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There's a bear in the woods

Adam Morrow went looking for a bear, and had a surprise encounter Saturday evening.

Morrow was in his car with his niece and nephew, following up on a bear sighting near Sunrise Drive, when he heard two youngsters screaming – and saw them running away from a bear that was bounding across an open field.

“I just yelled, ‘Come jump in the car!’” Morrow said. “They dove right into the car. They were shaken up and shaking.”

Morrow gave the kids a ride home; it was one of at least four bear sightings on Bainbridge Island this past week.

Bainbridge usually has five or six sightings each year around this time, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say; Bainbridge Police reported as many as 10 calls in recent days, a spokeswoman said. State officials are getting 20-25 reports a week in Kitsap County.

“It’s feeding season,” said Craig Bartlett, spokesman for the WDFW. “Because berries are ripening, (bears) are following every blackberry and blueberry bush – apparently it’s a big part of their diet this time of year.”

The first Bainbridge sighting may have been last Thursday afternoon at the south end. Rebecca King was with her children on their neighborhood beach when her husband asked, “Do you see that in the water?”

What looked like a dog was actually a large bear swimming across the channel from Illahee to Crystal Springs. King called 911 and brought the kids off the beach.

“It came ashore...and my next door neighbor driving north on Crystal Springs almost hit it,” King said. The bear eventually lumbered off towards Gazzam Lake.

Saturday’s reports began when Adam Morrow’s stepmother, Deborah Myers, saw a bear on Torvanger Road a couple of houses away. The animal stepped out of the woods and crossed the road on all fours.

“The bear turned around and looked at me,” Myers said. “I couldn’t believe it was a bear because it was so big.”

She arrived at her stepson’s, saying “There’s a bear! There’s a big, huge black bear!” Morrow and his barbecue party were skeptical, but he got into his car with his dog, 8-year old niece Skye Levari and 10-year old nephew Ariel Levari to have a look. Ariel first spotted a cub-sized bear and cried, “There it is! There it is!” before they gave refuge to the two fleeing youths, whose identities are unknown.

Possibly the same bear was spotted by Paul Below around 7:30 p.m. the same day. Below, president of the Battle Point Astronomical Association, was on his way to the observatory from Poulsbo when, north of Day Road, he saw cars on both sides of the road stop. A black bear ran across the road going east to west near the four-mile marker on SR 305.

“It was a pretty good sized one, running pretty fast,” Below said. “Everybody had stopped to look.”

The bear – which Below described as larger than a St. Bernard – ran between the cars, the nearest perhaps 10 to 20 feet away.

Officials say bears are normally not aggressive and try to avoid humans. In case of a human-bear encounter, they advise staying calm and avoiding direct eye contact with the animal. Stay upwind and identify yourself as a human by standing up, talking and waving your hands above your head.

Humans should not approach bears, but give them a wide berth, especially if cubs are around. If you cannot safely move away, try to scare it away by clapping your hands or yelling. Do not run as it may stimulate the bear’s instinct to chase; bears can move as fast as 30 miles per hour.

Cubs stay with their mothers, for a year and then are on their own starting around June.

So far this year, WDFW has trapped four “problem” bears in Kitsap County and released them to remote areas.

Washington state is in the top five for bear populations in the continental 48 states. The WDFW estimates a population of 25,000 bears in the state. Now bears are up and about because of berry season.

“This is harvest season for them – make it or break it, in terms of building body fat for the (hibernation) season,” Bartlett said.

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If you come in close contact with a bear, stay calm and avoid direct eye contact, which could elicit a charge. Try to stay upwind and identify yourself as a human by standing up, talking and waving your hands above your head.

Do not approach the bear, particularly if cubs are present. Give the bear plenty of room. If you cannot safely move away from the bear, and the animal does not flee, try to scare it away by clapping your hands or yelling.

If the bear attacks, fight back aggressively. As a last resort, should the attack continue, protect yourself by curling into a ball or lying on the ground on your stomach and playing dead.

If you live in or near black bear habitat, you should: keep pet and livestock food indoors; store garbage in secure, wildlife-resistant containers; wash barbecue grills immediately after use; enclose beehives and fruit trees with chain-link or electric fencing where practicable to prevent bear depredation.

For more information about black bear do’s and don’t’s, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/blkbear/blkbear.htm. The Department of Fish and Wildlife responds to cougar and bear sightings when there is a threat to public safety or property. If it is an emergency, dial 911. For non-emergency bear problems in Kitsap County, contact the regional DFW office at (360) 249-4628.

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