With warmer weather comes the long-awaited summer outdoor recreation season. It also means that bears once again roam the landscape.
Washington has a very healthy black bear population statewide. In the northeast corner of the state, a small population of grizzly bears also roams the Selkirk Mountains. Knowing how to avoid conflicts with either grizzlies or black bears is important before heading into bear country.
With the grizzly population slowly growing in the northeast, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the nonprofit organization Defenders of Wildlife are partnering with tribes, federal agencies, counties and other organizations to help people learn how they can enjoy the Washington landscape in peaceful coexistence with bears.
The Kalispel Tribe, U.S. Forest Service and Pend Oreille County are among those partners helping northeast Washington residents and recreationists understand bear behavior, how to avoid problems with bears, and the importance of carrying and properly using bear spray during close encounters.
At training sessions recently hosted by WDFW and Defenders of Wildlife, Kalispel Tribe staff and 4-H students, Pend Oreille County first responders and U.S. Forest Service staff learned how to tell the difference between black and grizzly bears and practiced using bear spray.
Colville National Forest staff and volunteers installed food storage lockers at campgrounds and dispersed campsites so that campers can keep their food away from bears. The Forest Service plans to install lockers at every national forest campsite in the region over the next five years.
Pend Oreille County Public Works officials are working to secure their waste transfer sites. Without a landfill in the county, residents take their trash to community pickup locations, where dumpsters are later trucked to landfills. Unfortunately, trash can be a magnet for wildlife, especially bears. To keep bears out of trash and away from people, the county is working to fully fence these sites from wildlife.
Defenders of Wildlife recently expanded its electric fence cost-share program into Pend Oreille and Stevens counties. This program helps private landowners cover fencing costs and provides technical assistance to install bear-resistant electric fences around common bear attractants, such as chicken coops, bee hives and fruit trees.
Without these types of efforts, and the cooperation of northeast Washington’s thousands of rural residents and outdoor recreationists, bears can become problems and even end up dead.
Let’s all do our part to coexist with bears and ensure their future as part of Washington’s wildlife heritage. And the next time you head out into bear country, remember to carry your bear spray.
Annemarie Prince, northeast district wildlife biologist, and Candace Bennett, wildlife conflict specialist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
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