PENINSULA - Over the past couple of weeks, enforcement officers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have been responding to a number of conflicts involving hungry bears and concerned people. This is a typical spring phenomenon as bears become very active during this time of year due to the scarcity of traditional food sources. Being a highly adaptable critter, bears compensate by seeking out alternative sources of nutrition such as garbage and bird seed, and for some people, they are a real nuisance.
We are very fortunate to live in an area where you can look out your window and see a black bear. However, if you see the same bear more than once a week, you need to ask yourself if you are doing all you can to make sure he is just passing through. There are a few simple things a person can do to keep bears from coming back and causing problems.
Bear facts Once a bear begins to rely on people for food stuffs, he is not necessarily deterred by putting him somewhere else. Often, the relocated bear will simply repeat patterns and look for the nearest community and begin new garbage raids in his new town. By moving the bear, we are just moving the problem.
But suppose the bear decides to pursue traditional fare and trades in garbage marauding for grubs and berries in a new territory, we still have disruption. Other bears in the area may not be appreciative of the new addition and disputes can brew, causing additional animal displacement. Territories are limited and natural habitat can only support so many animals. Someone usually has to leave. Where does the animal go?
Speaking of territory, just finding some can be challenging. Most of our people-free bear havens consist of privately-owned timberlands. One of the "natural" foods of bears is the cambium layer of trees. They access this delicacy by "peeling" the bark. Timber growers are less than thrilled to watch bears eat up revenue. So, officers can't just take the bear anywhere and drop him off.
Springtime also means the presence of cubs. Cubs usually hang out with mom for two years. While officers may be able to catch one bear, where families are involved it is extremely difficult to capture all of them. Separate mom from the cubs and we just turned a nuisance animal into an angry one.
Even though Pacific County black bears are docile creatures, officers don't want to take a chance when someone is convinced that human health and safety is at risk.When people see a bear, they normally call the Fish and Wildlife Officer in hopes that a live trap will be set and the bear will be caught and related. Relocation is generally not the answer to the problem, and an officer's reluctance to trap at all is based on one main consideration - trapping usually means the end for the animal.
You can help bear-proof your property by making sure all food sources are cleaned up. Make sure your garbage can is clean (washed out if necessary). Bag your garbage and tie the bag shut. Keep all empty pop cans picked up and secured in a tied bag. If possible, secure your garbage in a garage or shed and put your can out the morning it is to be picked up. Next, stop feeding the birds, especially if the bear has struck once. This includes raking up all the feed below the feeder. It may take a couple of weeks for the bear to move on to another neighbor who is not so clean. Your barbecue will also attract bears, so keeping the grill and grease can clean is important. If you are feeding your pets outside, make sure to feed them so they eat all their food when you first put it down. Leaving dog or cat food around just invites bears, raccoons, etc.
The black bears in the area are not dangerous. However, if they keep getting fed they become bold and not afraid of humans. Startled bears will make a short false charge or emit a growl. To keep this from happening, talk or make some kind of noise when you come out of your house, especially in the evening and into the night.
As a result of initiatives passed by voters, several wildlife management tools historically used to keep bear populations in check are no longer allowed, such as hunting over bait and with the use of hounds. Voters also decided that most types of traps would not be allowed for trapping of furbearers. Without these traditional controls, it is more crucial than ever to work together to help keep our wildlife wild. Watching the raccoons eating the dog food is cute, but over time they become pests and won't leave. And then what do you do with 10 to 20 raccoons that now have contracted distemper because you drew them unnaturally together with Fido's food bowl? This is the case for all wild animals in our area.
When we respond to a report of an aggressive bear, nine times out of ten it is the result of a food source intentionally or unintentionally provided by human hands. Just remember this - a fed bear could be a dead bear. There is no bear utopia outside of where they already live.