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Preparing to ‘bear’ down for winter

Black bear sightings in Kitsap County have increased 31 percent since 2003, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. - Courtesy photo
Black bear sightings in Kitsap County have increased 31 percent since 2003, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

With temperatures cooling down, local residents might find an increase in bear and cougar sightings as the animals forage for food before winter settles in.

“They want to be where there’s food,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Spokeswoman Marian Snyder. “Bears are looking for food right now ... cougars tend to stay in their own (territory).”

Searching for fruits, nuts and berries, Snyder added that the black bear, found in Kitsap County, doesn’t want to be around people. With developments continually encroaching on the habitats of both cougar and black bear, however, sightings have increased by 31 percent since 2003, according to the WDFW Web site, www.wdfw.wa.gov/enf/danger/dngrwild.htm.

“Bears are looking for fruit, berries and food like that ... they don’t want to be around people,” Snyder added. “If there aren’t a lot of good berries, they’ll move farther afield to get to it.”

Most bears become active just before sunrise and at night to avoid people. Although mostly plant eaters, Snyder said alluring smells of barbecues and garbage can attract hungry bears to rural residences. They also are particularly fond of the seed in bird feeders, fallen fruit, pet food and bee hives, all of which produce odors that attract bears as well as raccoons, opossum and other wildlife.

“We tell people to not leave out bird food, barbecues and trash ... anything with the scent of food,” she added. “(Residents) won’t get bears if they clean that food up.”

Similar to the black bears, cougars in Kitsap County also can wander onto rural properties in search of food. Known to roam the various climates across the state, cougars, native to Washington, tend to prefer dense underbrush and rocky terrain but are known to cover a lot of ground.

“Cougars really don’t want to be around people,” Snyder said. “You may be out hiking and a cougar will see you, but you’ll never see it.”

Primarily carnivorous, cougars are commonly spotted in areas of known deer and elk herds, which is common around the woods of Kitsap County.

They also supplement their diet on smaller animals such as rabbits and rodents as well as unattended house pets.

Unrestrained lifestock and pets, particularly during the hours of dawn and dusk can attract cougar in rural areas. Feeding pets inside and removing uneaten pet food also can help deter the presence of cougars.

Snyder said if crossed by a black bear, do not run away or act afraid. She instructed to make excessive noise and refrain from making eye contact.

If crossed by a cougar, Snyder said to face the animal and talk loudly to it while trying to appear larger than the animal. If possible, stand on a stump to become larger and wave arms in the air.

“You have to be counter intuitive,” Snyder said.

She added that by feeding black bears and cougars, residents are not helping them, but causing them to lose their instinctive fear of humans. In black bears particularly, they will become increasingly aggressive and develop into a human concern, often resulting in destroying the animal.

“Don’t leave food out for them,” she said. “It’s not doing them any favors, they’ll survive (without it).”

To report potential dangerous bear or cougar sightings, contact WDFW at (800) 477-6224, or the Washington State Patrol at (360) 478-4646.

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