As black bears search for food in neighborhoods around the state, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife managers remind residents that feeding those animals is not only bad, it’s against the law.
Two new state laws went into effect in June prohibit leaving food or food waste in places where it can attract bears and other wild carnivores.
Fall is the time of year when bears are looking to build up as much fat as possible to get through winter, said Mike Cenci, deputy police chief for the department.
“Putting food scraps out for them or leaving garbage cans or pet food exposed is an open invitation for them to pay you and your neighbors a visit,” Cenci said in a prepared statement.
While black bears rarely attack people in the wild, they can pose a danger if they become accustomed to humans, Cenci said. That can present difficult choices for wildlife officers responsible for managing those animals, he said.
Too often, relocating a bear that has learned to scavenge people’s leftovers results just moves the problem somewhere else, he said. When that happens, officers often have to kill the animal.
One new law subjects anyone who “intentionally feeds or attempts to feed” bears and other wild carnivores to a fine of up to $1,000, Cenci said. Another law authorizes a fine of $87 for those who “negligently feed or attempt to feed” those animals.
People can avoid feeding wild animals unintentionally by:
• Securing garbage and compost, particularly when bears have been reported in the area.
• Removing attractants such as bird feeders.
• Keeping pet food and pets inside or otherwise secured.
• Cleaning barbecue grills.
An estimated 30,000 black bears live in Washington, by far the most common species among the state’s large wild carnivores. They eat both meat and vegetation, increasing the likelihood that they will be attracted to human food, pet food and garbage.
“Food is involved virtually every time we respond to a call about a bear sighted in a neighborhood,” said Cenci said in his statement. “The new laws are designed to encourage people to take more responsibility for that situation, both for their own safety and for the welfare of bears and other wildlife.