A black bear, in front of the front-end loader, rummages around equipment at Kincaid Park on Jan. 25, 2019. (Craig Norman photo)
A black bear was spotted last week in Anchorage’s Kincaid Park, the wooded and popular recreation area on the west side of town.
Some reported the bear eating grass or drinking water or just wandering around, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. At least a few young skiers with the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage’s Junior Nordic League saw the bear off the snowmaking loop last Wednesday evening during a particularly busy evening at the park. They reported the sighting to their coach, Geoff Wright.
“I assumed they were looking at a moose or a large dog or a coyote, but probably not a bear,” Wright said. “It’s stories from 6- and 7-year-old kids and they say all sorts of funny things.”
Like many park users, Wright has spotted bears in Kincaid in the summer. But in his 20 or so years of skiing in the park, he said, he’d never seen a bear there in the middle of winter. Still, he told his group to turn around just in case. Later, another skier showed him a picture of the bear taken that evening. Bear sighting confirmed.
Fish and Game hasn’t gotten a report of the Kincaid bear since last Friday, so it has likely headed back to its den, said department spokesman Ken Marsh. The department is aware of bear dens in Kincaid.
“They usually don’t stay up long unless they have that consistent food source,” Marsh said.
But the midwinter bear spotting raises the questions: Why was the bear awake? Did it have to do with the warmer-than-usual temperatures last week? Do bears actually sleep all winter?
Sean Farley, a Fish and Game wildlife physiologist, didn’t see the Kincaid Park bear last week, but here’s what he said about why a bear might be wandering around Anchorage in January:
Weather plays a role in when bears head into their dens. In the Anchorage area, black and brown bears generally hibernate from late October or November to April or May, he said. Female bears that are pregnant typically go in earliest and come out the latest.
Farley described hibernation as a “spectrum of physiological adaptations” to conserve energy. Arctic ground squirrels, for instance, can drop their body temperatures to below freezing. Bears aren’t like that.
“They’re not out cold like ground squirrels, they’re more like a sleeping dog that can be roused pretty easily,” Farley said. “They’ll get up and move around and thrash around.”
For bears, hibernation means heading into dens and lowering their metabolic rate. Their body temperature lowers from roughly 101 degrees to about 90 or 91 degrees, Farley said. It’s a survival tactic to make it through the winter, when there’s little to no food available.
During hibernation, bears usually don’t eat, drink, urinate or defecate. They’ll lose about 20 to 25 percent of their body weight. Mostly fat, Farley said.
Yes, they also sleep, but not the whole time.
Bears cycle through periods of deep sleep and periods of arousal. Their body temperature will increase a bit when they’re aroused. They might shift positions. They might poke their heads out of their den. They might even leave for a few hours and come back — that’s not common, but it’s not unheard of, Farley said.
“When we say ‘leave the den,’ they don’t usually go on big walks,” he said.
Pregnant bears will give birth just a couple of months into hibernation. They’ll nurse their cubs in their dens, despite not eating or drinking.
“They’ve got these newborn cubs that they’ve got to take care of. They can’t go to sleep and just be out of it,” Farley said. “The cubs can’t do anything. … All they can do is eat and scream and that’s about it. She has to move them around and hold them close to her body so they can nurse. She has to clean them.”
It’s very unlikely that a female bear with cubs will leave its den in the winter, Farley said.
A bear might get restless and want to stretch its legs, Farley said.
It’s also possible the bear went into a den too skinny. Its energy reserves might have gotten so low at some point that it prompted the bear to wake up and go look for food. It’s that or starve to death, Farley said.
Or, maybe a noise outside of the den stirred it when it wasn’t in a deep sleep. Farley noted, however, that he has photographs of snowmachine tracks that go over a den hole that’s covered in snow.
What about last week’s weather? Temperatures spiked to 44 degrees on Friday at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Could that be why the black bear wasn’t in its den?
A goal of a bear den: To keep the cold out, Farley said. So mild fluctuations in outside temperature shouldn’t really impact bears in insulated dens.
“If they’re deep inside in some sort of den, maybe covered with snow, they’re insulated,” he said. “So fluctuations in the ambient temperature outside the den don’t get reflected as strongly inside the den. Plus they’re in the den heating it themselves because they’re at least 90 degrees or so.”
Sgt. Scott Norris with the B.C. Conservation Service says the mother bear watched calmly from a distance when help arrived.
“When we showed up, we pulled into the yard and there was mom sitting at the back of the yard, sort of 50 yards away just watching,” he said.
BC CO Service@_BCCOS
South Island CO’s rescued two bear cubs trapped in a dumpster at a materials recycling facility today in #sooke . The cubs were ear tagged and reunited with their mother who was patiently watching from afar. CO’s are reminding people that bears are still out looking for food
A Paradise Valley company is seeking a permit to house two black bears in a roadside menagerie near Emigrant, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
The agency is seeking public comment through June 30 on an environmental assessment for the Mayfield Roadside Menagerie, north of Emigrant, owned by Jason Mayfield.
Any person wishing to keep, in captivity, one or more wild animals for the evident purpose of exhibition or attracting trade must first secure a Roadside Menagerie Permit from the state of Montana. A USDA Class C Exhibitor’s permit is a prerequisite for permitting.
The facility has been built and is ready to receive the two bears and will be operated in conjunction with Camel Discovery along Highway 89.
The facility has an interior and exterior portion. The interior is constructed of poured concrete for the floor; partitioned cages constructed of welded wire and pipe; insulated walls; and water, electrical and gas services. The interior has ample room for food preparation and veterinary care if needed.
The exterior fencing is constructed of chain link fencing with four strands of charged electrical wire along the top. A secondary fence within the primary fencing is made of four strands of charged electrical wire attached to t-posts.
The proposed menagerie is in near proximity to the owner’s residence and doors and gates are to remain locked at all times to prevent escape of the bears or entry by unauthorized individuals.
The environmental assessment is available on FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov. Click on the News tab and choose Recent Public Notices.
Comments can be submitted online or mailed to Attn: Mayfield Roadside Menagerie; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Enforcement; P.O. Box 200701; Helena, MT 59620.
HEYWOOD ISLAND—Boaters seeking a quiet anchorage in the sheltered waters of Browning Cove, east of Little Current at Heywood Island, have instead found themselves facing a hungry bear that visited four different boats over the course of three days.
“I was down below fixing dinner, a bass I caught yesterday, when I heard this loud strange scratching noise,” says Brian Laux of Walworth, NY.
“I thought it might have been a human swimmer in trouble, someone who was so weak they couldn’t crawl out of the water. But when I went outside there was a bear right in the water—he was trying to climb up the side of the boat,” Mr. Laux recalled. “He sort of gave me a dirty look.”
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Mr. Laux immediately got in contact with Roy Eaton, who runs the daily Cruiser’s Net broadcast out of Little Current, to share his incredible story. At the time, he did not consider the bear a major threat because of his timid interaction with it. Mr. Laux says he has heard the bear is often spotted swimming across the mouth of the bay in which he was anchored but more recently it has been seen making trips to Browning Island.
Fortunately, the bear left without much fuss after this first encounter. But it was not finished yet.
Mr. Laux had just finished listening to the morning broadcast when he heard the unmistakable sound of the bear paddling back towards his boat—perhaps ironically named Serenity. This time, the bear was more persistent. “I poked him in the nose with my boat hook,” said Mr. Laux. The bear, although seemingly annoyed by the gesture, swam around the boat a couple times and eventually retreated back to shore.
That morning, Mr. Laux was visited by the owners of a boat called Carandy. Unfortunately, Mr. Laux was not the first person to have an encounter with this bear. On the same day as Mr. Laux’s first encounter, the bear had already visited Carandy, which was anchored in the same area as Serenity. Carandy’s owners did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
When the bear arrived, Carandy’s owners were away on a kayak trip. When they returned, the bear was in the process of tearing apart their cabin. It had climbed aboard using the swim ladder they left down to get into their kayaks. Carandy’s cupboards were ripped off and nearly everything inside was eaten, chewed or covered in fur and bear spit. After making noise by banging on the hull, the bear finally was scared off and retreated to the island.
Carandy’s interior was trashed. With no other options, the boaters elected to clean up their mess and figure out what to do next. But as they were cleaning, the bear came back and attempted to board the boat again from the bow. After a solid whack on its nose from the boat hook, the bear swam back towards land and stared at Carandy from the shore. Feeling threatened by the bear’s continued presence, they moved to the middle of the bay and set up anchorage there.
Meanwhile, after Mr. Laux fended off the bear the following morning, he elected to stay one final night but repositioned himself further from shore. He went around to visit the other boats anchored in the area and made sure they knew of the bear’s presence and to keep their swim ladders up.
Mr. Laux’s warning and an advisory on Mr. Eaton’s Cruisers Net proved useful for Dennis Kirkwood, who had just arrived into the bay on his catamaran. After a late dinner with his girlfriend, they were getting ready for bed around midnight when they heard a thumping and scratching noise under the stern of the boat.
“I immediately suspected what it was,” said Mr. Kirkwood. “I ran out and grabbed a whisker pole and started clanking it around.”
The bear was under the swim platform, between the two hulls. The bear had knocked out the floor plate and its paw was coming up through the opening. After a continued effort, Mr. Kirkwood switched to his wooden oar to hit the bear’s paw. The bear pulled its paw back but remained under the platform, breathing heavily.
“It was very surrealistic,” said Mr. Kirkwood, adding that the pitch darkness of the night added a complicated aspect to the ordeal.
“He’s substantial sized, maybe 250 pounds; not a cub at all,” Mr. Kirkwood says.
Mr. Kirkwood continued to poke through the opening to encourage the bear to leave, but it stayed put. That was a surprise, as Mr. Kirkwood understood bears usually scatter upon hearing loud noises.
“I tried blasting my air horn like a madman trying to get him to leave, but he just stayed on.”
With that, Mr. Kirkwood decided to keep prodding it with his oar to encourage the bear to leave. It worked, but the bear managed to break his wooden oar in the process.
Mr. Kirkwood notified Mr. Eaton of his experience. The bear incidents were turning into a trend.
On Thursday night, Otto Gustafson had what may have been the closest experience yet. He arrived at Heywood Island and had anchored for the night. At about 9:30, he heard the telltale scratching and splashing of a bear next to his boat. His swim ladder was up, so he decided to stay put because the bear should not have been able to make it on board.
He was wrong.
Suddenly, the bear climbed the stern and appeared in the cockpit. The bear started sniffing for something to eat, and the two came within 18 inches of each other. Mr. Gustafson began screaming and making noise at the bear, but the bear seemed to ignore the disturbance. Mr. Gustafson even shone his spotlight into its eyes and sounded his foghorn, but nothing seemed to dissuade the bear.
The bear had put its paw through the screen that separated it from Mr. Gustafson, when a fellow boater heard the commotion and came alongside them on his dinghy. It was not a moment too soon. The presence of the dinghy seemed to scare off the bear which walked to the bow, entered the water and disappeared.
So far, these four boat boardings are the only reports The Expositor has heard of regarding bear encounters at Heywood Island or elsewhere.
“I suspect somebody might have fed it off a boat at one point. That’s a supposition, but he’s certainly learned that boats equal food,” says Mr. Laux.
Jolanta Kowalski from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) says this year’s wild food surveys have indicated a decrease in natural food availability for bears because of an ongoing drought.
“Bears have a phenomenal sense of smell and if they find food once at a location, they will return. It’s critical for boat residents and the public to manage anything that may attract bears such as garbage and food,” stresses Ms. Kowalski.
The Expositor asked at what point the MNRF would take action, if any, to deal with the situation, and what that action would entail.
According to an email received from the MNRF, if a bear is a public safety risk people should call 911 or their local police. A bear breaking into a residence – in this case a boat – would qualify as an emergency. (see below from Bear Wise web page)
Police will assess the situation. They may call MNRF for assistance to trap and relocate a specific problem bear.
The Ministry provides advice and education. The public can call the Bear Wise phone line 1-866-514-2327 <tel:+18665142327> for information about avoiding human-bear conflicts.
Who to contact
Call 911 or your local police, if you feel a bear poses an immediate threat to personal safety and:
* enters a school yard when school is in session
* enters or tries to enter a residence
* wanders into a public gathering
* kills livestock/pets and lingers at the site
* stalks people and lingers at the site
Generally, bears want to avoid humans. Most encounters are not aggressive and attacks are rare.
Call the Bear Wise reporting line at 1-866-514-2327 <tel:+18665142327> (*between April 1-November 30) if a bear is:
* roaming around, checking garbage cans
* breaking into a shed where garbage or food is stored
* in a tree
* pulling down a bird feeder or knocking over a barbecue
* moving through a backyard or field but is not lingering
HEYWOOD ISLAND—Boaters seeking a quiet anchorage in the sheltered waters of Browning Cove, east of Little Current at Heywood Island, have instead found themselves facing a hungry bear that visited four different boats over the course of three days.
Estimated to be a couple of months old, this black bear was rescued in southern Manitoba after its mother was found dead. Alberta is lifting a ban on rehabilitating orphaned black bear cubs under the age of 12 months. (Manitoba Bear Rehabilitation Centre)
Orphaned black bear cubs have been given a reprieve by a new provincial policy that allows for them to be rehabilitated.
The new policy reverses a ban that’s been on the books since 2010.
Lisa Dahlseide, a wildlife biologist with the Cochrane Ecological Institute, says that ban resulted in the euthanizing of at least 24 black bear cubs, according to data collected from a report released in 2015.
“[The change has been] a long time coming for black bear cubs,” she said. “It really is good news, because no longer will the Alberta government be euthanizing them.”
Instead, orphaned black bears under 12 months of age can be rehabilitated at places like the Cochrane Ecological Institute, or any other wildlife rehabilitation centre across the province that has approved facilities for bear cubs.
This is a photo of an enclosure where orphaned black bear cubs are rehabilitated, at the Cochrane Ecological Institute. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC News)
The rehabilitation process involves a combination of human interaction, and teaching it how to survive without people involved.
“Generally they come and they’re very small,” Dahlseide said. “They’re still drinking milk, because they’re mammals. And so what happens is it’s very limited exposure with people — they only have one human that interacts with them to give them the bottle. As soon as they are done with bottle feeding, then that human interaction is done with as well.”
Adding water features to enclosures
At the Cochrane Ecological Institute, Dahlseide said orphaned bears stay in large enclosures — ranging from six to 20 acres — which are full of native food, as well as trees and other interactive things to give them exercise and learn to get fed without relying on people.
“There’s a lot that goes into rehabbing them to avoid habituation and food conditioning,” she said.
The institute is currently raising funds, through donations, to add water features to each enclosure, which is part of the requirements for the new government protocol.
“That’s actually a really good thing for the bears,” Dahlseide said. “Hopefully those water features can be stocked with fish, so they can get that experience.”
The new protocols include the stipulation that each bear enclosure must have a water feature. (Paul Conrad/Associated Press)
Other bears and other species not included
The new policy does not apply to orphaned grizzly bears, which are still euthanized — a policy that Dahlseide says is wrong-headed.
“Science has actually shown there are no known negative human conflicts with grizzly bears, post-relief,” Dahlseide said. “Other places in the world do rehabilitate them successfully — so I’m hoping the provincial government will be considering them and hopefully including them in the bear protocol as well.”
She pointed to the research of naturalist Charlie Russell, who has done extensive studies of grizzlies, Dahlseide said there’s no reason for people to be afraid.
“His research with bears has proven that bears are not an animal that really needs to be feared. If we trust them, they’ll trust us as well.”
‘No evidence, data or science to support those bans’
The list of orphaned animals banned from rehabilitation is not confined to grizzlies, either, Dahlseide said, adding “and again, the province has no evidence, data or science to support those bans. So we want to see that lifted for all species.”
Rallies are planned on Saturday in Calgary and Edmonton, calling for the lifting of the ban on all orphaned animals.
The Calgary rally takes place at Municipal Plaza, next to city hall, between 3 and 7 p.m.
“We wanted to show our support for the grizzly bears, the foxes, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, and elk — the list goes on and on,” Dahlseide said. “All the animals that the province currently doesn’t allow for rehabilitation.”
Friends of Animals is gearing up to kill a bill that would allow black bear hunting in Connecticut for the first time since the 1800s. But what legislators who support the bill, including a committee co-chair with ties to the gun lobby, don’t want you to know is that you should fear hunters, not black bears.
Hunters in CT killed 10 people and injured 114 in hunting accidents between 1982-2016
Number of people killed by bears? Zero.
Supports of the bill are also trying to manipulate the public and stir up fear in the state. But here’s the real bear facts:
Black bears are not overpopulated. Every sighting of a bear doesn’t mean it’s a different bear. There’s just a paltry 200 bears in the Northwest corner, according to a UCONN study and the state has a capacity for about 2,000 bears, according to DEEP’s own reports.
Scientific studies show there is actually a weak correlation between the population of bears and bear attacks. Bear-human conflict is more closely correlated with human behavior. Black bears are shy, according to state bear biologists and are habituated into problematic behavior by humans. What DEEP should be telling you is that in March you should bring in your bird feeders, use bear-resistant cans, avoid feeding the bears, clean your outdoor grills, carry bear spray and use bear bells when hiking.
No matter how much supporters of the bill and the dwindling hunting markets fear, shooting bears will not teach the ones who aren’t slaughtered not to be opportunistic feeders.
DEEP already has a bear management program and last year it only reported 5 nuisance bears.
Don’t let Connecticut’s bears get caught in the cross-fire of NRA interests who are exaggerating numbers to manipulate the public with fear so hunters, who represent just 1 percent of the state’s population, can slaughter bears to use as rugs and mount them.
FoA members in Connecticut should contact the state Environment Committee’s Co-Chair Craig Miner at 860 240-8860 and co-chairs Senator Ted Kennedy and Rep. Mike Demicco and tell them Connecticut won’t tolerate a blood-soaked, shoot-first approach to bear management, especially at a time when gun violence in this country is an epidemic.
The bears were flooded out of their winter hibernation spots, said Jennifer Vashon, the biologist who oversees the state’s bear program within the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Last week’s bear-human conflict was the first such weather-related encounter that Vashon can recall. But, she said, having more bears become active early in the year does not put Mainers at much of a risk of running into one of them.
The bear versus dog tangle likely occurred because the dog disturbed a young bear that had recently relocated near a busy roadway and hadn’t fallen back into a deep hibernation, Game Warden Shannon Fish said.
Vashon agreed that the scuffle was a “freak coincidence.”
“I don’t see any reason that the weather is going to cause an increase in encounters between bears and people,” she said.
Heavy flooding from rain occurred earlier than usual, Vashon said. But if early-winter flooding becomes the norm because of climate change, it’s bears that will have to adapt, not people. Bears would gradually become more likely to establish their dens on higher ground, she said.
Last week’s mauling occured when 29-year-old Dustin Gray and his puppy, Clover, unwittingly stumbled upon a bear den in the woods just off of Route 1A in Dedham. Gray said he fought the bear off. Clover is now recovering from puncture wounds.
Near the place the conflict occurred, Fish found a small cave that looked like it had briefly housed a small bear. That led him to conclude the bear had recently moved out of a flooded den.
The National Weather Service does not record rainfall totals for Dedham, but Bangor received 5.53 inches in January, nearly double the its average for the first month of the year. That rain, combined with snow melt, caused widespread flooding, according to NWS meteorologist Mark Bloomer.
Vashon’s colleague, biologist Randy Cross, checked on five dens in a research area affected by the flooding and found that the bears in four dens had already left, she said.
When their dens flood, bears don’t roam around looking for food — or people, whom they tend to shy away from. Instead, they try to find somewhere nearby to resume hibernation, she said.
But, usually, that happens in rainy March — not January. And Vashon said that early-winter flooding could endanger newborn bears.
Cubs are born in January and cannot easily withstand flooding because they are tiny, hairless and vulnerable, she said. But by March cubs are five-pound “furballs” better equipped to cope, she said.
Vashon won’t know until the spring, when the state checks its cub counts, if last month’s heavy rains cost the lives of any newborns, she said.
“But this one year, there’s probably no reason to be concerned,” she said.
Climate change has made January rains more common, a trend that is likely to continue, according to Sean Birkel, a University of Maine climatologist.
But, Vashon said, that just means mother bears will seek out higher ground.
We are sad to share that since the Nevada bear hunt began on September 15th, 8 bears have already lost their lives to despicable trophy hunters.
Up to an additional 12 are slated to be killed before the season ends on December 1.
In the Spring, we will be calling on all of you to speak out against the Nevada bear hunt during the annual Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners meeting to set the quota for number of bears to be killed in 2018. We will be demanding that the wildlife commissioners set a zero quota.
If you are wondering why we don’t simply ask for the hunt to come to an end, the reason is that the Nevada bear hunt is mandated in NV law. The law was made to protect the “rights” of those who want to slaughter animals for fun, despite Nevada’s small bear population of just 3-400 and despite the fact that the majority of Nevadans oppose trophy hunting. We hope to circumvent the “necessity” for a hunt by asking for the hunt to continue…with zero bears killed.
We are pleased to share that many individuals are rising up against the bear hunt. Alongside No Bear Hunt NV, CompassionWorks International held a very successful and well-attended protest in Reno, NV on September 16th that gained ample media coverage.
Also, having successfully raised the funds, in the next two weeks we will be distributing a postcard encouraging residents to be “bear smart” to 15,000 homes in the Tahoe basin where human/bear encounters are frequent. We hope this will curb encounters that result in bears being relocated or killed.
Finally, here in Nevada we are suffering from the tragedy that occurred just days ago in Las Vegas. Unbelievably, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority are continuing with their plan to host the annual conference of Safari Club International in Las Vegas next January/February. To host a vile group of “thrill killers” after what Las Vegas has just endured is beyond the pale. Please join us in speaking out against Safari Club International (the world’s largest group of trophy hunters) and their conference in Las Vegas by signing this petition: https://www.change.org/p/las-vegas-convention-and-visitors-authority-stop-supporting-guns-and-killing-ban-sci.
Finally, we are grateful to all who donated to our postcard campaign. If you would like to support our efforts to hold protests, petition for a zero quota, and do other outreach aimed at saving the lives of Nevada’s precious bears, please visit www.cwint.org/donate to make your secure, tax-deductible donation online.
Thank you, as always, for your friendship and support, and for your care for Nevada’s wildlife.
For the Animals,
Carrie LeBlanc, M.A.
A bear hunt is going on, even though voters outlawed the hunting practice two decades ago.
Alison Morrow, KING2:29 AM. PDT May 25, 2017
A hunting practice banned by Washington voters two decades ago continues to this day. Hound hunters are used to protect stands of commercial timber from the destructive habits of black bears. But a year-long KING 5 investigation shows the bears, killed for tree damage, may not be causing any problems whatsoever.
Hunting bears with dogs, outlawed in 1996 by the voter-approved Initiative 655, happens every spring in Washington. Animal rights advocates who backed I-655 decried the practice as cruel and unsportsmanlike. Hounds chase bears over long distances, exhausting them and allowing hunters to zero in for a final kill. Dogs are then rewarded by chewing on the bear. Bears are typically already dead or near dying.
Hunting bears with dogs is perfectly legal under an exception built into I-655. The provision in the law allows hound hunting to continue for the protection of property, but critics and experts say the legal loophole is being abused by the state and timber farmers against the letter and spirit of the law.
The official codification of I-655 – RCW 77.15.245 – includes the following allowance: “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit the killing of black bear, cougar, bobcat, or lynx with the aid of a dog or dogs by employees or agents of county, state, or federal agencies while acting in their official capacities for the purpose of protecting livestock, domestic animals, private property, or the public safety. A dog or dogs may be used by the owner or tenant of real property consistent with a permit issued and conditioned by the director.”
The controversy centers on an interpretation of what it means to to protect private property. It’s pitting the Washington Department of Wildlife against its own staff and the backers of I-655.
“I think it’s disgusting and it’s frankly quite surprising to me that the Department of Fish and Wildlife would be so open violating a state initiative that the people of this state resoundingly approved,” said Lisa Wathne, who spearheaded the I-655 campaign 20 years ago while working for PAWS. Today, she is the Captive Wildlife Specialist for The Humane Society. Her group’s efforts to ban recreational hound hunting in Washington won with 63 percent of the vote.
Wathne was comfortable with the loophole in I-655 that allowed hound hunting to protect property by removing problem animals.
“They were to be very specific and for specific animals, not for a wholesale thinning of a population by any means,” she said.
In the case of bears, the allowance is used every spring on timber farms. Bears are hungry when they come out of hibernation, and trees offer a quick, high-calorie snack thanks to syrup underneath the bark. When the bears peel the bark, though, they can damage or even kill trees. Trees between the age of 12 and 25 years old are the most vulnerable. The Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) blames bears for millions of dollars in damage every year.
Timber farmers argue they need to protect their trees from bears that are damaging their product. But KING 5 found the springtime bear hunts on timber farms are not focused on targeting problem bears. Hundreds of internal staff emails and documents obtained by KING 5 show that the program centers on reducing the overall number of bears in vulnerable tree stands, not – as state law requires – removing specific bears known to be damaging trees.
A man who has hunted for the Bear Timber Depredation Management Program (BTDM) for decades said the program is being abused, at the expense of non-offending bears. He describes a system that has evolved into an elite hunting club rather than a damage-control program. It didn’t start that way, he says. He’s noticed a trend that’s taken the program away from its original intent.
“The idea was to take the problem bear and there was no pressure on you to get out there and kill as much as they are now,” the man said. He asked us not to disclose his identity for fear of retaliation against his family and his dogs.
For decades the man has used his dogs to hunt bears, helping kill hundreds of them. But he said he’s concerned that both large industrial timber foresters and small forest landowners are no longer concerned with targeting problem bears. They just want to kill bears, he says, and WDFW enables it while clouding the hunts in secrecy.
In recent years, declared kills on timber farms have resulted in the reported death of about 100 bears. Other years, the number of bears removed has hovered around 200. But a year-long KING 5 investigation concludes those official tallies could be considerably inaccurate, as the bear hunts on private lands have historically occurred with little oversight. Even the state’s wildlife enforcement officers say the system is so broken that there’s little they can do to enforce hunting rules.
This hunter says he’s never once crossed paths with wildlife police while hunting bears on timber land.
“The old saying is, if you don’t see it, you don’t have to think about it,” he said. “It’s just like, OK, it’s all-out war guys.”
When foresters find one damaged tree, WDFW grants a permit to kill two bears. Permits are also granted on what’s called “historical damage” from the previous year. That means a forester can get a renewed permit to kill bears the year after they find fresh damage. They do not have to prove bears are causing any new issues. It doesn’t matter if several bears were already killed for the damage in the year prior.
Stacks of emails KING 5 obtained through public disclosure show state employees are also alarmed about the program. In a late 2016 internal email, a WDFW biologist wrote about timber giant Weyerhaeuser, “They are viewing the bear damage program as a means to suppress the overall bear population and therefore, reduce damage. I get why, as a timber company, they would want to do that but that is not the way this program was designed.”
In another 2016 staff report, a wildlife specialist argues Weyerhaeuser is creating a large hunting area. Several complaints KING 5 uncovered show that timber companies stack permits beside each other to maximize land areas for the hunt. The wildlife specialist who wrote the report says it goes against the program’s intent “to avoid killing more bears than necessary.”
AWDFWbiologist wrote in one email dated November 7, 2016: “It seems like the system in place is just being manipulated by those who want to be able to run their dogs and to some extent by timber owners/individual foresters who are facilitating it…it seems like they don’t even want the bears, just the chance to pursue them.”
Another WDFW biologist wrote in a 2014 email, “Only one-quarter of bears killed have bark in their stomach.” An additional 2016 internal report to WDFW management says the system is “purposely being abused,” but staff are discouraged from revoking privileges.
The hunter we interviewed believes the program has turned into a secret fraternity where power and politics provide an exclusive bear hunting season – the only one left in Washington for hunters who want to use dogs. Timber farms benefit by reducing the potential for damaged trees, he says, while hunters get to run their hounds. They’re chosen by the timber companies and approved by Georg Ziegltrum, the longtime head of WFPA’s Animal Damage Control Program.
“If given opportunity they all girdle trees and they all are ‘problem’ bears in damage areas,” Ziegltrum said.
For Ziegltrum, every bear has the potential to peel.
“Intraspecific stress (too many bears in one given area) may have more to do with timber damage than one ‘guilty’ ingenious bark peeler,” he said. “I-655 is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. The WDFW understands our problem and is closely and effectively working with our industry. Regulations for bear removal are plentiful and heavy. All damage is witnessed and approved by WDFW. I have a 100 percent compliance record with the agency for years and I’m proud of it.”
KING 5 learned that foresters often tell hunters not to discuss the hunt, for fear of public outrage.
“Some of the foresters want you to kill, kill, kill – no matter what. Even the foresters have kind of a game between ‘em to who gets the trophy every year for the most bear killed,” the hunter said. “Just like one forester said, ‘All I want to know is about the first bear and the last bear. In between, I don’t care.’”
Internal WDFW emails and reports reveal that kill permits are given to timber farms before wildlife specialists verify damage. A program administrator wrote in a 2014 email, “Timber companies have put pressure on the program to issue first, then verify.” Another staffer wrote in 2015, “Often times the permit has been filled before the Conflict Specialist has gone out to the site to even verify.” In another 2015 email, a wildlife specialist said, “I have not been able to verify the preliminary damage prior to them taking two bear.”
Sources told KING 5 that procedures like this, aimed at speeding up the permitting process, are unique to the bear damage program even though elk damage, for instance, is far more common statewide. Reports also show that, sometimes, staff arrive to alleged damage sites only to find “no significant damage at all.” But it’s too late, as bears authorized for kill might already be dead.
One state biologist wrote in a 2016 email, “This is not the way this program was designed.”
WHY BEARS ARE TARGETED
For Ken Miller, the damage is anything but insignificant.
“Brown spots all over the hillside and those were dead trees,” he said while pointing toward a ridgeline in Oakville, southwest of Olympia.
Miller is a small forest landowner, which means he farms far less land than an industrial company like Weyerhaeuser. His tree farm borders the Capitol State Forest near Olympia, which is prime bear habitat. He took us on a long and bumpy drive to see his trees, though land he says foresters protect from development. He thinks his profession is often the object of unfair negativity, criticized for killing trees and sometimes the wildlife that hurts profit. He argues, more often than not, bears benefit from tree farming.
“It really is cool to be a tree farm,” he said. “We’re doing great stuff for the environment.”
Miller and his wife saw their farm as an investment in their retirement or grandchildren’s education. The couple and their son planted 18,000 trees by hand in three months. They each planted 500 a day.
“I made bags we wore around our waist,” said Ken’s wife, Bonnie. “We were really proud of ourselves. We had some nice trees. Then all of a sudden, we found something.”
What they found alarmed them – dozens of trees damaged by bears.
“I was desperate, in a panic, because our financial wherewithal for our retirement years was on the line,” Ken said. “That’s big money. That’s like someone stealing money out of your 401(k).”
Ken admitted that he was so desperate that he asked a hunter to kill bears in secret. He says that was 15 years ago, and he hasn’t broken any rules since.
“Maybe I’m not totally proud of it, but I would do it again if I was in that same situation and that was the only option I had to protect my property,” Ken said.
He said there are too many bears for available habitat, and he believes he is drowning in a permitting process that prevents him from killing bears fast enough to protect his trees. For Miller, small forest landowners suffer unduly from bear damage and need more help from the state, given that a few damaged trees represent a much greater percentage of lost investment compared to industrial farms.
If the program is about population control as critics argue it is, he says, WDFW is failing.
If there were fewer bears, and the state eased the path toward removing them, Miller believes he would have fewer problems.
Ninety-percent of the damage is typically reported in Regions 5 and 6, which includes Pierce, Cowlitz, Lewis, Wahkiakum and Clark Counties. The bear harvest during timber hunts tends to be about 35 percent of the bears harvested in those regions during the general season. WDFW does not include the timber hunt harvests in the information shared with the public on its website.
“I think we under harvest bears, probably, in this state as a whole,” said WDFW Game Division Manger Anis Aoude.
In an interview that lasted two hours, KING 5 asked Aoude and his WDFW colleague, Stephanie Simek, about the Bear Timber Depredation Management Program. A couple years ago, the program’s oversight was handed from Enforcement to the Wildlife Program. Aoude and Simek created a subcommittee comprised of biologists, conflict specialists, enforcement officers, and foresters in order to forge new paths toward better management.
It was the moment when many staffers hoped chronic abuses of the program would finally see change, internal sources told KING 5. Today, that hope has turned into increased frustration. As one employee wrote in a November 2016 email, “Wow, I am blown away that the same issues keep occurring over and over with absolutely no consequences. It seems absolutely crazy that we have taken the time to careful (sic) develop all of these rules and they aren’t being followed.”
“We’re trying to find a way where folks can still grow timber and harvest it and bears can still be on the landscape,” Aoude said. “We hear the criticism. We take it to heart. We are working to improve things.”
For Aoude, any bear that lives near vulnerable trees is a potential problem.
“You’re never going to know what bears are peeling and what bears are not,” he said.
He pointed to efforts at tightening restrictions like reducing the hunt zone from a 5-mile radius to a 3-mile radius. That way, he and Simek said, hunters don’t kill bears far away from damage.
In an email Simek sent on April 15, 2015, she told several foresters, “Remember that the presence of a bear on your property does not mean it has or will cause any damage.”
And yet, Simek and Aoude support allowing hunters to use hounds for killing bears before damage ever occurs. When trees are between 15 and 30 years old, they are most susceptible to bear peeling. Aoude says it makes for efficient property protection to reduce the number of bears in timber stands of that age class.
“Once the damage has occurred, you’re almost too late,” he said. “So if you had damage the year before, you can almost guarantee you’ll have damage the year after. Because not only are those trees peeled and could be peeled further, there are trees next to them that are the same age.”
The hound hunting ban allowed bear populations to grow problematically and hurt the state’s ability to manage the carnivores, Aoude said.
“It’s unfortunate that the tool was removed by legislation, because it is one of the most effective ways to pursue and harvest bears,” he said.
Aoude defended the practice of killing two bears per permit as well, even if no fresh damage was found, by calling it an efficient way to give good customer service.
“And at this point, bears are doing fine in the state. Their populations are doing just fine and there’s really no need for us to be concerned with individual woodlots,” he said.
As for allegations the system is abused by foresters, Simek says, it’s an unfair characterization.
“I think it’s an overgeneralization. People say what they want to say and what they want to believe,” Simek said.
Still, people like Wathne and others are concerned WDFW’s approach violates the law. That’s because they believe the spirit of I-655 only allowed for hound hunting when animals are actively causing damage. They believe voters wanted to ban the practice for population control, and allow for it only when an animal proves it’s a problem.
About 40 hunters participate in the program annually, but the vast majority of bears are taken by a few dozen. By comparison in the same regions, the recreational bear season sees about 3,500 hunters buying licenses to harvest bears later in the year. Their success rate is far lower than the hound hunters.
If someone wants to know how many bears are killed on tree farms, though, it’s not so easy to find. WDFW does not include the data on its website with other bears harvested in general seasons.
That’s why KING 5 filed a request for the number of bears killed each year since 2004. Our research shows, in some years, the state’s authorized the killing of as many as 334 bears for timber damage alone. That was in 2011. It was the highest number of permits granted in the records we obtained. The total amount of bears harvested on the 2011 permits was 182, with 66 females and 116 males killed. The lowest year for permits written was 2016, with 162 bears authorized for removal. Of the total allowed, 86 were reported killed; 27 were females and 59 were males.
Without exception, male bears are killed far more often than females. Typically, hunters kill nearly double the amount of male bears as female bears. For WDFW bear expert, Rich Beausoleil, that’s concerning since data shows the offending bears are more often hungry females, many with new cubs. Male bears, however, may be targeted for their size.
“What we’re finding from the removal statistics that are coming in is that males are being targeted. Females are dying too, but more males than females. That makes us wonder, are we targeting the right bear?” he said.
Beausoleil said the state has used hunter data to estimate the bear population until recently. Hunters are supposed to turn in a tooth from the bear for research, but they only do that 20 percent of the time. That’s why Beausoleil’s recent research project is showing that the long-held belief Washington has 35,000 bears is wrong. He estimates the number is much closer to 20,000. The average bear has an annual survival rate of about 80-90 percent, but on timber farms, that number drops to 60 percent.
Though the number of bears killed for causing timber damage typically totals only 10 percent of the bears killed every year statewide, Beausoleil says the number is much higher when considered from a more localized perspective.
“We could see harvest rates at 40 percent, and that’s higher than we’d like to see. That can cause a population decline, if that’s not what we want to do as an agency,” he said. “So, it’s really important not to look at it on a washed-out statewide view or even on a regional view, but to zoom and see what’s going on, because this could be your backyard, and you might have an interest in knowing the bears are OK where you live.”
Timber farms are invaluable assets for protecting wildlife in the state, Beausoleil says. That’s why he hopes collaboration with foresters and better program management will provide opportunity for change.
“These lands that private timber provide, provide habitat in a big way. There’s a lot of land out there that’s helping wildlife,” he said.
KING 5 told former state legislator Hans Dunshee about its investigation of the bear depredation program. Dunshee, a Democrat from Snohomish, served as the 44th District state representative for two decades and was a fierce supporter of I-655 and opposed several attempts to repeal it.
“You’re not authorized by the will of the people to just exterminate all bears in an area, because they might be a problem,” he said. “This program violates the initiative because it focuses on population. It assumes population is a problem not a problem animal.”
Dunshee believes the state’s abusing its power and violating voter trust, all while setting a bad example.
“We’re all supposed to follow the law. If government doesn’t follow the law, then citizens say, ‘We don’t have to,’” he said. “The department is destroying the trust of everybody, and it’s creating lawlessness.”
And that’s exactly what we found WDFW staff are concerned about, as well.
“I’ve had more than one officer tell me, ‘I’m not going to work these anymore,’” said retired WDFW Captain Murray Schlenker.
Schlenker retired from WDFW police last year. He calls the rules confusing and inconsistent.
“You can go out and knock yourself out as a law enforcement officer, but cases aren’t going to get anywhere,” he said.
Our investigation found hunters caught breaking the rules aren’t held accountable. They’re almost always allowed to keep on hunting. In a 2014 case involving one of the program’s most prolific hunters, an enforcement officer recommended the state ban an offending hunter from killing bears on timber farms.
Here’s what happened: Hunters get one yellow tag per bear they’re allowed to kill. That tag is supposed to be immediately clipped onto the bear’s ear so that it cannot be reused, a policy aimed at preventing hunters from taking more bears than allowed. This particular hunter was located nearly four miles from the kill site, the bear gutted and packed in a box used to transport dogs. But the hunter had the tags in his pocket.
Though the officer who filed the case told management the hunter should not be allowed to hunt on timber permits any longer, WDFW management did nothing. That hunter continues to be one of the most active in the program
KING 5 obtained an email written by the enforcement officer at the time. He complained, “My frustration level is at an extreme,” because hunters “pick and choose” what rules to follow.
“That level of frustration is there for them and they don’t want to try good faith, conscientious effort and have it thrown back at them. That’s very demoralizing from an employee standpoint,” Schelnker said.
“It’s becoming harder to get good people out there, but we still have the good people: the good hound hunters, the ethical hound hunters, the people who play by the rules. We still have them working for us,” Ziegltrum said.
Ziegltrum, director of WFPA’s Animal Damage Control Program, is the one who gives final approval or denial of all hunters allowed on the BTDM permits. Aoude said that if hunters are legally allowed to harvest bears in Washington, WDFW has no power to deny their participation in the program. Ziegltrum does that.
“There is a very strong incentive for these people to stay in line,” he said. “They recognize we are the only game in town.”
As for the hunter caught with tags in his pockets, Ziegltrum says it was an honest mistake.
“This guy is still hunting, because we explained the situation to the state agency, and this young gentleman did not get himself into trouble,” he said.
Last year, WDFW Wildlife Program Manager Sandra Jonker wrote a letter of commendation to honor a hound hunter for exceptional efforts. “In particular I want to thank you and your hunting party for your help over the years…for ethically responsible hunting behavior,” she wrote.
It belongs to the same hunter who said the timber hunts are so mismanaged that ethical hunters are being forced out, leaving behind those willing to bend the rules.
“And, the way the foresters think, is that they will have to do it our way because we’re the biggest employers in the state,” he said.
He’s not against hound hunting. He thinks dogs, with their keen sense of smell, are the best way to target problem bears. But dogs only do what their handler wants, and he says too often, foresters and hunters just want blood.
“These guys don’t have no respect for wildlife. The more they get, they think the better hunter they are,” he said.
Dunshee believes WDFW’s management of the BTDM program could set the agency back in its efforts to unite culturally and politically disparate groups in Washington, often divided over wildlife.
“I think it destroys the trust in the agency. The agency is doing good things on wolves and cougars. I think this destroys the good will that’s been built between rural communities and animal welfare advocates,” Dunshee said. “I think the legislature should do an investigation. The evidence you have should be laid out for the public to see. I think it ought to be dealt with and if there are people in the upper management who have been burying this story, I think they ought to be held accountable.”
For Wathne, it’s criminal. She believes WDFW has turned a problem bear into a hunting season. She calls that poaching.
“And the department is enabling it. They are putting their stamp of approval on it apparently. You bet it’s poaching. It’s a violation of the law,” she said. “The initiative itself is very clear. So, perhaps it’s time to go to the Governor.”
In a staff report filed by a WDFW animal conflict specialist concern is voiced over the long-term effects of the timber farm hunts. In some Game Management Units, between a quarter and a third of the bears are killed because of tree damage. The report said, “During a conference call it was brought up that conflict staff in Region 5 does not support killing 2 bears per permit because we do not know the population effects. That statement was countered with the argument that if we don’t know the populations (sic) effects then why not allows (sic) two bears per permit? Is this consistent with this agency’s mission?”
In other documents KING 5 obtained, employees expressed concern that the bear hunts on timber farms reduce the available bears for harvest during recreational seasons, when hunters are paying for licenses that support the budget of WDFW.
“I think that as an agency we should be concerned with the fact that in the south Cascades in 2015 we had a recreational bear harvest of 99, but in 2016 we had a depredation harvest of 37. That is 27 percent of the recreational harvest, and we are talking about 3,600 recreational bear hunters versus a handful of hound hunters. The success rate for recreational hunters was 2.7 percent. I can’t help but wonder if taking these bears through the depredation hunt it isn’t taking away an opportunity from thousands of other recreational hunters who are purchasing a bear tag,” a WDFW biologist wrote in 2016.
Another staffer wrote in the same thread, “the system in place is just being manipulated.”
“We are not providing people with recreational opportunity,” Ziegltrum said.
Wathne met with Ziegltrum in the 1990s to discuss I-655. She met with many stakeholders as they molded the allowance for hound hunting to reduce tree damage. She believes the intention of the law was clear, not just for her but for WDFW and the timber industry. There should be no misunderstanding, she says, the loophole was never meant to cull bear populations.
“And what does it say to the people of Washington state?” Wathne said. “The Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t give a damn about what you voted for or about the bears of this state.”
Since KING 5 initially broadcast the investigation, Conservation Northwest has made a public appeal to WDFW for transparency on the issue, voicing concern that the use of the hunts violate I-655.
CLARIFICATION: The original script said hunters do not have to buy a bear license like recreational hunters to participate. We’ve since learned they do have to buy a bear tag but they do not use it for this hunt.
Watch the TV version of this story with closed captioning: Part 1 | Part 2