf/danger/reporting/.