The arrival of spring means the likelihood that bears and other wild animals may come down from the mountains looking for food. If you leave food or food waste in a place that attracts these animals, you could be fined for it.
Two new state laws went into effect last summer that prohibit leaving food or food waste in places where it can attract bears and other wild carnivores, according to the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Intentional feeding can lead to a $1,000 fine. It’s $87 if investigators find that the feeding was unintentional, but still “negligent.”
“Black bears usually emerge from their dens in mid-to-late April, but warm weather can cause them to stir earlier,” said Rich Beausoleil, WDFW bear and cougar specialist. “Whatever the timing, black bears are hungry when they emerge from their dens, because they lose up to half their body weight during hibernation.”
WDFW said it’s already received reports this year of black bears in North Bend, Issaquah and Chelan County.
Because natural foods are scarce in early spring, bears look for easy sources of high-protein food. Beausoleil suggests residents keep garbage cans in secure areas until collection day, keep pet food inside, take down birdfeeders until winter and thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use. If you’re camping, clean all your cooking utensils after use, seal uneaten food in airtight containers and store then in bear-proof canisters away from sleeping areas.
“Bears are naturally wary of humans, but they can overcome that fear when they are rewarded with food provided intentionally or unintentionally by people,” said Beausoleil.
In the last two years WDFW responded to nearly 1,000 reports of incidents involving bears, ranging from raids on garbage cans and birdfeeders to confrontations with pets.
Human-bear encounters tend to subside by summer when berries and other natural foods are available, but then ramp up again in the fall before the animals go to hibernate.