Early spring weather has black bears on the move already

It is no surprises that black bears are already on the move this spring. That has prompted state wildlife managers to remind the public about ways to avoid conflicts with black bears.

Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the department has already received reports of black bear activity in King and Chelan counties and coastal areas.

"Black bears usually start making appearances in mid-to-late April, but warm weather can cause them to stir earlier," Beausoleil said in a department news release. "Black bears are hungry when they emerge from their dens, because they lose up to half of their body weight during hibernation."

Because natural foods are scarce this early in the year, bears will start looking for the easiest source of high-protein food. That, he said, can lead to human-bear conflicts.

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

Agency police officers respond to hundreds of situations involving bears every year, ranging from raids on garbage cans and birdfeeders to confrontations with pets.

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

Two state laws prohibit leaving food or food waste in places where it can attract bears and other wild carnivores. Unintentionally or "negligently" feeding bears can bring a fine of $87 while the fine for intentional feeding can be as much as $1,000.

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.