Spring is Coming Bringing Increased Bear Encounters in the Snoqualmie Valley

It’s that time of year again when our local black bears emerge from their slumber in search of food after months of not eating.

Snoqualmie Ridge resident Jake managed to catch one of the first bears of the season tightrope walking on his fence in early March.

Video Credit: Jake Robins

During this season of increased activity, to avoid the tragedy we had last summer with the killing of a Mother Bear and her three cubs, homeowners and hikers need to secure unnatural food sources to reduce bear encounters.

To continue to enjoy the benefits the beautiful Snoqualmie Valley provides for us and future generations, we must protect our natural environment and be good stewards of the land we live on.

20th-century American writer, philosopher, naturalist, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist Aldo Leopold championed environmental stewardship in land ethic, exploring the ethical implications of “dealing with man’s relationship to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.”

Very simply, we can become good stewards by not creating more highly habituated bears that must be killed to protect our bad human habits.

In the spring Black Bears eat herbaceous plants, from emerging grasses and sedges to horsetail and various flowering plants. Still, these natural foods may be scarce, and bears may look to our trash, bird feeders and fruit trees as an easy source of calories when they are most hungry.

Bears are naturally wary of humans but sometimes, in this area, overcome their fear when residents reward them with human food sources. Now that spring is here, take a moment to look around your yard and home to remove any potential food sources to avoid another tragedy like last year or a bear attack like the one in Leavenworth last October.

Follow these tips to prevent attracting bears and to avoid negative interactions this spring:

  • Don’t feed the bear intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Manage your garbage so wildlife cannot access it.
  • Take down seed feeders and move hummingbird feeders up to a height of at least 20 feet until next winter.
  • Clean up fallen fruit or other possible attractants around your home.
  • Feed pets inside. Manage your garbage so wildlife cannot access it.
  • Clean barbecue grills after each use and store them in a secure building.
  • Cage and electric fence your domestic fowl and livestock pens.
  • Do not store food in your car.
  • When camping, thoroughly clean all spilled food, wash up after eating and wash all cooking utensils.
  • Seal uneaten food and scented personal items, such as lotion or toothpaste, in airtight containers and store them in bear-resistant canisters or food lockers at least 100 yards away from camping areas. Encourage your neighboring campers to do the same.

Local wildlife advocate Michelle gave me a little lesson on how to get one of the specialized cans from our local garbage companies. It can be difficult sometimes, and knowing how and who to call can be the difference between getting a can and not!

PC: Kodiak products

Michelle says, “bear-resistant garbage cans are the most convenient way to deter bears. Bears learn quickly and know how to move on quickly when they find a can they can’t get into. Virtually every garbage service contract includes bear or wildlife-resistant garbage cans in their local contracts. Please call and request your can today!”

  • If the service rep tells you no, they may not be familiar with the contract as they may be in another state. This happens on occasion. Explain resistant cans should be in the contract and ask for a manager if they are not able to process your request.
  • If you are told there are no current cans available, ask to be put on the waitlist. If they say no waitlist is available, again, ask for a manager since they need to have measures in place since it is in the contract.
  • If they claim logistics problems in getting supplies, ask them what is involved in getting on a waitlist because this is part of the established contract. Low inventory has been an issue since before the pandemic, so this is typically a planning issue, not logistics. Escalate again if needed.

Persistence and insistence may be required to get garbage service providers to step up and make the resistant cans more readily available.

Washington state law prohibits homeowners from directly OR indirectly feeding bears via unsecured garbage cans. https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=77.15.790

Some garbage service providers require that homeowners use leased cans, not personal cans, and plenty of homeowners do not have garages to keep cans easily secured. Many providers also require that any cinch straps and such be undone prior to garbage pickup, potentially leaving cans unsecured for hours.

This means that it is crucial that homeowners are provided with and utilize the option of wildlife/bear-resistant garbage cans. Garbage service providers need to honor state and local laws on bears and garbage and have wildlife/bear-resistant cans reasonably accessible upon request as per the contract. Escalate and re-escalate as needed.

Living Snoqualmie would also love to hear back if you have made multiple unsuccessful attempts to get a resistant can. 

According to the WDFW, officers and biologists respond to a variety of situations involving bears every year, and most are due to human-provided attractants, which are entirely preventable. Two state laws prohibit leaving food or food waste in places where it can attract bears and other wild carnivores.

For more information on black bears in Washington, please visit the WDFW website and learn how you can do your part to keep bears wild.

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Living Snoqualmie