OLYMPIA – With the arrival of warmer weather, sightings of black bears are on the rise and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is reminding citizens that human actions are the key to avoiding trouble with a bruin.
“Don’t feed the bears – it’s been said many times before, but that’s still the most important advice we can offer,” said Capt. Bill Hebner, who heads WDFW’s regional enforcement activity in northern Puget Sound. “Most bear problems begin with people feeding them, either intentionally or unintentionally.”
Pet food, birdfeeders and unsecured garbage containers all can attract hungry bears looking for an easy meal. And people who deliberately try to feed bears place themselves, their neighbors and the bears in danger, Hebner said.
“Problems arise when bears begin to associate people with food and lose their natural fear of humans,” Hebner said.
Dozens of phone calls are coming into WDFW offices around the state from citizens with bear complaints. Each year, bear reports spike as the weather warms and bears begin to move in search of food, Hebner said. Possibly because of cold spring weather, calls about bears started slowly this year, said WDFW enforcement officers around the state. But in recent weeks, the bears seem to be making up for lost time.
“Right now, the regional office here in Mill Creek is getting about a dozen calls a day from people concerned about bears on their property, raiding dumpsters and knocking down birdfeeders,” he said.
WDFW offices in eastern and central Washington and on the Olympic Peninsula also report a high volume of calls.
By nature, black bears are afraid of humans, and will almost always go out of their way to avoid contact with them, Hebner said. Only a handful of bear attacks on humans have been recorded in state history, he said.
But once a bear associates people with food, the situation can become dangerous for both human and animal.
“Public safety is our first priority in managing potentially dangerous wildlife,” Hebner said. “For that reason, bears that have lost their fear of humans are euthanized. That’s a shame, because bears often wind up paying the price for human carelessness.”
Hebner noted that human encounters with bears tend to subside by mid-summer, when berries and other natural foods become available. Until then, he and other WDFW enforcement officers ask that people take a few simple precautions:
- Never intentionally feed bears or other wild animals.
- Keep garbage cans in a garage or another secure area until collection day.
- Remove pet food from areas accessible to wildlife.
- Thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use.
- Take down birdfeeders until later in summer.
- 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 with a bear, WDFW offers the following advice:
- 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.
WDFW encourages those who have a dangerous encounter with wildlife to call the Wildlife Hotline at 1-800-477-6224. More information on living with black bears is available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bears.html.