The unnaturally large black bear that evaded capture on the Eastside for more than two years was trapped and killed near Issaquah last week, wildlife officials said Tuesday.
The 5-year-old bear was captured in the Squak Mountain area, where he was spotted raiding garbage, bird feeders and fruit trees dozens of times over nearly three years, according to the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The capture was a sad conclusion to the search for the bear that had taken on greater urgency because he was frequently seen in residential areas and was wearing a collar that had grown too tight. Wildlife officials spent significant time and resources trying to trap him, catching five other bears during the process.
WDFW made the decision to “lethally remove” the bear because he was seriously overweight — he weighed 352 pounds, and the normal weight for a bear that age is about 200 pounds — and because of his habit of getting into human-provided food sources.
“It was determined this behavior would continue if the bear was relocated,” the department said Tuesday in a news release.
The bear was originally captured in 2019 near Tiger Mountain as part of a research project on black bears, of which there are about 20,000 throughout Washington. He was fitted with a GPS collar with a cotton spacer designed to make the collar fall off within two to three years, then recaptured a year later on Tiger Mountain. WDFW lost track of him in May 2020, when the GPS stopped working.
WDFW said the collar eventually fell off before the bear’s capture and had caused a one-inch blister around its neck, but it hadn’t caused any additional injuries.
On a motion-activated camera, the bear can be seen dragging a full garbage bag before going into a culvert trap that had been set up after residents reported seeing the animal in the area. The wildlife department received more than 50 tips from the public about the bear’s whereabouts.
Biologists responded early Friday and sedated the bear, then assessed his health. The decision to euthanize the bear weighed heavily on the wildlife officials, department spokesperson Chase Gunnell said.
“None of us got into wildlife conservation and management to put down animals habituated to human-provided food sources,” Gunnell said in an email. “But as tough as it was, it was the right call in this case. We hope it’s a wake-up call for folks all across Washington, and especially in King County suburbs, to secure their trash and remove bird feeders and other bear attractants.”
Although it’s possible to rehabilitate a bear, it’s most commonly done with orphan cubs who can, with careful methods, still be released into the wild, according to Gunnell.
But once a bear learns to associate humans with food, rehabilitators can’t effectively change what it learned. Adult bears aren’t put in zoos or facilities “for humanitarian reasons,” as placing them in confined spaces with other bears or near humans is extremely stressful and could lead to signs of serious distress, such as harming itself.