NESPELEM – It’s bear season, so people should be watchful of how they store their garbage cans, pet foods and other things that could attract the animals.
“Bears are resourceful and curious creatures,” said an announcement from the Colville tribal Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They can travel over 15 miles a day, be known to run as fast as 30 miles an hour, and are able to eat as much as 20,000 calories in one day.”
According to wildlife officials, most human-bear interactions that lead to complaints are caused by humans. Garbage cans, pet food, gardens and fruit trees can bring bears dangerously close to homes, businesses, schools and people.
This spring, the department has received 20 bear complaints from local residents and business owners, and wildlife staff say that’s usual for this time of year.
“Most of the complaints come from Nespelem … and the surrounding area, primarily due to select businesses that are left unprotected from bears,” said Corey Peone, wildlife biologist for the tribe. “Our goal is to work with them to make their locations bear-proof or be more bear aware for their specific situation to reduce bear-human conflicts.”
An example of how bear-proofing works is Rainbow Beach Resort in Inchelium. The business used to be one of the highest complaint areas on the reservation, but wildlife staff worked with resort staff to address the issues.
“We installed bear-proof garbage cans, changed how the fish guts were disposed of and restricted access to the expired fryer oil container,” said Richard Whitney, tribal wildlife manager. “We have very little complaints coming from the area now.”
Wildlife officials also installed bear proof garbage cans at local campgrounds across the reservation.
“The years in which there are higher human-bear interactions are when natural food availability is limited due to drought, low berry crops, wildfire or other causes that impact their food or habitats,” said Whitney. “Also, humans tend to live in the areas that are closer to water which tend to be where berries and fruit trees grow, and there is cool shade during the summer heat. Bears are a natural part of the ecosystem and should be respected for their contributions.”
The tribe received a $220,000 grant from the Upper Columbia United Tribes to study bears on the reservation. The grant allowed wildlife officials to purchase GPS collars so staff can capture and monitor bears.
The grant also paid for the bear-proofing additions to Rainbow Beach Resort.
“The project is slowly ramping down, and we are crunching the data to discover the answers to our management questions,” said Whitney. “Corey has been evaluating the data and compiling a report. We will then work toward finishing a management plan and modifying tribal code to aid in bear management.”
Tips to avoid bear-human interaction:
-Bears are drawn to the smell of food, such as garbage, pet foods, bird feeders, compost piles, fruit trees, berry bushes, livestock feed, dirty barbecue grills, beehives and petroleum products.
-Keep yards clean.
-Pick fruit from trees as it ripens; do not leave fruit on the ground.
-Do not leave pet food outside, especially overnight.
-Keep outdoor grills clean; when not in use, store grills inside a garage or building.
-Never store food or garbage outdoors for long periods of time.
-If a bear doesn’t find food, it will usually move along.
-Don’t feed bears - individuals who are feeding bears create a major problem and may cause harm to the bear and the general public. A $500 fine for harassment of wildlife can be assessed.
When encountering a bear:
-Move your people indoors immediately.
-Try to remain calm; don’t panic.
-Respect the bear’s space; never approach a bear. Don’t try to pet baby bears.
-Don’t scream or yell as it may provoke a bear.
-Don’t run, since that may trigger a pursuit by a bear.
-Become as “large” as possible and speak in a calm voice to the bear, move away to give the bear some space and leave the area.
-When camping, keep children close by.
People on the reservation who spot a bear in a residential area may call 509-722-7659 from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. After normal work hours, the number is 800-551-5800.