Prevention’s the cure in bear country
Friday, September 17, 2010
• Never feed bears.
• Keep garbage cans in a bear-proof area until collection day.
• Don’t leave pet food outside.
• Thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use.
• Take down birdfeeders until later in summer.
• When camping, thoroughly clean all cooking utensils and seal uneaten food in airtight containers stored in bear-proof canisters away from sleeping areas.
What to do if you see a bear
• Don’t run.
• Pick up small children.
• Stand tall, wave your arms above your head and shout.
• Don’t approach the bear and leave it an escape route.
• Get upwind of the bear so it can identify you as a human and leave.
Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
LEAVENWORTH — When it comes to black bears, an ounce of prevention can be worth a few hundred pounds of cure.
That’s the average weight of an adult black bear — four of which have been killed near Leavenworth and Plain in the past four months.
Officials say all of those deaths could have been prevented. Bears were attracted to people’s yards by birdseed, garbage cans, pet food and even molasses.
Across the West, bears are making their way into residential areas looking to fill their bellies before heading into their dens for the winter.
They’re loading up on calories, and a shortage of wild huckleberries and other natural foods this year may be driving them into some of the more populated areas.
But this year’s bad berry season isn’t the whole story in Leavenworth, where black bears are always part of the fall scenery. It’s prime bear country — some of the best in the state — and that’s not going to change.
Some people know they live in bear habitat, and have taken measures to avoid an unpleasant encounter.
“I think people need to know that, most of us, really, want to stay within our boundary so the animals can stay within ours,” said Marycarol Nelson, who lives on Icicle Road.
It didn’t take her long after she moved here 16 years ago to begin keeping her garbage in the garage until the morning it’s collected, she said. She keeps her bird feeder high off a balcony on the second story.
“I hate to yell and scare them away, but I do it. It’s for their own safety,” she said.
This year, she came home one day to find a bear had climbed on top of her grape arbor.
So she made a scarecrow, with a solar light for its head, and put a battery-operated radio in its pocket, hoping the noise would keep the bear in the woods.
“The next morning, I looked out, and my scarecrow was still lying on the chair,” she said. But in the tree beyond the scarecrow, she could see a black bear sleeping peacefully in the branches.
“So the only thing I did was feed him the grapes, and give him soft music to sleep with,” she mused. When he came down into the yard, “I took a picture, quick, and then said, “You get back into the woods. Go. Go!”
Across the river at All Seasons River Inn, Dale Wells said many of the people who stay at his bed and breakfast aren’t familiar with wild animals, particularly bears. “We say to the guests, ‘Please, don’t put coolers or food bags or anything outside on their patios,’ that sort of thing,” he said.
After years without problems, the Lake Wenatchee State Park is again having troubles with bears raiding their dumpsters. This year, park Manager Rick Halstead got a paint-ball rifle, and is ready to shoot a bear with paint the next time he sees one with its head in the garbage bin.
A park in southeastern Washington has had some success with this — the paint ball apparently stings enough to put the bear on the run, he said.
“We’re just trying to make them not have a pleasant experience,” he said. Bear-proof dumpsters are the next option, but it will cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace the park’s 15 dumpsters, Halstead said.
Taylor Solem, who works in the pro shop at the Leavenworth Gold Club, said they see black bears every day, out on the course, and in the trees surrounding it. But they haven’t had any unpleasant encounters.
“We make sure people take the right steps as to safety, and tell them not to mess with the bears at all. Not to feed them,” he said.
The golf course now has bear-safe dumpsters, he said, and also put in a bear-proof enclosure last year to hold garbage at the nearby Wild Huckleberry, leased to restaurant owner Angie Decker.
“They definitely got into a lot of the garbage last year, but they put the enclosure up toward the end of last year, and the bears haven’t gotten into it yet,” Decker said.
Garbage is also usually the issue in city limits of Leavenworth.
Public Works Director Dave Schettler said bears rarely come into the downtown area, but they have been spotted on the outskirts of town.
Unfortunately, new plastic dumpsters can’t be chained and locked to prevent bears from getting in, like the old metal ones could.
But, Schettler added, if a bear really wants something, even a lock and chain won’t keep him out. “We don’t have a policy that everybody should have bear-proof container,” he added.
Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Leavenworth revamped its garbage system without contacting his agency.
“It would have been so good to know that, and say, ‘Let’s make these a little more bear resistant.’ We missed out on that,” he said.
Because of the bad berry crop, bears will be moving around a lot more, but if there’s nothing for them to eat, they’ll keep moving.
Sgt. Doug Ward, the Fish and Wildlife officer in Chelan County, said bears have been a major problem in and around Leavenworth for the past four years. He’s not sure whether there are more bears, or more people, or both.
Two bears have been hit by cars outside of Leavenworth so far this year, he said. Last year cars hit four.
Bird feeders are among the biggest problems, he said. That’s because many people aren’t willing to give them up, not even for the summer.
“If you can’t remove the attractant, you’re not going to get rid of the bears,” he said. “This is like 80 percent a people problem. The bears aren’t there because they like people.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
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