April 25, 2014
|A black bear cub looks for food in a garbage can in a Florence neighborhood in the spring of 2007.
Photo courtesy of Donna K. Weaver
Click for larger image
CLACKAMAS, Ore. – Spring is a time of renewal in Oregon and around the Pacific Northwest. It is also the time of year when bears wake up from their long winter naps and come out of their dens to look for food.
Unfortunately, many of these animals get themselves into trouble by looking for meals in all the wrong places – porches, sheds, garages, garbage cans, barbecues, kennels and bird feeders, where they can become a nuisance … or worse.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have fielded a number of calls lately from people who have had close encounters with bears.
Tonya Moore, wildlife biologist in Clackamas, received three calls from residents along Bluff and Serban roads near Sandy who were concerned about bears in their neighborhood. Her district also fielded three calls about nuisance bears in Gaston.
“One elderly woman had a bear show up on her deck while she was baking pies,” said Moore. Other residents called to report that a bear or bears had knocked over garbage cans and raided bird feeders and pet food bowls on their porches.
Brian Wolfer, wildlife biologist in Springfield, has been looking into a rash of nuisance bear reports in Oakridge. On April 23, Oakridge police even closed down a city street after a marauding bear was frightened and climbed a tree. The bear eventually came down and left town without further incident but Wolfer is concerned that it may return. Wolfer noted that he has received several other calls from people along Roberts Road and High Leah Drive.
Unfortunately, these scenarios happen every spring.
“Bears consume mostly spring plants this time of year until other food sources become available,” said Moore, “but they have a keen sense of smell and will eat anything that smells good to them, like human food waste, garbage, and pet foods.“
Once bears become habituated to food in residential areas they don’t want to leave, according to Wolfer. This can end badly for the bear, people or both.
“We’re not going to trap and relocate a habituated bear,” he said, “because the bear will almost always come back or cause problems for someone else.” Bears that fit this profile are usually euthanized. If they stick around long enough, bears can become aggressive, to the point where they may break into structures.
ODFW biologists say few precautions can prevent most of the problems that people have with bears.
Residents should remove all potential food sources in order to encourage the bear to leave. Garbage cans should be washed out and stored in a garage or shed. Don’t place garbage out at the street until the day of garbage pick-up. If bears are common in your area, consider investing in a commercially available bear-proof garbage container. Feed pets indoors. Bird feeders should be removed, at least temporarily. Avoid composting food items.
“The fixes are pretty simple,” said Wolfer. “Don’t feed the bears – intentionally or unintentionally.” He says most nuisance bears leave on their own if people remove the feed.
People who are having nuisance problems with bears should call ODFW. If they feel threatened or unsafe, they should call 911 immediately and, if possible, scare the bear away with loud noises while maintaining a safe distance.
Oregon is home to about 25,000 to 30,000 bears. While sightings are not unusual, bear attacks on humans are extremely rare. Even so, any contact with a bear, or any other wild animal for that matter, should be considered potentially dangerous and be avoided if at all possible.
For more information about living with black bears, visit the ODFW website at: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/black_bears.asp.