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Friendly bears like Barkley may be getting too fat, at risk of dying young

Bear enjoys his suet lunch in a backyard tree

Jill Levenson was excited to see a bear in her backyard near Bellingham Tuesday, July 18, 2017. The bear, who destroyed a suet feeder and climbed a tree with his lunch, is believed to be the bird food-loving bear nicknamed Barkley Bear who raided
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Jill Levenson was excited to see a bear in her backyard near Bellingham Tuesday, July 18, 2017. The bear, who destroyed a suet feeder and climbed a tree with his lunch, is believed to be the bird food-loving bear nicknamed Barkley Bear who raided

Dear Barkley Bear,

Getting to know you last summer was a lot of fun. Many of us in Bellingham anxiously looked forward to seeing your latest exploits on social media or reading about you masterfully taking down bird feeders on the northeast side of town for a snack. We even laughed as you decided to beat the heat and take a dip in a North Shore neighborhood backyard swimming pool. We'll always look back and smile when we think of you.

But it's time for us to move on. Please don't take this the wrong way, but we don't want you to come around here anymore. We can still be friends — just long-distance friends. We'll both be better for this.

It's not you — it's us.

Best wishes, Bellingham

Saying goodbye to an old summer fling is never easy, but on Monday the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) issued a warning that bears in the foothill communities of King County are getting fat and dying early, and it should make residents of Whatcom County think about what's best for the bear they fell in love with and nicknamed Barkley during the summer of 2017.

Rich Beausoleil, a WDFW bear biologist, is studying bears along the I-90 corridor, and his research shows bears in communities such as Issaquah, North Bend, and Snoqualmie are nearly twice their average weight, in some cases, and are dying early, he told KOMOnews.com.

Bears seeking food are attracted into neighborhoods by the trash and bird food residents leave outside their homes, and humans who are frightened by them sometimes shoot them, Beausoleil said. Or the bears can be hit by cars.

"When they stay in the woods and they don’t come around people, survival is about 85 percent. But when they come in close contact with people and they visit these neighborhoods to get these food rewards, survival is about 59 percent," Beausoleil told KOMO.

A black bear, believed to be the same adolescent bruin that raided bird feeders across northeast Bellingham, Washington neighborhoods for the better part of the past two months, went for a swim Wednesday, July 26 at the home of Christine Palmerton

Assuming Beausoleil's numbers hold up in Whatcom County, that would mean Barkley or any other bears that visit area neighborhoods, are 30.6 percent less likely to survive than any bears that stay in the woods.

"While some people may like seeing them because they think they’re neat, the next neighbor may not and so that’s how they’re dying," Beausoleil told KOMO. "They’re getting shot from homeowners. Or they’re getting killed by vehicles, but more often they’re shot by homeowners because out of fear."

And if they're killed by people, they're getting fat — really, really fat.

Pam Simmons provided this video of a black bear climbing onto the deck at her home north of Lake Whatcom on Saturday, June 10, to nibble on food in a bird feeder.

"The average size of bears in Washington, for a female, is 150 pounds," Beausoleil said in a story posted on KING5.com. "Bears that inhabit neighborhoods and take advantage of trash and bird feeders, females are 300 pounds. The average size of a male bear in Washington is 250 pounds. We've seen bears on the ridge in Issaquah and in North Bend that are 450 pounds.

"These bears have become accustomed to people food, and they're being rewarded for taking advantage of it."

Hate to say it, big guy, but it's time for a diet.

Beausoleil is asking King and Snohomish coutnies to transition to bear-proof trash cans — not just bear-resistant containers that bears are smart enough to figure out — to help discourage bears, who can smell food from about two miles away.

He also asks homeowners to take down bird feeders now that spring is over and has even suggested homeowners associations consider banning them. If the food is not around, he says, they bears won't come around anymore.

"People are intentionally or unintentionally feeding bears and that's resulting in the death of bears, especially for newborn cubs," Beausoleil told KING5.

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