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Bears bulk up in fall

With the arrival of autumn, Northwest residents are urged to take a few extra precautions if they live in or visit bear country.

The Coulee Dam area has experienced a rash of bear problems in the past few weeks, with bears spotted in back yards, rummaging through trash and sauntering down city streets.

Both black and grizzly bears prepare for their winter denning by binge eating or “hyperphagia.”

Bears must consume a lot of calories before entering their dens for 5 to7 months of hibernation, the Western Wildlife Outreach organization said.

Sufficient fat stores make the difference in whether a bear and her cubs will survive until spring.

As natural edibles become scarce with the season, bears will come down into lower elevations in search of food, occasionally showing up in people’s backyards.

A bear’s sense of smell is incredibly well developed. They can detect human sources of food such as unsecured garbage, birdseed in feeders, rotting fruit on orchard floors and pet food left outdoors over great distances.

Such easy pickings represent a lot of free calories.

“Be part of the solution, not part of the problem this autumn,” Western Wildlife Outreach Executive Director Lorna Smith said. “Don’t let your inattention lead to a bear becoming habituated to human-provided food and losing its natural fear of humans.

“A bear that doesn’t leave when humans approach is likely doomed to be destroyed. Wait to feed birds until mid-November. Store your garbage indoors until the day of pickup. Pick the up the fruit in your orchard and trim low-hanging branches.”

She also suggested storing barbecues and pet foods indoors, and to feed pets inside.

Black bears are more common than grizzly bears and are less likely to be aggressive, she said.

The chances of any bear charging a human are extremely rare, Smith said.

People traveling into the woods should travel in groups, keep dogs on a leash and make noise in areas of limited visibility or where signs of bears have been detected. Bears do not like to be surprised.

“When camping overnight, bring a bear-safe container to store food and other attractants away from your camp or use a bear hang,” Smith said. “It is also recommended to carry bear spray in the rare case of encountering a bear that charges. Studies now show that bear spray is far more effective in stopping a charging bear and reducing human injuries than a firearm.”

The Colville Confederated Tribes has posted “The Bear Facts” brochure on its website. It gives tips similar to those offered by the bear outreach group.

“Bears are drawn to smells such as garbage, pet foods, bird feed, compost piles, fruit trees, berry bushes, livestock feed, dirty barbecue grills, beehives and petroleum products,” the brochure said.

People who encounter bears should move inside immediately, remain calm, never approach a bear, avoid trying to pet a baby bear, and not yell, scream or run.

“Make yourself as large as possible and speak in a calm voice to the bear and move away, giving the bear some space, and leave the area,” the brochure said.

Bears in residential areas can be reported to the tribal Department of Fish and Wildlife or state Department of Fish and Wildlife, depending on where the animals are spotted.

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