NORTH BEND, Wash. -- Video of a black bear digging through trash at Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend is sparking conversation about bears becoming habituated - which often leads to their death.
“They have a very strong sense of smell, and they are lured by our garbage,” biologist Nadine Drisseq explained.
Drisseq runs the site Bear Smart WA. She says black bears can smell food between two and three miles away, and that their sense of smell is seven times stronger than a bloodhound. But it isn’t just their noses leading them to our trash.
“They have this incredible spacial memory that allows them to remember exactly where every single source of good food is,” she said.
In the video, you see people dangerously close to the young black bear.
“I was horrified,” Drisseq said. “I was extremely concerned for the bear and for the people, I was glad that nothing happened.”
Because people are basically habituating these bears, Drisseq says we have a responsibility to protect ourselves and them too.
She says at times officials have to come in and put bears down because they cannot risk the bear hurting a human.
“What we say in the bear smart circles is a fed bear is a dead bear,” she said.
There are several things we can do to stay safe while in bear territory. One of the main things is getting the food away from your campsite.
“You hang the food 20 feet, camp 20 feet and prepare food 20 feet, and you don’t want to be covered in cooking smells,” Drisseq said.
And what you pack can attract bears too.
“Lip salve, cosmetics, toothpaste— anything that smells,” Drisseq explained.
So, if you have an encounter with a bear in the woods, Drisseq reminds us we are in their territory and you need to stay calm. Never turn your back on any wildlife, and you should never run.
“You say, ‘hey bear, I am just going to give you space,’ and you keep going back at least 100 yards,” she said.
When it comes to your territory though, Drisseq says you need to let the bear know that is your space.
“You can use an air horn or a very loud whistle,” she explained. “People can throw tennis balls or golf balls.”
It is safest though to just keep your distance in any scenario involving a bear.
“You don’t come between a bear and its food,” Drisseq said. “You don’t come between a male bear and its mate and you can’t come between a mother bear and her cubs.”
Two Washington state laws prohibit leaving food or food waste in places where it can attract bears and other wild carnivores. Feeding bears, intentionally or unintentionally, can bring a fine of up to $1,000.