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Tuesday, June 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Be ‘bear aware’ when recreating outdoors

UPDATED: Sat., June 20, 2020

When recreating outdoors, be especially care of how and where you handle and dispose of food.  (Colville Tribes Fish & Wildlife/courtesy)
When recreating outdoors, be especially care of how and where you handle and dispose of food. (Colville Tribes Fish & Wildlife/courtesy)

People have encounters with animals every day, even in their own back yards, but some are not as intimidating as a bear.

Bears are resourceful and curious creatures. They can travel over 15 miles a day, be known to run as fast as 30 miles per hour, and are able to eat as much as 20,000 calories in one day.

According to wildlife officials, most human-bear interactions that lead to complaints are caused by humans. Garbage cans, pet food, gardens, and fruit trees can bring bears dangerously close to homes, businesses, schools, and people.

Since the spring of 2020, the Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department has received 20 bear complaints from local residents and business owners and wildlife staff says that’s usual for this time of year.

“Most of the complaints come from Nespelem, Washington and the surrounding area primarily due to select businesses that are left unprotected from bears,” said Corey Peone, wildlife biologist for CTFW. “Our goal is to work with them to make their locations bear-proof or be more bear aware for their specific situation to reduce bear-human conflicts.”

An example of how bear proofing works is Rainbow Beach Resort located in Inchelium. The business used to be one of the highest complaint areas on the reservation but wildlife staff worked with resort staff to address the issues.

“We installed bear proof garbage cans, changed how the fish guts were disposed of, and restricted access to the expired fryer oil container,” said Richard Whitney, wildlife manager for CTFW. “We have very little complaints coming from the area now.”

Wildlife officials also installed bear proof garbage cans at local campgrounds across the reservation.

“The years in which there are higher human-bear interactions are when natural food availability is limited due to drought, low berry crops, wildfire, or other causes that impact their food or habitats,” said Whitney. “Also, humans tend to live in the areas that are closer to water which tend to be where berries and fruit trees grow, and there is cool shade during the summer heat. Bears are a natural part of the ecosystem and should be respected for their contributions.

With a little understanding about why bears venture close to people, we can help to protect both the bears and our families from negative interactions.”

CTFW received a grant for $220,000 from the Upper Columbia United Tribes to study bears on the Colville Indian Reservation. The grant allowed wildlife officials to purchase GPS collars allowing staff to capture and monitor bears. The grant also paid for the bear-proofing additions to Rainbow Beach Resort.

“The project is slowly ramping down, and we are crunching the data to discover the answers to our management questions,” said Whitney. “Corey has been evaluating the data and compiling a report. We will then work toward finishing a management plan and modifying Tribal Code to aid in bear management.”

Here are some helpful tips to avoid bear and human interaction:

  • Bears are drawn to the smell of food such as garbage, pet foods, bird feeders, compost piles, fruit trees, berry bushes, livestock feed, dirty barbeque grills, beehives and petroleum products.
  • Keep yards clean.
  • Pick fruit from trees as it ripens; do not leave fruit on the ground.
  • Do not leave pet food outside, especially overnight.
  • Keep outdoor grills clean; when not in use, store grills inside a garage or building.
  • Never store food or garbage outdoors for long periods of time.
  • If a bear doesn’t find food, it will usually move along.
  • Please do not feed bears – feeding bears create a major problem and may cause harm to the bear and the general public and is punishable by $500 fine.

If you encounter a bear:

  • Move your family indoors immediately, if possible.
  • Try to remain calm, don’t panic.
  • Respect the bear’s space; never approach a bear. If you see a baby bear, don’t try to pet it.
  • Don’t scream or yell as this may provoke a bear.
  • Don’t run as this may trigger a pursuit by a bear.
  • Make yourself as large as possible and speak in a calm voice to the bear and move away giving the bear some space and leave the area.
  • When out camping, keep children close by.

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