[Article by North Bend resident, Bear Smart WA volunteer and pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs, Melissa Grant.]
Dateline April 3rd 2018 – Bear Smart, WA organized a meeting with the Snoqualmie Residential Owners Association regarding the bear problem plaguing the area. In attendance are representatives from Bear Smart, WA., Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Snoqualmie Police Department, City Parks and Public Works Department.
Topic – Human-Bear Conflict Problems and Recommendations.
The topic of bears has come up 12 times on Living Snoqualmie in the last two years and Bear Smart has logged over 150
sightings/incidents from social media in the last year alone. Still nothing has changed. Bird feeders are still up and bears are still feeding on food in garbage cans brought out too early or left out too long. Bear Smart organized the meeting because these problems have the potential to significantly increase with the new development and increased trash loads on the ridge.
Rich Beausoleil (Bear & Cougar Specialist from WDFW) showed us a rather shocking map. The ridge virtually surrounded by red dots. The dots, he explained, represented the location of collared bears every six hours from his study of bears in the Cascades.
He went on to give us more disgraceful statistics. Adult female bears in the wild average 150 pounds, yet he’s found females around the Ridge up to 275 pounds. Adult Males are normally about 250 pounds, BUT males around the Ridge are food habituated and weigh up to 500 pounds. Cubs should be about 45-55 pounds in the fall, but he has documented some residential area cubs weighing up to 165 pounds.
This is due to extreme anthropogenic food supplementation. Simply put, GARBAGE EATING.
It doesn’t just make them bigger, it also changes the way they hibernate. Some enter their dens later, some emerge earlier. Some don’t really den much at all, but come and go all winter. He’s observed two males (at 325 & 450 pounds) do this all winter on the ridge. Lastly, bears in the wild are capable of living more than 20 years and 8-10 years on average. The ridge bears live an average of 3 years.
So, we’re not just feeding them negligently, we are killing them with our cast off food.
We can’t blame them really. Bears need a lot of calories to survive and the larger they get, the bigger that calorie requirement gets. Because bears den 4-5 months per year – and need to acquire far reserves quickly – this is good time management on their part. Knock off a couple of Hummingbird feeders at 750 calories a piece and add a garbage can or two, and they fill that daily requirement quickly.
But it’s terrible for them and we need to treat our wildlife better than that. Our garbage fills their guts with plastic and metal AND homeowners panic and shoot them. Some people like to see bears, but others don’t, and when we habituate them to people they will always lose. In fact, in our area last year, homeowners killed far more than the WDFW.
How to Solve the Problem?
So, what do we do? Bear Smart has been hammering away on social media for a long time trying to raise awareness. Some receive the information, some sneer, some joke…and some are unwilling to make small behavioral changes.
The WDFW mentioned at the meeting that they may have to resort to fining people for intentional & unintentional feeding, but this can be avoided by simply using bear proof trash containers and establishing bird feeder ordinances like not allowing feeders from March-November.
Is it extreme? Maybe, but the problem is extreme and has the potential to get much worse.
The police don’t want to have to patrol for garbage cans. WDFW doesn’t want to have to fine people. And the HOA can’t force people to comply with city codes. But bears are more intelligent than most mammals and their sense of smell is 20 times greater than a bloodhound – so clearly something has to be done. Relocating bears doesn’t always work and killing them just leaves a spot open for the new bear in town, but if we’re bear aware our bear problems will go away. The bears will move on to a natural food source.
The Issaquah Highlands is a good example of noticeable improvements once existing garbage laws were enforced. Bryan Peterson from Bear Smart Durango said:
“Communities in Colorado have shown that they can greatly reduce bear activity and human-bear conflict by addressing trash in a meaningful manner. Those that don’t continue to struggle with issues. Best to not let problems begin in the first place.” He continued ” Snowmass Village has had trash locked up for decades and didn’t put a bear down last year. Durango has had a tepid approach with bears and trash and 25 bears were killed last year within city limits. There’s a lesson there.”
We don’t want to be just another cautionary tale on how not to do things. There is no reason to fear our black bear friends: an average of only two people a year in all of North America are killed by bears. More people are killed by bees, spiders and lightning. We are the stewards of the land on which we live and have a responsibility to protect all of its inhabitants. Rather than a vicious murderers, bears are actually shy creatures who would prefer to not meet up with us at all.
University of Calgary biologist Stephen Herrero said:
“There’s no question that it’s possible for people and bears to coexist without serious problems if we’re willing to manage our food and garbage,” says Herrero, lead author of the study on fatal bear attacks. “… If you’re willing to [do this], the bears, they become nonentities; they start to ignore you.”
Living close to wild animals involves caring and simply adopting informed choices. So, educate yourself, your family and your neighbors. Come see Rich speak at the city council meeting Monday the 9th at 7PM. He’s really quite fascinating and fun to listen to. You won’t be bored when he speaks.
Help us, help the bears and help Snoqualmie be bear aware. You won’t regret it when your children’s children get to see these majestic animals in the wild just like you did. I promise.
For more information on Living with Bears visit the BearSmart WA Facebook page.