It happens this time of year all over the country.
Bears looking for food show up in neighborhoods that have never seen them before, then come back for seconds.
“We’ve seen this guy before, but not this close,” said Dave Gower of Redmond’s Grousemont area after snapping two photos of a black bear that had been snacking on his fruit trees last week. “A few minutes earlier, he was on our deck — I was glad I didn’t run into him then.”
Gower and a couple of neighbors near Northeast 124th Street and the Woodinville-Redmond Road Northeast have spotted more than one black bear going through the trash and ravenously breaking down carefully pruned fruit trees.
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The same kinds of stories are popping up across the country, even in places like Daytona Beach, Fla., but not necessarily because of an increase in the bear population.
Chances are high that bear sightings increase this time of year because late summer and early fall are when bears travel far and wide to eat and gather as much food as possible, said Craig Bartlett, spokesman for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In preparation for winter, black bears in particular increase their body weight by about 35 percent on average. They will forage for up to 20 hours a day and, more than other times of the year, seek out tree fruits, berries and nuts.
“That sort of thing is likely a seasonal movement of animals looking for food, not a sign of a population surge,” said Bartlett of recent residential-area bear sightings. “This is fall food-gathering activity and bears can move a fair distance for it.”
Bartlett doesn’t say that to dismiss the fear that homeowners like Gower may have of accidentally running into a bear and being attacked.
He recommends people first call 911, then contact their local Fish and Wildlife office so incidents can be recorded and the situation can be watched over time.
Fish and Wildlife biologist Christopher Anderson encourages neighbors to work together on avoiding bear encounters by making sure everyone is safely stowing away such things as pets, bird feeders and garbage. If even one person is allowing a bear easy access to food sources, it can create a problem for the whole neighborhood.
“It greatly increases the chance of that individual animal becoming habituated to humans and those undesired situations, thus losing a bit of its wildness,” said Anderson. “Which is not fun for us as a property owner and not fair for the bear.”
Anderson, who works for Fish and Wildlife’s King County region, says he’s not surprised by any of this summer’s sightings and incident reports.
“The public in these areas need to be aware and accept that they live in bear country,” Anderson said. “The potential for bears to be around has been there and will be there in the future — we chose to live in these areas.”