One black bear who had gotten a bit too used to humans has a new home in the Cascade Mountains after state Fish and Wildlife officers caught and relocated her last week.
A second bear that was reported to be roaming through the Klahanie area was located by officers but got away.
The first bear had been repeatedly visiting a home off of Black Nugget Road, getting into garbage and hanging around so much that the family couldn’t go outside when they wanted to, said Officer Chris Moszeter.
“The bear had been getting in the garbage cans as they usually do this time of year. We advised them to clean up the area, and put the cans away,” Moszeter said. “They did that, but the bear would basically camp out, almost as if it was waiting for a treat.”
Officers typically try not to relocate bears unless they have become aggressive or lost their fear of humans — which seemed to be the case with this bear, he said.
“If you trap one bear, you may have another bear (move) into that area to replace that bear,” Moszeter explained.
In this case, they decided the bear had to be trapped and moved, so they put a culvert-style bear trap in place, baited with Krispy Kreme donuts.
“Anything that’s very pungent in odor … works really well. The donuts are very sugary and the bears seem to love them,” he said.
Thursday morning, the day after the trap had been set, the bear was inside.
“It was pretty much a perfect trap,” Moszeter said.
Next, officers put the bear to sleep with a tranquilizer, weighed her and checked her overall health.
“Bears that are getting into garbage typically aren’t the most healthy,” he said.
A normal North American black bear has a very shiny coat, while one that has been eating garbage will have a dull coat, Moszeter said.
This bear had clearly been eating garbage, but was otherwise a very healthy, 109-pound female, about a year and a half old.
“Once we’ve determined they’re healthy and that the drug has taken effect, we give them an ear tag and get the homeowner out there so they can see what the bear looks like,” he said. In this case, a woman and several kids had the chance to see and touch the bear up close, as well as learning about the animal and asking questions.
The other “classmate” in the mini-education session was Mishka, a Karelian bear dog used to track bear and cougar. Mishka’s handler was Fish and Wildlife Officer Rocky Spencer, who was killed in a helicopter accident last September while helping to relocate some bighorn sheep.
Mishka is still on the job, working now with Officer Bruce Richards and other Fish and Wildlife officers.
The team was planning to go release the bear caught in the Black Nugget area when they got a call about a second bear that had possibly been hit by a car up in the Klahanie neighborhood near the QFC.
Richards said he believes it’s the same bear that has been seen in the area numerous times in the past two or three years.
“People have been seeing it weekly for years,” he said. “It hasn’t hurt a soul.”
With Mishka’s help to track the bear, Richards said he looked up and suddenly saw the bear in someone’s yard.
He used his dart gun, but the dart hit the bear fairly low in the leg.
“I didn’t know if it had enough drug to go down,” Richards said. The bear jumped a fence and entered a swampy area between a church and a private residence. He, Mishka and some police officers searched for the bear to make certain it didn’t go down in the water, because it had been drugged and could have been in danger of drowning.
After determining the bear must have escaped safely, the team headed up to release the young female in the mountains. With bears like this one that are not afraid of humans, officers use what they call a “hard release.” That involved giving the bear a shot with a beanbag as it comes out of the trap, as well as having Mishka bark and firing a “cracker shot” into the sky, Richards said.
“It’s a little bit of confusion for a few minutes, and if it keeps the bear alive in the long run … it did exactly what it was supposed to do,” he said. “It turned out really well.”