A grizzly bear was seen in Spokane County last weekend for perhaps the first time this century.
The hefty bear moseyed through a rural neighborhood Saturday morning along the northern edge of the county, three miles northwest of Deer Park.
The grizzly was recorded on videotape before being startled by a car and bolting into the trees.
Wildlife officials wonder if the trespassing bear is evidence there are more of the endangered grizzlies in northeastern Washington than they had thought.
Madonna Luers, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, called it the county’s first confirmed grizzly sighting in 100 years.
“It was probably a fluke,” she said Tuesday. “It probably won’t happen again for a long time - not the way this county is growing.”
But Luers hopes the visit of North America’s largest carnivore to a county of 400,000 people triggers better camping habits this Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s a good incident to remind people that in northeast Washington, we live in bear country,” she said. “Black bears and, yes, some grizzlies. Be smart.”
Wildlife officials set a bear trap in the area in an effort to catch and relocate the bear away from civilization.
Luers speculated the bear, which weighs several hundred pounds, lives in the Nelson Peak area in southern Stevens County where timber companies have blocked logging roads and created a large wildlife haven.
The grizzly, with it distinctive shoulder hump, was seen only briefly Saturday in a patchwork of 10-acre home sites near the intersection of Spotted and Oregon roads. The bear was caught on videotape by a homeowner.
“It’s really pretty populated out in that area,” said Dee Bennett, a utility clerk for the city of Deer Park.
But Bennett, who answers telephones at City Hall, said she hasn’t received any calls from worried residents.
Luers said people should be more afraid of cougars than bears. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, (bears) will just get out of your way,” she said.
Most of Washington’s grizzlies are in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness Area, a wildlife refuge in the state’s northeast corner.
Luers estimated about 24 grizzlies live in northeastern Washington. “We really don’t know if an incident like this is an indication that maybe there are more bears.”
It’s possible grizzlies are crossing the border into Stevens County from southern Canada now that they are no longer hunted in British Columbia, she said.
Luers also said the wayward grizzly doesn’t strike biologists as a serious threat to humans because it acted lost and unaccustomed to people.
“A car on the road frightened it and the bear wheeled around and went back into the woods,” Luers said. “It may have been the first car it had ever seen.”
Luers gives these safe-camping tips:
Keep food coolers in the car.
Don’t leave dog or cat food outside.
Make noise on trails to let bears know you’re coming.