Wildlife Interaction Increases in North Central Washington
By Dennis and Loni Rahm
Pictures and videos of wildlife sightings are common in a region that is surrounded by a National Park, National Forest, and millions of acres of natural wild land. But a bear running through the street next to the elementary school should certainly draw attention.
LakeChelanNow has received several pictures of backyard bear sightings recently as well as the video of a bear scampering across the road on Monday morning near Morgan Owings Elementary (MOE). When we posted the brief video on our LCN facebook page, nearly 30,000 people saw it within 24 hours and 285 of you immediately shared it!
With so much interest in our local bears, we knew it was time to find out more.
We spoke with Richard Beausoleil, the Statewide Bear and Cougar Specialist with Fish & Wildlife stationed out of Wenatchee. He reassured us that “distance” bear sightings are fairly common in our natural surroundings, which includes prime bear habitat.
He told us they’ve been researching bears in the area for over 5 years, and this year was an unusually long “denning” season. Normally, bears are dormant or in hibernation, for 4-5 months. This year it was closer to 5-6 months, so the bears are waking up hungrier than usual.
Beausoleil said that a male bear will lose about 30% of its body fat during the winter dormancy; a female, who usually has cubs during this time, will lose 40-50%. They emerge in search of what Beausoleil likens to a fast food drive in. Calorie-laden, easily accessible foods that will restore their weight quickly.
He indicated the Lake Chelan Valley is one of the region’s top 5 areas of concern for bear interactions because “we are so hospitable to them”.
Our reputation for hospitality, Beausoleil says, isn’t a complement when it comes to attracting carnivores such as bears, cougars and wolves. Food attractants are so plentiful that we are in essence “issuing an invitation for these animals to visit our homes.”
He cautioned residents not to make our houses an easier and more generous food source than what nature provides and zeroed in on “the big 3” attractants:
- Bird Feeders
- Fruit Trees
Although we initially chuckled at the bird-feeder comment, we quickly learned the seriousness of this issue. Bears are singularly-focused on food. Bird seed contains about 1,700 calories per pound.
When consumed one seed at a time by our flying friends, it’s simply nourishment. When consumed in bulk by a hungry bear, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Beausoleil sent us a picture with examples of bears climbing porch rails and literally tight-rope walking along lines and tree branches to access bird feeders. And those colorful hummingbird feeders are also irresistible to bears. His advice: if you live in the wildlife interface, feed the birds only in the winter when they have few other food options.
Fruit trees are part of our agricultural heritage. How do we discourage bears from helping themselves to our orchards?
Beausoleil indicated it isn’t the commercial orchards that draw bears down into the valley as much as the backyard fruit trees. “There’s always activity in and around commercial orchards, which discourages bears,” he said. The one or two fruit trees on the outskirts of your garden, however, is a dinner bell for bears. “And don’t leave ripe fruit on the tree,” he concluded.
In an ironic twist to Beausoleil’s “dinner bell” comment, we discovered one of the deterrents to bears (and deer) stealing the fruit off your tree is to actually hang bells or small wind chimes from your tree branches.
So that’s two of the three attractants. But garbage is and has always been the biggest attractant to bears, and possibly the easiest problem to solve.
Fish & Wildlife recommends securing your garbage can as much as possible (even a brick on the top can signal a bear to “move on”) and only putting it out the morning of pick up. Non full-time residents in an active bear environment should ask a trusted friend or neighbor to put out their can on pick up day. Bears will easily be trained to find locations where weekend garbage is sitting out, unattended, for a few days. Like any trained behavior, a mother bear who has learned these food tricks, will pass them by example along to her cubs.
We also spoke with Dave Volson, with Fish & Wildlife’s District Office in Wenatchee, who is interviewed below.
Listen to an interview with Dave Volsen with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Back to the video of the bear scampering through Chelan near MOE on Monday. Beausoleil called it a “sub-adult”. No longer a cub reliant upon mama bear, but not yet an adult with a defined territory. It is in an “active dispersement phase…following easy corridors (roads) and learning new territory” in the seasonal search for food.
Fish and Wildlife monitors calls and sightings, and investigates any animal that appears to becoming a nuisance. Relocation of “repeat offenders” is one solution. Euthanasia is a last, and rarely needed, option.
Again he cautioned residents to make it hard for bears to become reliant on people for food. “Desensitizing bears to humans is a concern for both.”
Or as Dave Volson put it: “A fed bear is a dead bear”
Additional Resources and Information
Department of Fish & Wildlife: website
- Living with Wildlife – Bears website
- Ephrata Regional Office: 509-754-4624
- Wenatchee District Office: 509-662-0452
LakeChelanNow.com would like to thank our video and photo contributors. We encourage you to share information and images with us anytime. Just send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit for the featured photo at the top of the story: Kimberly Beebe, who said “This bear has been getting into the garbage which was right next to the house”. (up Union Valley).
Richard Beausoleil, Statewide Bear and Cougar Specialist with Washington State Fish & Wildlife, served as a research advisor on 3 recently released pocket guides: Visiting in Bear Country, Working in Bear Country, and Living in Bear Country. LakeChelanNow will be receiving some of the booklets and will link to them online as soon as possible.