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Are we seeing more black bears this year? Fish and Wildlife officials weigh in

Black Bear in Tree

SEATTLE — They’ve been spotted in a backyard in Everett. A tree in Renton. And darted in Lakewood.

Black bears. Up and down the Puget Sound. Q13 News receives news tips almost daily about sightings in backyards or playgrounds.

All tips and photographs of the little scampers got us wondering: Are there more bears than normal this year?

Well, no, says Washington State Fish And Wildlife Captain Alan Myers. The population of about 25,000-30,000 black bears in the state has remained steady.

But there are reasons why we're seeing more bears around.

Bears sightings are common this time of year, Myers says. As bears come out of hibernation, they're in search of food. Bird feeders, grills and packed garbage cans make for easy sources.

"Bears love easy sources of food, especially when they're coming out of hibernation and they're really hungry," Myers said.

More people are also encroaching on bear territory, Myers says. As population expands to rural areas, people are more likely to encounter bears, Myers says.

"There's not more bears than usual," Myers said.

Bears have been awake and roaming for about a month. As humans too wake from their winter slumber, the two species are more likely to run into each other. And with the proliferation of cell phone cameras, a lot of people are snapping bear pics.

"People are outside and the more people that are outside, the more are going to encounter bears foraging and bears doing what they do," Myers said.

State wildlife officials hear hundreds of black bear complaints each year. The number one reason for conflict - accounting for 95 percent of the calls - is irresponsibility on the part of people, officials say.

"Access to trash, pet food, bird feeders and improper storage of food while camping make up the majority of calls," wildlife officials said.

Myers offers these tips for keeping black bears away from your property:

  • Don't feed bears: Over 90 percent of bear/human conflicts result from bears being conditioned to associate food with humans. A wild bear can become permanently food-conditioned after only one handout experience.
  • Manage your garbage: Bears will expend a great amount of time and energy digging under, breaking down or crawling over barriers to get food. Put garbage outside only shortly before trucks arrive.
  • Remove other attractants: Remove bird feeders, clean grills and harvest orchards regularly.
  • Protect livestock and bees: Place livestock pens and beehives at least 150 feet away from wooded areas.
  • Install fences and other barriers: Electric fencing can be used where raids on orchards, livestock, beehives and other areas are frequent.

Remember: Black bears tend to avoid humans, but human-habituated bears can become aggressive after losing their natural fear or wariness around people.

If you come close with a black bear:

  1. Stay calm and avoid direct eye contact.
  2. Try to stay upwind and identify yourself as a human by standing up.
  3. Do not approach the bear. Give them plenty of room.
  4. If you cannot move from the bear, try to scare it away.
  5. If the bear attacks fight back aggressively.