Most conflicts with wild animals can be avoided | Opinion | Nov. 12

I’m sitting here in my office, looking out the window at a gray, rainy morning. The rain makes a constant patter on the ground and trees. Yellowing alder leaves bounce as they’re pelted by drops.

While this weather is typical at this time of year, it’s not pleasant for the wild animals that live all around us. While we’re comfy in our houses and cars, they are cold, wet and struggling to survive. This is the beginning of the most difficult season for wildlife.

Primary among the difficulties is lack of food. Imagine being cold and having all of your clothes soaked through with rain while you’re snuffling through the muddy forest trying to find something to eat – some old berries, tasty leaves, or yummy rodents – all while knowing that if you’re not successful, you will die.

Due to this reality of life for wild animals, conflicts between humans and animals increase at this time of year. We at West Sound Wildlife Shelter have been receiving increased phone calls from worried people who are having conflicts with wild animals at their homes or businesses. In particular, bears, raccoons and coyotes come closer to homes at this time of year and are much more likely to appropriate whatever food they can find.

Black bears, in particular, face a tough test right now. They must add 30 percent or so to their body weight in the fall in order to survive winter dormancy. Right now. they are out there in the wet, dank forest eating everything they can find for up to 20 hours each day.

While no one knows for sure, it’s quite possible that at least one or two bears are residents on Bainbridge Island. And it is confirmed that black bears swim to the island from Kitsap Peninsula during the spring and summer.

Up to 85 percent of a black bear’s diet is vegetation – leaves, tubers, berries, seeds, etc. The majority of the remaining 15 percent is insects – bees, yellow jackets, ants and their larvae. Also, the legend is true: honey is a favorite food of black bears. They’ve been known to chew into trees to get at bee hives. They’ll also steal nut caches from squirrels and love fishing for salmon.

Imagine if you were faced with gnawing on a tree to get honey, how you would react when seeing a bird feeder hanging in someone’s yard, full of precious little packets of protein and fat. Or even better, a suet feeder! Like the black bear, I bet you’d come back in the dark and raid that free food.

This is just one example of a conflict that humans have with wild animals at this time of year. While we have nothing to fear from wild animals (they are much more afraid of us than we are of them), it is scary to go out and find a bear on your deck or a snarling raccoon eating your outdoor cat food.

It’s also annoying to have bird feeders destroyed and extremely upsetting to have family pets injured or killed. For humans, these conflicts are annoying, upsetting and possibly scary. For the wet, cold, starving wild animals, it is truly life and death.

The answer is preventing problems before they happen. Killing or trapping these animals doesn’t solve the problem because other animals will take their place. To assist with prevention, we advise people to remove bird feeders and any other food source at night; remove easy nesting, denning and shelter locations from your immediate surroundings; secure garbage in animal-proof containers; and keep pets in at night.

If you have wild animal conflict or just want more information, please contact the shelter at 855-9057, ext. 1, to speak with Mike or Lynne.

As I finish writing this, I see that the deluge has stopped. Fabulous! I can walk out to check the mail now. But the wild animals will still be soaked through, with no heater to warm them, and will still be busily searching for food to eat, desperate to survive.

Please understand their reality and respond to their forays into your life with compassion.

Kol Medina is the executive director of West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

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