April 10, 2013
By Michele Mihalovich
Omnivores on the prowl present usual problems
Despite bears being in the local news quite a bit this past year, wildlife experts said it was a pretty quiet bear season. However, some of the garbage-related problems from last year are still an issue.
Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a March 19 press release that field staff have already received reports of black bear activity in North Bend, Issaquah and Chelan County.
Chris Moszeter, a fish and wildlife law enforcement officer based in King County, said he’s already heard of three bears seen in the Snoqualmie Valley.
Last year, department officials responded to 444 situations involving bears, ranging from raids on garbage cans and birdfeeders to confrontations with pets. In 2011, the department responded to 523 incidents involving black bears.
“Black bears usually emerge from their dens in mid- to late-April, but warm weather can cause them to stir earlier,” Beausoleil said. “Whatever the timing, black bears are hungry when they emerge from their dens, because they lose up to half their body weight during hibernation.”
Natural foods are scarce this early in the year, so bears often start looking for the easiest source of high-protein food, he said.
For that reason, Beausoleil strongly recommends people take steps to avoid attracting black bears to their home, particularly in areas known to attract bears. That means securing garbage cans, removing backyard bird feeders and not leaving pet food outdoors.
“If people would control these three bear attractants, the number of bear-human conflicts would be reduced significantly,” he said.
Moszeter wanted to remind people about the new law enacted last June, which gives law enforcement officials the authority to fine people who negligently feed wildlife, either by not securing garbage cans or leaving bird feeders out after the winter months.
He said he did not write any tickets last year, because the main goal was to educate people about the new law.
Moszeter said that this year officers will hand out written warnings, but if the problem persists, then it’s considered negligently feeding wildlife, which is an infraction and could result in an $87 fine.
“If at that point a person does not comply and wants to keep feeding birds or leaving garbage cans unsecured, then it’s considered knowingly feeding wildlife, which is a misdemeanor and can run from $250 to $1,000, or even more,” he said.
The problem last year in Snoqualmie with bear conflicts had a lot to do with some affordable housing neighborhoods that do not have garages to store their garbage cans in.
One man who lives in one of those neighborhoods said Waste Management is responsible for the continued problem by not working with residents to come up with solutions and has been misleading the public about its bear-proof container only costing an additional $3.21 per month.
Greg Ste.Marie said the only bear-proof container Waste Management has available is a 96-gallon size, suited for families of nine to 12 people, which costs $46.02 per month, plus the additional $3.21 per month to pay for the garbage collector who has to physically unlock the bear-proof containers in order to empty them.
“Many of our cottage residents have cans that are either 35 gallon (recommended for families of three to four people) or 64 gallon … and these cost $22.85 per month and $34.43 per month,” he said.
Robin Freedman, spokeswoman for Waste Management in Washington, said 24 customers currently use the 96-gallon bear-proof containers in Snoqualmie.
She confirmed that there are no other sizes available now.
“Although Toter, the company that makes these types of carts, has been working with a 64-gallon cart, until recently, they did not pass testing. We are following up with the company and will keep you posted on a release date of any new containers,” Freedman said.
Ste.Marie said he’s also frustrated that Waste Management won’t allow people to modify existing cans at all.
“Which was one more example of them not willing to help us solve the problem,” he said. “We had asked if we could put simple washers on the corners of the cans and fasteners to keep these closed. In addition to this, my suggestion that they switch our 50 homes to a biweekly pickup with the 96-gallon cans to help offset the cost increase … were also denied.
“The way that their system is set up, there is nothing we can do except pay $20 to $30 more per month per house by making us take these giant cans, or their only other option is to force us into installing giant dumpsters in our parking areas by pouring concrete slabs first,” he added. “This would not only decrease the value of our homes, it would also increase the cost per home on a monthly basis, since the cost of the dumpsters and dumpster pickup is more expensive than our current rates per home.”
Would Waste Management be open to two or more families sharing one container?
“I don’t see this as an option today, although this is a question I have never heard, and it would need further research, study and discussions with the city,” Freedman said.
Beausoleil said human conflicts with bears tend to subside by midsummer, when berries and other natural foods become available, and then pick up again in fall before the animals enter their dens.
Avoid bear problems
Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, has advice for preventing conflicts with bears:
- Never intentionally feed bears or other wild animals.
- Keep garbage cans in a garage or another secure area until collection day.
- Remove pet food from areas accessible to wildlife.
- Take down birdfeeders until winter.
- Thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use.
- When camping, keep a clean campsite by thoroughly cleaning all cooking utensils after use and sealing uneaten food in airtight containers stored in bear-proof canisters away from sleeping areas.
Learn more about how to avoid conflict with bears at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bears.html.