Tips: Living With Bears in Newcastle
Posted on 05/14/2019

As bears emerge from winter dens across the state, state wildlife managers are reminding residents how to avoid possible conflicts with hungry animals looking to scavenge an easy meal.

Reports of bear activity increase across the state during this time of year and Newcastle is no exception. Bears tend to avoid humans. However, human-habituated bears are bears that, because of prolonged exposure to people, have lost their natural fear or wariness around people. Such bears can become aggressive in their pursuit of a meal.

Do everything you can to avoid an encounter with any bear. Prevention is the best advice.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) responds to bear sightings when there is a threat to public safety or property. According to WDFW, a sighting or presence of a bear does not constitute a threat to property or public safety. If it is an emergency, call 911. 

WDFW offers the following tips on living with black bears:

State wildlife offices receive hundreds of black bear complaints each year regarding urban sightings, property damage, attacks on livestock, and bear/human confrontations.

The number one reason for conflict, (95 percent of the calls to offices) are the result of irresponsibility on the part of people: access to trash, pet food, bird feeders, and improper storage of food while camping make up the majority of the calls.

Bears may opportunistically seek food in human-occupied areas when natural foods are scarce. This occurs annually in early spring before natural foods become available and in late fall as bears prepare for hibernation. Additionally, in some years, a late-arriving spring or drought conditions may increase the likelihood of this behavior.

If you live in areas where black bears are seen, use the following management strategies around your property to prevent conflicts:

DON’T FEED BEARS

Often people leave food out for bears so they can take pictures of them or show them to visiting friends. Over 90 percent of human-bear conflicts result from bears being conditioned to associate food with humans. A wild bear can become permanently food-conditioned after only one handout experience. The unintended reality is that these bears will likely die, being killed by someone protecting their property, or by a wildlife manager having to remove a potentially dangerous bear. 

MANAGE YOUR GARBAGE

Bears will expend a great amount of time and energy digging under, breaking down, or crawling over barriers to get food, including garbage. If you have a pickup service, put garbage out shortly before the truck arrives—not the night before. If you’re leaving several days before pickup, haul your garbage to a dump. If necessary, frequently haul your garbage to a dumpsite to avoid odors.

Keep garbage cans with tight-fitting lids in a shed, garage, or fenced area. Spray garbage cans and dumpsters regularly with disinfectants to reduce odors. Keep fish parts and meat waste in your freezer until they can be disposed of properly.

BEAR ATTACKS

In the unlikely event a black bear attacks you (where actual contact is made), fight back aggressively using your hands, feet, legs, and any object you can reach. Aim for the eyes or spray bear spray into the bear’s face.

Here are a few tips should you come in close contact with a bear:

— Stop, remain calm, and assess the situation. If the bear seems unaware of you, move away quietly when it’s not looking in your direction. Continue to observe the animal as you retreat, watching for changes in its behavior.

— If a bear walks toward you, identify yourself as a human by standing up, waving your hands above your head, and talking to the bear in a low voice.

— Don’t throw anything at the bear, which the bear could interpret as a threat or a challenge.

— If you cannot safely move away from the bear or the bear continues toward you, scare it away by clapping your hands, stomping your feet, yelling, and staring the animal in the eyes. If you are in a group, stand shoulder-to shoulder and raise and wave your arms to appear intimidating. The more it persists the more aggressive your response should be. If you have bear spray, use it.

— Do not run from the bear. Bears can run up to 35 mph and running may trigger an attack. Climbing a tree is generally not recommended as an escape from an aggressive black bear, as black bears are adept climbers and may follow you up a tree.

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