Residents of Snoqualmie Ridge’s Heights neighborhood are no strangers to bears.
Over the years, the large neighborhood bordering the thick woods between Lake Alice has been the ‘hotbed’ of Snoqualmie Ridge bear activity, much of it due to garbage containers being put out too early and cottage homes with no garages to store garbage to keep it away from bears. In September 2012, a homeowner even shot and killed a bear in the cottage home area.
It seems no matter how much information is dispensed about bears, or traps are set, they continue to remain active, climbing fences and dumping over garbage containers. Essentially, The Heights became a bear food source.
Bear Kills Family Dog
On Thursday, January 2, 2014, a Heights family had their small dog killed by a bear. The family pet was last seen at the house at 9:30AM and the remains were discovered around 1PM.
Washington State Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Officer, Chris Moszeter, said when Snoqualmie Police arrived that afternoon, coyotes had the body in the woods. But Moszeter said he’s almost certain that coyotes were not the cause of death.
The homeowners had seen a bear two days prior, carrying a neighbor’s garbage through their yard into the ravine behind – and a portion of their back fence (with claw marks) was caved in, most likely caused by a bear.
Moszeter thinks the small dog barked repeatedly at the bear, as small dogs don’t usually have a concept of size, and chased it into the woods. The bear probably swiped at the dog, killing it instantly, and fled. Coyotes then carried the body off.
For now, DFW is calling it a defensive bear attack. They placed a trap and trail cameras near the home for a few days, with no sign of the bear. Moszeter hopes the animal is now deep in the woods.
As for bears attacking other animals, pets or livestock, Moszeter said it’s “not abnormal, but not common.”
Time for Change?
The dog’s owner, Steven Wood, thinks its time for big garbage changes in Snoqualmie to reduce bear activity and more tragedies like the loss of his longtime family pet, Fritz. Wood stated via email, ” I truly believe that this [garbage] is the primary reason our dog was attacked.”
Wood thinks it’s time for a city ordinance specifying when garbage cans can be put out on collection day; similar to ones in other states with bear activity.
Just today Snoqualmie Police Captain, Nick Almquist, confirmed the city’s Public Safety Committee is drafting a garbage maintenance-related ordinance for city council’s consideration.
Garbage Maintenance is Key
Experts say timely maintenance of garbage is key in keeping bears out of neighborhoods, as containers put out too soon become dinner for bears with a strong sense of smell – and incredible memory.
Officer Moszeter says Washington is one of a few states without any anti-bear garbage ordinances. He said with a Snoqualmie ordinance, the Snoqualmie Ridge Homeowner’s Association could also enforce, assisting the city and DFW efforts to reduce bear activity.
In 2012, Washington State did enact a law to help enforce NOT feeding local wildlife. The City of Snoqualmie stated it is not their goal to fine or arrest people breaking the law, but if a resident does not take steps to eliminate the access bears have to food and garbage, first they will be warned, then issued an infraction. An arrest, punishable with 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, is possible if the problem continues.
Moszeter said until the community comes together to get rid of the bears’ food source, the problem won’t stop. Snoqualmie is bear country, especially homes on the fringe of the Ridge.
As for the fringe Heights neighborhood, he says bear activity there has improved compared to prior years when DFW trapped one blind bear that had to put down, and another that was shot by a homeowner. On a recent neighborhood drive the night before garbage day, he noticed less cans out early, but also observed there is still a need for more bear-proof containers at cottage homes.
Cottage Homes Garbage Solutions
Steven Wood also suggests an appropriate place for cottage homes to store garbage cans – or for the city to provide the homeowners with bear-proof containers – saying it would benefit the entire community. In the past, some cottage home residents said the bear-proof, 96-gallon cans were too large and the increased service cost from the small containers was too much.
The City of Snoqualmie says Waste Management now provides a smaller 64-gallon bear-proof can option free of charge, with an increased monthly service cost of $3.24. They encourage residents without inside storage for garbage to consider ordering them.
(** 1/9/14 – The City of Snoqualmie is waiting for clarification from Waste Management regarding size and availability of container sizes.**)
For now, Mr. Wood is worried about what’s next when it comes to local bear activity, saying, “The biggest concern now is, are we as a community going to wait to take action when one of our children are attacked and lord forbid killed?” Wood says his suggestions are simple solutions, adding, “Although it may not stop it immediately, it will have an impact on the bear activity.”
Officer Moszeter empathized with Wood, saying it’s natural to worry about ‘what’s next’ after such an incident, but said human bear attacks are rare, with only 11 reported statewide in over 100 years. One was fatal. He said yes, it’s possible, as is almost anything, but it is very rare.
Wood just hopes some good can come from Fritz’s death – in the form of more awareness and safer neighborhoods – for people and wildlife.
The City of Snoqualmie asks residents to call 911 to report bear sightings. The Snoqualmie Police Department works with Fish and Wildlife to monitor bear activity.
For more information on Living with Bears visit the Department of Fish and Wildlife website.