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Black Bears: They’re Awake, Hungry, Don’t Feed Them

Cute? Yes. But not quite as cute when the bear is in your own backyard going through your trash.

Cute? Yes. But not quite as cute when the bear is in your own backyard going through your trash.

Spring has sprung early this year, causing the bears to awaken early from their winter nap. State wildlife managers would like to remind you, “Don’t feed the bears!”

Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said field staff have already received reports of black bear activity in North Bend, Issaquah and Chelan County.

1024px-Black_Bear-27527-001“Black bears usually emerge from their dens in mid-to-late April, but warm weather can cause them to stir earlier,” Beausoleil said. “Whatever the timing, black bears are hungry when they emerge from their dens, because they lose up to half their body weight during hibernation.”

Natural foods are scarce this early in the year, so bears often start looking for the easiest source of high-protein food, he said.

For that reason, Beausoleil strongly recommends that people take steps to avoid attracting black bears to their home, particularly in areas known to attract bears. That means securing garbage cans, removing backyard bird seed and not leaving pet food outdoors.

“If people would control these three bear attractants, the number of bear-human conflicts would be reduced significantly,” he said.

Last year, WDFW officials responded to 444 situations involving bears, ranging from raids on garbage cans and birdfeeders to confrontations with pets. In 2011, WDFW responded to 523 incidents involving black bears.

“Bears are naturally wary of humans, but they can overcome that fear when they are rewarded with food provided intentionally or unintentionally by people,” he said. “Situations involving bears that have learned to associate food sources with people often end badly for the bear.”

Two new state laws went into effect last summer that prohibit leaving food or food waste in places where it can attract bears and other wild carnivores. Intentional feeding can bring a fine of up to $1,000, or $87 for feeding that unintentional but “negligent.”

Human conflicts with bears tend to subside by mid-summer, when berries and other natural foods become available, and then pick up again in fall before the animals enter their dens, Beausoleil said.

Beausoleil advises taking the following steps to prevent conflicts with bears:

  • 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.
  • Take down birdfeeders until winter.
  • Thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use.
  • 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.

If you DO come across a human-created bear feeding station while out hiking in the woods — perhaps set up by a well-intentioned, but ill-informed, fan of furry wildlife or a hunter hoping to lure bears to the area — be aware that the feeding station will attract other forest critters that will attract even bigger forest critters — such as mountain lions — who like to eat the little critters. GET OUT OF THE AREA, don’t hang around.

More information about how to avoid conflict with bears is available on WDFW’s website.

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