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March 21, 2002
Contact: Margaret Ainscough, (360) 902-2408

Spring sets bears in motion: WDFW researcher offers bear behavior insights

OLYMPIA– With the arrival of spring, black bears and other Washington wildlife are venturing out and are more likely to be seen now than they are in other seasons.

Each year at this time, calls and questions arise from residents in rural and semi-rural areas who spot bears moving through their vicinity, or even helping themselves to the contents of backyard bird feeders, pet food dishes or garbage cans.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Research Scientist Gary Koehler, studied the state's black bears for eight years and turned up some surprising insights into the state's black bear population.

Koehler shares information gathered in the bear studies in an interview posted on WDFW's online Fish and Wildlife Science magazine on the Internet.

Among the insights arising from the bear studies, funded jointly by WDFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Olympic National Park and the Northwest Chapter of Safari Club International, were the following findings:

  • Despite the growing human population and increasing encroachment into wildlife habitat, Washington's black bears appear to be thriving and currently number 20,000 to 30,000 animals statewide.
  • Black bears populations are dense in some areas of the state, with concentrations of up to one resident bear per 1.5 square miles on the western slopes of the Cascades Mountains.
  • Damage to young coniferous trees, which results as the animals claw away bark to get to the sweet, nutrient-laden fluid in the underlying cambium layer, is largely the work of female bears.
  • Black bears, not true hibernators in Washington's relatively mild winters, can take up residence small dens , some scarcely bigger than a garbage can.

Other articles profiling on-going wildlife studies, as well as questions and answers about Washington wildlife, can also be found on the electronic science magazine site.