A transient black bear is causing a stir from Semiahmoo to Ferndale, and efforts to capture and relocate the wild animal are ongoing.
The first calls reporting the bear came from houses near Birch Bay Village on May 22, where it was seen trying to eat from bird feeders. Two days later, Stacey Lynch’s dog Emma was the first to see the bear on their Shintaffer Road property.
“She just about came unglued,” Lynch said. “We think it went through my sister-in-law’s orchard next door because there were broken branches.”
Lynch and her husband Sean watched the bear walk partway up their driveway and had enough time to snap some pictures before it ambled off into the woods. Lynch called 911 and was connected to an animal control officer with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The following Tuesday, another call came in reporting a sighting of what is believed to be the same bear on the corner of Portal Way and Valley View Road. WDFW officers Ryan Valentine and Dave Jones responded and set a humane trap near that location, but the nomadic critter had wandered on.
It was then sighted in a tree near Brown Road the next morning, and again on Slater Road near Ferndale late last week. The latest sighting on June 4 was near the BP oil refinery.
“Our little friend is really roaming all over the place,” Valentine said. “It’s been seen by a lot of people, but the good news is it hasn’t really stuck around anywhere to cause trouble, and it hasn’t shown any aggression towards humans. That’s encouraging.”
Based on photos from several witnesses, Valentine said the bear looks like a healthy adult, adding that the absence of cubs at this time of year suggests it is probably a male.
Valentine said he and Jones hope to capture the bear and relocate it east in the hills where it won’t be seen as much.
“There should be plenty of food in the wilderness this time of year, but with the cooler spring we’ve had, some bears are coming out of hibernation a little late and looking for high-protein, easy to access food. This guy may have found his way west of I-5 following a waterway under the highway, and now he seems to have his bearings a little off,” Valentine said.
According to the WDFW website, black bears are usually harmless because they tend to avoid people. When they do come into contact with people, their surprising speed and strength makes them potentially dangerous. In all encounters, bears should be given distance and room to retreat without feeling threatened.
Most calls regarding bear encounters in urban environments are a direct result of humans providing easy access to food. Feeding bears is extremely dangerous, because wild bears can quickly become conditioned to depend on handouts from humans. Once they are conditioned to seek food from humans, bears will persist until they become a potentially dangerous nuisance.
Sadly, most bears that become food conditioned are either killed by humans protecting their property or by a wildlife manager having to remove a dangerous bear.
Valentine said he and Jones will continue their efforts to relocate the bear, but in the meantime he urged residents to remove things that might attract the bear and habituate it to human food.
“If you want to keep this bear alive, you have to put your attractants away,” he said. That includes removing trash, cleaning grills, putting away bird feeders and not feeding pets outside.
Further sightings should be reported to Whatcom County 911 dispatch or local law enforcement, who will notify Valentine and Jones.
WDFW estimates the Washington black bear population to be around 25,000 to 30,000 animals that inhabit forested regions from the coast to east of the Cascades.
Here are some tips from the WDFW website on how to avoid bear conflicts:
Don’t feed bears. Over 90 percent of bear/human conflicts result from bears being conditioned to associate food with humans.
Manage your garbage. Bears will try any means to get at food, including garbage, once they know it’s there.
If you have a pickup service, put the garbage out shortly before the truck arrives. If you haul your own garbage to the dump, do it frequently to avoid odors.
Remove other attractants. Suet and seed bird feeders, which allow excess to build up on the ground below them, are attractants from early March through November. Harvest fruit from orchard trees regularly and don’t allow fruit to rot on the ground.
Do not feed pets outside. Clean barbecue grills after each use. Wash the grill or burn off smells, food residue, and grease; store the equipment in a shed or garage and keep the door closed.
If you can smell your barbecue then it is not clean enough. Avoid the use of outdoor refrigerators.