Western Wildlife Outreach (WWO) has been active in Washington and Idaho communities for the past twelve years promoting a science-based understanding of large carnivores native to the Pacific Northwest – primarily black bear, grizzly bear, gray wolf and cougar. WWO works with wildlife agencies and other NGOs to reach out to local communities, outdoor recreationalists, businesses, schools, service clubs and youth groups, to provide information regarding the ecology and behavior of these species and to promote methods for safely coexisting with them. WWO programs foster an appreciation for the large carnivore’s role in maintaining healthy, sustainable ecosystems. WWO is proposing to launch a new program, Bear Smart King County.
WWO is currently in the final editing stage of editing a soon-to-be released report entitled An Examination of Human-Black Bear Conflicts in King County, Washington: Assessing the Need for a “Bear Smart” Program. The report, prepared in cooperation with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), identifies the need for increased, sustained outreach and education regarding how to safely coexist with black bears in the eastside King County communities along the urban-wildlands interface. The number of incidents of humans having close encounters with bears is on the rise, due mostly to a rapidly growing human population, including an influx of new residents who have no experience living with bears and other wildlife, and don’t realize the critical importance of managing garbage and other bear attractants such as bird feeders, pet food and compost. A number of black bears are showing signs of increased habituation and reliance on anthropogenic (human-provided) food. When bears lose their innate fear of humans, they may be viewed as threats to public safety, real or imagined. As a result, a growing number of black bears have been euthanized in the last several years: “a fed bear is a dead bear” is too often a true statement. Eliminating food attractants in parks and residential areas so that “wild bears stay wild” is the answer to the problem. In order to reach the goal of reducing negative encounters between black bears and humans to near zero, a thorough, targeted, sustained outreach and education effort must be undertaken, the sooner the better.
Based on the GIS data recently compiled as part of the report, and on interviews conducted by WWO student interns with WDFW personnel, community group leaders and waste haulers, WWO is proposing to institute Bear Smart programs for community groups, and to expand the current carnivore curriculum now in place in Issaquah Middle School to even more schools in the area. WWO is already partnering with the Woodland Park Zoo, Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (FISH) and the Cedar River Environmental Education Center to incorporate our “Bear Smart” messaging into their regular outreach efforts. Other steps that will be taken include preparing Public Service Announcements for radio and print news, developing signage for parks and trails in the community, identifying volunteers in each Homeowners Association (HOA) to serve as a conduit between Bear Smart King County and the HOA and a distributor of outreach materials such as signs, door-hangers and new neighbor information packets. A main tool for drawing attention to the program and for disseminating information is WWO’s Bear Education Trailer, a 17-foot trailer that will be mobilized at schools and community events throughout the region. Bear Smart Programs elsewhere in North America have been proven to reduce both human-caused bear deaths and negative encounters between bears and humans or pets, and have significantly reduced related property damage. To measure success, the number and rate of reports to WDFW’s “Hotline” will be tracked for change, before and after surveys conducted for educational programs, and insurance property damage claims will be researched and tracked. ($20,000)