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Springtime is hangry time for bears, so put away your bird feeders and garbage

Look who’s sitting in her tree, having lunch and enjoying the backyard

A bear, believed to be the bird food-loving bear nicknamed Barkley Bear who raided Barkley neighborhood bird feeders earlier this summer, visits Jill Levenson's backyard just outside Bellingham Tuesday, July 18, 2017. She said this is the first ti
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A bear, believed to be the bird food-loving bear nicknamed Barkley Bear who raided Barkley neighborhood bird feeders earlier this summer, visits Jill Levenson's backyard just outside Bellingham Tuesday, July 18, 2017. She said this is the first ti

Black bears are waking up after a long winter nap and they’re darn hungry.

You would be too if you lost up to half of your weight while hibernating in your den, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But that doesn’t mean you should feed them, or inadvertently make food easy for them to access — unless you want to come face to face with a hungry bear.

“Natural foods are scarce this time of year, so bears often start looking for the easiest source of high-protein food, which includes bird feeders, pet food and garbage,” said Rich Beausoleil, the department’s bear and cougar specialist in a news release.

Bears are wary of humans, he said, until you feed them, whether you intend to or not.

Keeping food away from bears isn’t just about protecting people.

“When bears have learned to associate food sources with people, situations often end badly for the bear,” Beausoleil said.

Conflicts decrease by mid-summer, when berries and other natural foods are available. They pick up again in the fall, before bears go back into their dens.

“The trick is to not make a human source of food easier for a bear to get than what nature provides — especially food that is high in fat and calories,” he said.

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“Barkley Bear” peers into the window of a home near Northridge Park in summer 2017. Stephanie Alexander Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Washington state has roughly 25,000 to 30,000 resident black bears.

In Whatcom County, many calls to wildlife officials about bears come in from the areas around Squalicum and Stewart mountains, as well as the Maple Falls and Baker Lake areas, Fish and Wildlife officials told The Bellingham Herald in a previous story.

That doesn’t mean bears never make their way into Bellingham.

A young juvenile bear nicknamed Barkley Bear was wildly popular in summer 2017 after numerous sightings in northeast Bellingham.

Wildlife officials warn that over 90 percent of bear-human conflicts are caused by bears being conditioned to associate food with humans.

So Fish and Wildlife offers the following tips to avoid attracting black bears to your home and to stay safe in bear country, which is much of Whatcom County:

Don’t intentionally feed bears or other wild animals, for that matter.

Keep your garbage in a garage or other sturdy building until collection day.

Did you just barbecue? Clean your grill when you’re done, and do that each time you use it. Then store it in a secure building.

Keep pet food indoors. Feed pets inside.

Put away bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, until winter.

Have a fruit tree? Clean up fallen fruit around your home.

Have chickens and such? Cage your domestic fowl and livestock pens, and put up an electric fence.

If you’re camping, take these steps:

After eating, clean spilled food, yourself and your children, including clothing. Ditto for cooking utensils.

Seal uneaten food in airtight containers. Then, store them in bear-proof canisters or food lockers that are at least 100 yards away from where you’re camping.

Don’t store food in your car. If you must, cover it or hide it in your vehicle or locked in the trunk.

If you’ve got an emergency involving a bear call 911.

If you’ve got bear problems, call Fish and Wildlife’s regional office at 425-775-1311 or email TeamMillCreek@dfw.wa.gov.

More information about how to avoid conflict with bears is online at Species & Habitats on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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