Bears gone wild

As Seattle sprawl encroaches on their habitat, more bear encounters are being reported. But maybe it's not development – it's donuts.
Crosscut archive image.

The increasingly encountered black bear. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

As Seattle sprawl encroaches on their habitat, more bear encounters are being reported. But maybe it's not development – it's donuts.

With all the obsession with Seattle's downtown development and Manhattan aspirations, it's easy to forget we're still on the edge of the wild. The scenery around us is not mere backdrop, although it is being slowly gobbled by development. It's partly because of that sprawl that we're being regularly reminded that humans aren't the only life around here. A few years ago, I was driving in a remote area on the Wyoming-Utah border and was stunned when a golden bear ran in front of my car. I swerved and nearly lost control – I was going maybe 60 mph – and missed him by inches. He didn't break stride and galloped across the road and disappeared into the trees, taking his amazing coat with him. Until then, I didn't know that a black bear could be a bleached-blond surfer dude. With adrenaline pounding, I drove to the nearest ranger station to report what happened and they appreciated the news because they were tracking the movements of the local population of cinnamon bears. They were happy I hadn't killed it. So was I. And I was doubly happy I hadn't been killed by it, either. So I read with great sympathy – for both bear and driver – the account of the guy on Interstate 90 who broad-sided a black bear this past weekend. The bear was killed and the car wrecked. This is a traffic problem none of the current transportation plans is designed to resolve. What would you called it? Griz-lock? Bear sightings are not uncommon this time of year. They come out of hibernation and, like many Seattle diners, seek fresh spring greens and rich foods in the lowlands. And when I say rich foods, I do mean Krispy Kreme donuts, which wildlife officials have been using to bait bear traps so they can capture and remove the bears to less-peopled locales. Could it be that the bears are actually being attracted by the availability of pastries? Maybe if they shut the Krispy Kreme outlet in Issaquah, the problem would go away. But then so would the cops. But development is also a factor: human encroachment is bringing wildlife and people into greater contact. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: [T]he state patrol has seen an increased number of bears this year in metropolitan areas. That's meant more 911 calls, and more danger for motorists avoiding others who slow down to take pictures of the animals. "I think the issue in King County is not a bear problem, it's a people problem," [Department of Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Kim] Chandler said, adding the department is on pace to match about 250 bear complaints received last year. "If you look at Issaquah, North Bend and places like that, you'll see new developments are carved right out of prime bear habitat. The I-90 bear isn't the only one making headlines in King County. There is a bear at large in Des Moines that was seen swimming briskly across Puget Sound from Maury Island, and a couple of bears have been showing up around schools in Redmond and on Vashon Island. The proximity of more people and the wild also results in more cougar sightings. I have lived here all my life and have never seen a cougar in the wild – only scat in places like Stevens Pass. But while somewhat rare, they are by no means unknown in our suburbs, especially places like Sammamish, Duvall, and Woodinville. Of course, I've never seen a Sasquatch, either, but plenty of people do apparently, in King County and around the state. If you want to track the cougar crime beat, check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's online cougar incident reports. Also, the WDFW Web site will tell you what to do if you spot a bear or cougar in your neighborhood and want to make a "dangerous wildlife complaint." Be aware, though, that such complaints can result in the death of the animal if it is deemed to be dangerous, or if officials have difficulty rounding it up. Who can forget the black bear that wandered into the University District neighborhood of Seattle last year and was chased, tasered, and darted – finally dropping dead. It was the first bear sighting within the city in recent memory. Its only crime was walking-while-being-furry. The accidental Seattle bear killing led some editorialists to call for more wildlife training for the cops, but given that the city can't maintain human law and order in certain neighborhoods, taking time off for wildlife training seems like an unwise use of resources. Perhaps a shared love of Krispy Kremes is all that's needed.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.

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