For more than two years, wildlife officials have searched for a black bear that’s portly, frequently on the move and well-versed in property damage in the Issaquah area.
But they’ve had no luck — the bear continues to evade capture despite significant time and resources: baited culvert traps, motion-activated cameras, input from bear specialists and biologists. He continues to move through developed residential areas, getting into improperly stored garbage or surprising residents who find the animal in their backyards.
It’s not rare for black bears to roam east King County, especially as urban areas expand into wilderness. But this bear is “unnaturally large,” according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Chase Gunnell, and wildlife experts are worried about a collar he’s wearing that should have already fallen off and is now too tight.
The most recent capture attempt concluded last week, after WDFW workers deployed four culvert traps in the Squak Mountain area. With no success capturing or even photographing the bear, the department is hoping for more reports from residents to figure out where he may be.
“This bear has been repeatedly getting into garbage and other human-caused attractants and has become quite portly faster than it would feeding on natural food sources,” Gunnell wrote in an email. “The bear’s feeding behavior and use of suburban areas also presents a potential for human-bear conflict.”
The bear was originally captured in 2018 near Tiger Mountain as part of a research project on the black bear population. He was fitted with a GPS collar that has a cotton spacer designed to make the collar fall off within two to three years. He was recaptured a year later on Tiger Mountain; afterward, GPS data showed he moved about 5 miles west, to the Squak Mountain area.
Residents began reporting the bear raiding garbage, bird feeders and fruit trees in late 2019, so wildlife officials tried four times to capture him during winter denning season. During that period, the bear was two to three times as large as a black bear of similar age, and each time someone got close to his location or a suspected den, Gunnell said, he would run away.
WDFW lost track of him in May 2020, when the bear’s GPS collar stopped working. He was spotted throughout 2021 in neighborhoods surrounding Squak Mountain State Park, and staff tried again to capture him; then again in January, but no reports came in after that, likely because the bear was hibernating.
The rotund animal reemerged in early April, when a resident reported seeing a collared bear. During that capture attempt, another large black bear was caught, Gunnell said, and was later released near Snoqualmie Pass.
WDFW staff have heard the elusive bear may be in the Cougar Mountain area but haven’t been able to verify his location. If more residents report the bear in the Issaquah area, Gunnell said, they may try to capture him again.
There are about 25,000 to 30,000 black bears throughout Washington, according to WDFW, and wildlife officers receive hundreds of reports about the omnivores each year. About 95% of complaints are the result of bears having access to trash, pet food, bird feeders or grills, or of campers improperly storing food.
Anyone who spots the collared black bear near Squak or Cougar mountains should report it to WDFW at 360-902-2936 or email@example.com.