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In a few weeks Officers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) expect to be handling calls involving Black Bears coming near residences and causing concern. Almost all of Okanogan County can be considered a place that a bear may be expected to be found. In the past bears here have generally not acted aggressively toward people and appear only to have been looking for an easy meal; food that has in many cases been available due to the negligence of people leaving attractants for the bears to find. 2010 was a very bad year for bear problems in all of Okanogan County, even resulting in some cases where a few smaller farm animals were killed for food, and one incident near Mazama where a car was broken into for a peanut butter sandwich. Bears have an uncanny sense of smell and will get into most anything, including cars, buildings, and camp trailers if they want the food bad enough.
Sgt. Jim Brown of the Okanogan WDFW Detachment states that with the poor native food availability last spring and summer, it meant that these animals could not bulk-up much in preparation for winter. Unlike typical years, last year's "spring" bear problem went on nearly until it snowed. With not much natural food available for them when they come out soon, it makes WDFW expect that these already-hungry bears will be even more persistent in their search for other food sources. "We want folks to know that they need to think about prevention early and prepare by planning on hauling away trash and putting up food sources before the bears get habituated to coming in. Once they start coming to homes in search of food, it can be next to impossible to change their behavior. If food is not found at one house, they will hit the next, and so on," Brown said.
The bears last year found some easy meals at residences. Once this behavior is learned, they pass it on to the young that often accompany them, thus setting a generational pattern of scavenging food at residences. Essentially homes come to represent an easy site to get food. Problem sites last year included those with accumulations of food garbage, those with compost piles, wild bird seed and suet feeders, exposed livestock and fowl grain bins, pet foods easily available, residences with frozen food storage located on porches and in open carports, heavily soiled barbecues, and food dehydrators sitting in accessible areas. In several cases, residences with unpicked home fruit on trees attracted bears late in summer to feed on the unused bounty.
Beehives producing honey can usually be protected with a simple electric fence of at least three wires placed in front of calf panels, which provide a structural barrier so that the bears cannot just run through the hotwires with a minimal shock. Such methods are used to keep the even larger grizzly bears out of hives in Montana.
In short, WDFW is asking for help so that people work now to remove, or significantly reduce the presence of these attractants to bears before a problem even starts. Attractants that one person leaves out can cause not only problems for themselves, but for their neighbors to get an unwanted visitor, one that keeps coming back!
Black bears are generally not dangerous animals unless surprised, provoked, or protecting cubs. If investigating a noise outside, it is recommended that the person turn on lights, make some noise as they approach to give any bear a chance to leave. This is most often the bear's first response. A noisy approach is better than surprising them in a face-to-face encounter where the animal may react defensively. It is important to remember that with bears they are usually not there for any purpose other than for the food source, so give them an opportunity to escape.
If removing attractants is ineffective, or a bear causes a pet or livestock depredation, or acts aggressively please immediately advise WDFW through WSP dispatch at (509)422-3800, extension 0. WSP dispatches Fish and Wildlife Officers.
If WDFW receives a call here is what one can expect (excerpted from the 2003 joint Okanogan County/WDFW response notice):
Unless your report is simply a sighting, response is as immediate as possible.
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