May 23, 2002
Contact: Donny Martorello, 360-902-2521
Avoid conflicts with bears, cougars this summer
With healthy black bear and cougar populations across the state, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) advises residents and outdoor recreationists to take precautions this summer to avoid conflicts with these potentially dangerous wildlife species.
"More than a month ago most bears emerged from their winter dens," said WDFW Carnivore Manager Donny Martorello, "and they're hungry. Bears are omnivores, meaning they'll eat just about anything, and they have incredible noses to sniff out your trash, camp barbecue, or even a tunafish sandwich in your backpack."
The most common encounter with black bears is where food, trash, or other odors attract them into campgrounds, picnic areas, or rural and wooded residential areas.
The best way to prevent a bear problem is to keep all areas clean, whether at home or in a campsite. Some specific ways to avoid conflicts with bears include:
- Put camp garbage in bear-proof containers where available or pack it out in double plastic bags; don't burn or bury it; at home, keep trash cans in a secure garage
- Reduce odors by storing meat and other food in vehicles, or away from your camp in a pack suspended from a tree 10 feet above the ground and four feet out from the trunk
- Avoid camp cooking of smelly or greasy foods like bacon; don't sleep in your cooking clothes and keep sleeping bags and tents free of food odors
- Dispose of fish entrails by puncturing the air bladder and dropping in deep water where they'll decompose naturally
- Take bird feeders down for a couple of weeks if bears get into them
"Black bears are not normally aggressive and they'll usually avoid people," Martorello said. "But like many wild animals, if they're startled or cornered, they could bluff charge or even attack." With male bears averaging 225 pounds and females 130, their size, strength, and surprising speed make them potentially dangerous.
If confronted in close quarters by a black bear, stay calm and avoid direct eye contact, which could be perceived as a challenge and provoke a charge. Identify yourself as human by talking and waving your arms. Give the bear plenty of room to leave and slowly back away. Don't run to avoid stimulating the bear's instinct to chase. If the bear doesn't leave, try scaring it away by yelling, clapping your hands, or throwing rocks. In the unlikely event of an attack, fight back aggressively.
Cougar encounters are even less likely, Martorello said, but the big cats are predators that on very rare occasions have mistaken humans as prey. To minimize that risk, there are several things that homeowners and outdoor recreationists can do:
- Hike and camp in groups and make enough noise to avoid surprising a cougar
- Keep small children close and in plain sight, both at home and in camp, especially near dawn and dusk when cougars are most active
- Do not approach dead animals, especially recently killed or partially covered deer or elk
- Be aware of your surroundings, particularly in dense cover, or when sitting, crouching, or lying down; look for tracks, droppings, scratch marks
- Leave pets at home; they may attract cougars, or bears
- Keep a clean camp to avoid attracting small mammals that may in turn attract cougars
- Keep brush and weeds that could conceal a cougar around your home and livestock areas trimmed low
- Don't feed deer or other wildlife that could attract cougars as prey
- Keep areas around the house well lighted at night
If confronting a cougar in close quarters, look it right in the eye and stand your ground. Don't run, and pick up small children so they don't run. Stand tall, using a stump, rock or anything else to appear as large as possible. Shout, wave your arms, throw rocks or sticks. Do everything you can to let the cougar know it has made a mistake and you are not prey. If attacked, fight back aggressively and try to remain standing.
For more information about bears and cougars, see WDFW's "Living with Wildlife in Washington" series of brochures, available in WDFW offices and on the website.