LEAVENWORTH — A rural homeowner shot and killed a large female black bear in his driveway Wednesday morning after the bear returned for a bucket of molasses that she and a cub had gotten into last week, authorities said.
It is the third bear killed in the past two weeks in the upper valley, where state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say bears have become accustomed to eating garbage, birdseed, pet food and apparently molasses.
The homeowner, who lives near East Leavenworth Road and Dempsey Road, had stored a five-gallon bucket of molasses under his porch when the mother and yearling first visited, said Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in Wenatchee.
He said officers trapped and euthanized the year-old bear last week, but the 190-pound mother continued to return to the man’s house.
Wildlife officer Dan Klump, who took the call, said the homeowner — who works in the food service industry — had cleaned up the molasses as best he could. But bears have an excellent sense of smell, and this bear probably remembered the treat and could smell remnants in the soil.
He said the bear was not acting aggressive, but had no fear of people and would not leave.
The homeowner was justified in shooting the bear, Klump said.
The bear and her cub had been moved to the Stevens Pass area last fall, and returned this spring, giving her “two strikes.”
Stevens Pass is about 25 miles from where the bear was shot.
But both Klump and Beausoleil say the homeowner and surrounding neighbors could have prevented the deaths of all three bears — including one shot and killed by a Plain homeowner two weeks ago — and the removal of a mother and two cubs.
“The community really killed that generation of bears,” Beausoleil said. “It’s cold and it’s hard, but it’s the truth.”
Wildlife officers have responded to dozens of calls in the upper valley in the last couple of weeks.
“Every single one of them — and this is true for 95 percent of bear complaints — it’s garbage, it’s bird feeders, it’s pet food,” he said. “When you have a calling card of 10,000 calories of molasses, you can’t blame a bear for taking advantage of that.”
Beausoleil said spring is a critical time for bears, who have lost up to half of their body weight over the winter and are looking for anything and everything to eat.
“If you and I miss breakfast and lunch, we’re going to eat dinner. These guys miss a meal and they die,” he said.
Klump said as long as people in the area continue to provide food for the bears, they will continue to be a problem.
“I’ve handled calls where folks tell me, ‘I’m a bird lover.’ Well, can you design a creative way to secure a bird feeder out of reach of the bear? he asked.
“It’s a community effort, to make sure you and your neighbor’s property is bear proof and cougar proof,” he said.
Klump added that many people in North Central Washington live in bear country, and they do not have problems because they keep pet food, garbage, and bird feeder away from wildlife.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512