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Bears on the block? Sightings on Snoqualmie Ridge show that region remains wild habitat
Eighteen times in August, Snoqualmie Police officers were dispatched to Snoqualmie Ridge homes to handle a bear sighting.
"That's not all of them either," said Becky Munson, administrator with the Snoqualmie Police Department. "Some people called the next day."
Munson has been recording the locations and times of day that people have been reporting wildlife sightings to the police, and although she can't say her list is definitive, she is certain about the type of sightings.
"It's all bears," she said, and the numbers seem to be rising.
State Department of Fish and Wildlife Officer Chris Moszeter, who serves this region, doesn't think there's been any increase.
"This is absolutely normal for Snoqualmie," he said, "Look at how the Ridge is set up. It's one giant clear-cut now.... People need to learn they they are in bear country."
Bears, he explained, tend to stay under cover of trees during their active months. Typically, they search for food at night when they're less likely to encounter people.
"The black bear is naturally a docile creature," he said. And black bears are what we have here in the Valley. "Every bear we deal with — no matter what color it is, fire-engine red, black, or brown — in Snoqualmie, is a black bear."
Moszeter guesses that the atypical weather this summer could have affected the bears' patterns, making them more active when people are around. However, their instincts haven't changed.
"From the time they come out of hibernation in March or April, until they go down in November... their whole sole purpose is to eat food," he said.
In this area's densely populated neighborhoods, food is most readily available in trash cans, which people often store alongside their homes instead of locked up in garages.
"That's just ringing the dinner bell for a bear," Moszeter said.
The Residential Owners Association encourages members to store trash cans in the garage, but with limited success. Another challenge is that six neighborhoods don't have garages. For these residents, securing their garbage would require them to buy a $200 or $300 bear-proof can.
Moszeter feels that most bear problems would go away within months if people simply stopped feeding the bears, unintentionally or not. Besides locking up or enclosing trash cans, he recommends getting rid of bird feeders squirrel feeders with their high-protein seeds so appealing to bears, and any other type of wildlife feeder.
"They have a great memory," he said. "If they got a food reward while on your property, you've become the next stop on their dinner train."
Bears are rarely aggressive, unless cornered. If that happens, Moszeter admits they can be dangerous, but in general, he asks, "Are they something we should be concerned about munching on our children? Absolutely not."
A non-aggressive bear that loses its fear of humans, though, is considered a danger, and could be removed from the area. The State Department of Fish and Wildlife tries to avoid this option, because "relocation does not work," Moszeter said. A bear that is removed might just find its way back, or other bears might move into the vacated bear's neighborhood, making the problem worse. Also, the relocated bear could be endangered in its new home, from any resident bears.
"It has to be an active public safety issue before we remove a bear," Moszeter said.
The issue can be avoided if people just remember that they are living in bear country, according to Moszeter.
"When you're in bear country, you have to be bear smart."