Call him Walter, or Barkley Bear, but the adolescent bruin who’s been raiding bird feeders across northeast Bellingham neighborhoods for a month was seen numerous times over the weekend.
“What a surprise,” said Sandi Sanders, who lives with her boyfriend Alan Brown in the northern Alabama Hill neighborhood, south of the greenbelt along Barkley Boulevard.
“I was in my yard watering flowers and I turned around and saw him walking toward me,” Sanders said. “You don’t expect to see a bear walking toward you across your lawn. I just ran into the house.”
But first, she hollered to warn Brown, who was also working in the garden. He heard a noise in the bushes, and spoke to who he thought was his girlfriend. But she was safely in the house.
“He says, ‘What are you doing in there?’ But he was talking to the bear, not me,” Sanders said.
She said the bear wandered into their back yard and investigated a hook-shaped pole where a bird feeder used to hang.
“I didn’t feel threatened,” she said. “He was just there. I was thinking that I had better get out of his way.”
Sanders wasn’t the only local resident who saw the bear last weekend. His movements were reported on social media and an employee of The Bellingham Herald saw him, too. Some residents near Northridge Park have nicknamed him Walter; others call him Barkley Bear, because of the neighborhood where he’s been seen several times.
“Barkley Bear returned to our house early Sunday morning and ripped down a bird feeder again (I’d had the false idea he’d returned to the woods),” Douglas Bestle wrote in an email Monday. “Friends across Barkley Boulevard saw him as well and he tore down a feeder on Spyglass. He’s a real character!”
The bear has delighted some residents, and astonished and frightened others. But he’s confounding Dave Jones, the state Fish and Wildlife Department warden who has been trying to catch the young black bear and release him away from people.
Jones and social media posts said the bear was seen Sunday on St. Clair Street, Heights Drive, Crestline Drive, D’Linda Street and on Maynard Place near North Shore Drive. On Thursday, he was seen twice on Agate Heights Road. Those residents thought they were seeing a different bear, but Jones thinks it’s the same one. The bear’s last confirmed sighting was at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
“People are getting a bit used to him by now,” Jones said.
Jones has set several traps along the bear’s reported haunts, but it has rejected the bait on one, backing out of the trap without setting it off. It tripped the door from the outside on a second trap. He scampered away from Jones last week as he tried to load his shotgun with nonlethal “bean-bag” rounds.
Shooting the bear with a tranquilizer dart would be a last resort, he said.
“They need to understand that if I dart him, he’s going to run 200 yards to a half-mile. I can just see him running into the road and getting hit by a car.”
Another possibility is using a Karelian bear dog, which resembles a small Siberian husky. Known in its native Finland as a Karelsk björnhund, it’s sometimes called a KBD. The closest available KBD is in Snohomish County.
Jones said he would like to see the bear head farther east, toward Stewart Mountain and away from urban areas.
Bears are common in the hills and woods surrounding Lake Whatcom, said Jedidiah Forsythe, co-founder of the Cascadia Naturalist Association.
“They’re pensive, thoughtful creatures,” Forsythe said, adding he thinks the bear may be about 2 years old and was pushed away from its mother as she prepared to mate in late spring. He thinks the bear may head back to the hills once food is more plentiful there, such as salmonberries and nettles.
Meanwhile, anyone who sees the bear is urged to call 911, where they will be transferred to the Washington State Patrol, which dispatches Fish and Wildlife officers. And put away the birdseed, Jones said.
“He is a birdseed menace. That’s all he eats,” Jones said.