Bear necessity: Respect them ‘so they can stay wild’

Don’t give them easy access to food

Bainbridge Island musician Johnny Bregar awoke to a disaster the morning of March 24.

His beehives had been clobbered. The frames had been scraped of wax and scattered all over the yard. The honey and bees were long gone. At first, it appeared like the work of a startled deer or scrappy teenagers — but after posting pictures of the crime scene on social media, a new culprit arose.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that a black bear had battered Bregan’s beehives in his BI backyard. Officials don’t expect it to be the last brouhaha. Raiding a hive is one thing, but if the bear becomes habituated to people, it could spell bad news — and not just for the bear.

Black bears are common throughout Washington, including suburban areas like Bainbridge, said Cole Janowski, WDFW wildlife conflict specialist. The animals are at home anywhere with lots of thick vegetation, regardless of people, and have a home range of around 35 square miles — an area just larger than BI.

While Western Washington’s black bears do hibernate in dens, they can be semi-active during the winter compared to their Eastern counterparts. For instance, BI parks superintendent David Henry reported that a bear was spotted in January wandering near the BI Recreation Center.

However, bears become more voracious with the arrival of spring. “They’ll be looking hard for food,” Janowski said. “They want to eat around 20,000 calories a day.”

In a region as densely populated as Western Washington, that can lead to frequent bear encounters. Beehives, bird feeders and garbage bins all look like easy, quick meals to bears.

“We do relocate bears, but where do you take a bear in Western Washington that it’s not going to get into someone else’s garbage somewhere else?” Janowski asked.

Wild animals that associate people with food rewards can become destructive. Black bears are generally passive and ambivalent to people, Janowski emphasized, but could easily harm pets and threaten humans if they stand between the bear and a meal.

For now, he said, there is no cause for concern.“This bear is still acting wild, which is what we want.”

Bear sightings on BI have been fairly regular since 2017.

Initially, the 2017 and 2019 bears held a captivated audience, according to reports. For a few weeks, they would wreak minor havoc around local backyards, knocking over garbage cans and cleaning out bird feeders while residents snapped pictures. Ultimately, the animals became too accustomed to people — one was spotted near Bainbridge High School during the day — and both were relocated by Fish and Wildlife.

Bridget Mire, WDFW communications specialist, said that the department has no plans to relocate this year’s bear. Best practices indicate preventative measures, she said.

“Residents should remove seed and suet, pick fruit trees, feed pets indoors and bear-prep garbage cans — including freezing meat and fish waste, spraying cans with disinfectants, storing them indoors at night and minimizing the amount of time cans spend on the curb,” Mire said.

Janowski added that residents can collaborate to deter bears from human encounters. When food on an entire street is scarce, it sends a stronger message to the animal, he said. “I always tell people, they don’t need your help. They need your respect, so they can stay wild.”