Here isn’t Anything like There: Get ‘Wild’ in the Snoqualmie Valley

2020, and its crazy real estate market, brought many newcomers to the Snoqualmie Valley.  We arrived here a few years back and fell in love with the beauty of the valley. However, even after living and hiking all my life in the Puget Sound region, I admit I was a bit shocked to see a bear in my driveway right after moving into our country home years ago. I was home alone, in the woods with a baby, and my husband was still at work. Fortunately, our dog barked at the ‘strange’ noises outside and sent the young bear scurrying away.

What started as one incredible evening ended up sending me down a rabbit hole of new hobbies. I decided that week to start learning what was happening in the real world outside our new home. I found no shortage of ways to learn and found people of all ages can dive in to learn about their natural environment.

Are you looking for some outdoor activity ideas for your family this summer? New to the valley? Keep reading!

To start my curiosity quest, I bought a trail camera. I was shocked to see all the activity taking place when humans were not around. Yes, more bears were passing through our yard. Coyotes popped up all over, even though I still have never seen one in person on our property. There is a creek nearby, and by camera, we began regularly spotting bobcats, raccoon families, deer, weasels, owls, and even a great blue heron!

You can purchase trail cameras from $25-300 at a variety of websites such as TrailCamPro. I highly recommend checking all reviews (abysmal reviews) to look for any recurring quality issues and only buy cameras with a one to two-year warranty. With our rain and moisture, cameras may succumb to corrosion issues. 

I also placed a call to my local garbage service provider and upgraded my garbage can to a bear-resistant can. Bear-resistant cans are now available in virtually all areas of the valley. By contract, companies must provide them upon request. If they are out, they should have a backorder option or waitlist because, remember, they are contractually obligated to provide them. There is usually a small monthly upgrade fee involved. Still, the cost is generally less than a cup of coffee and worth every penny for the added deterrent.

Bears learn quickly and know which houses to skip. My neighbor told me that a mom and cubs often came to our home when prior owners routinely left their basic garbage can outside. After we made sure our can was not accessible, bear sightings on our trail camera tapered off.  Bears follow their noses and remember where accessible food rewards are. There is plentiful wild food available to them, so there is no significant risk of starving in our valley.

Upgrading your can is a convenient way to discourage bear visits to your yard and neighborhood. If the added expense is an issue, using C clamps or cinch straps until the morning of trash pickup will work as well, or you can keep the garbage can stored in your garage. I keep my food scraps frozen in a paper bag in the freezer and add them to our yard waste bin on the morning of trash pickup.

I found this book helpful for learning more about bears that live in my neighborhood. Our libraries carry it, so it’s a great free resource, ‘Living with Bears Handbook,’ Expanded 2nd Edition. This website has excellent tips on what foods are safer for composting in bear country and how to keep bears out of your compost pile.

Birds also help bridge the gap between human communities and the reality that we are surrounded by wildlife every day. A fantastic bird moment was discovering ravens in my yard, not just the crows that dominate city life. Did you know that ravens can sound like snorting pigs? And then there was the morning when I watched a bald eagle snacking on breakfast from a tree near our porch. Or the night I discovered what Barred owls sound like at 3 am when an owl family decided to have a noisy discussion right outside our bedroom window. I never expected the sound of angry monkeys and aliens! Even now, we are enjoying watching a Junco bird nest from our living room window.

For those who would love a translation program on bird calls and what they genuinely mean, a local tracking teacher provides unique insight into bird behavior in his book, What the Robin Knows. I now can identify where my dog is in our backyard, based on birds tattling on her. Author Jon Young recommends sitting quietly in a local nature spot to learn about local birds and how they react to approaching humans and other animals. His unique teaching methods help people learn via all five senses, focus better, and become much more connected to our natural world. If anything, it also provides quality outdoor time for our kids and is an excellent way to share bonding time as we learn with them.

Jon Young also founded the Wilderness Awareness School (just one of several outdoor schools in our region!) and has some fantastic book recommendations for learning about nature and helping kids and adults develop a passion for the outdoors. Many of his book suggestions are available through our library, but you’ll likely get hooked and want your own copies.

Are you looking for ideas on encouraging birds in your yard naturally? Local and native plants thrive without much work or pesticides, or fertilizer. We have more bird visitors than I ever thought possible, and we have primarily native plants and water from a nearby creek. My favorite native plant nursery is Tadpole Haven in Woodinville. Many other nurseries have a native/local section, so inquire when you visit them for gardening ideas! Another excellent plant list is available through the Audubon Society.

Finally, one of the biggest concerns that many people have about wildlife is conflict and encounters. What do you do when you find yourself in your yard with a predator? Let’s take a step back. The question could easily be, ‘how do I reduce the risk of an encounter?’ There’s a simple way to reduce encounters drastically. Make noise as you go. Most encounters with wildlife involve taking them by surprise. Animals in the wild will do their best to avoid humans and noisy dogs whenever they have a chance to do so.

Photo: Department of Fish and Wildlife

Make a habit of making noise whenever you are heading outside or on a trail to prevent encounters. Something as simple as calling out, ‘Hey birdies!’ or ‘Coming out!’ can give wildlife a chance to scramble away. I also leash my dog for pee breaks from dusk till dawn in our yard, as unleashed dog encounters are among the top forms of conflict with wildlife. We have personally stumbled across rabbits, raccoons, deer, bobcats, and even bears in our fenced backyard. If you forget and race out into the yard to find yourself facing an animal, the most important thing to remember is not to run. Back away slowly. Here are some great websites about safety during animal encounters.

There is excellent info on wildlife in our state and conflict avoidance for each type via this link on the WDFW website.

Above all, the most important way to learn about our wildlife is to spend time outdoors. Take a walk or hike and make mental notes of different birds you hear or see or plants that you frequently see but can’t name. Learn about which local berries are safe to eat as you stroll. Find out which plants are toxic and which ones have medicinal benefits. Study local animal tracks and scat to see what kind of wildlife activity is happening around you. Get a Green Trails map from REI and start checking off local trails that you explore. Go bird watching or elk watching or find a relaxing riverside spot.

The possibilities outside are endless! Have fun!

[Guest post by Michelle Jones, Snoqualmie Valley resident, trail cam enthusiast and wildlife welfare volunteer]

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