Since mid-2015, Western Wildlife Outreach (WWO) has been working to create, launch, implement and coordinate a new program, Bear Smart King County, in order to reduce the number of conflicts between humans and black bears in the eastside communities of King County. These encounters can result in property damage and injury or death to humans, pets and domestic animals, representing a human safety issue and leading to potential euthanasia of bears. The Bear Smart target area is growing at a rate of about 35,000 new people annually, with new construction on the periphery of currently developed areas, and many new residents who have never lived near an urban-wild interface.
Part-time support was provided for a Bear Smart Coordinator, who spearheaded all of the accomplishments below. The Bear Smart program reached the key milestone of completing and launching the Northwest Carnivore Education Trailer. It is the centerpiece of our efforts and the primary means of reaching and teaching east-side King County residents about bear-smart behaviors. The trailer is fully wrapped with beautiful, eye-catching and educational graphics. Resources inside include four full-size taxidermy mounts (two black bears, a grizzly bear and a cougar), carnivore hides, track casts, resin skulls, teeth, claws, bear spray demonstration cans, bear safety aids for camping, hiking and living in large carnivore country, maps, photos, diagrams, track comparisons, species identification aids, posters, brochures and coloring books. During the reporting period, WWO held more than 70 events with the trailer, reaching more than 8,500 eastside King County residents, community group members and school children.
By targeting certain communities and communicating with waste haulers, Bear Smart King County has already achieved measurable successes. Waste haulers report an increase in requests for bear resistant containers, suggesting that more homes are properly securing food waste and awareness is growing about the need to be “bear smart.” Currently, these containers must be requested by individual residents at additional cost. WWO is working to develop creative incentives for residents and waste hauling companies to increase availability of bear-safe waste containers in target areas.
While there are caveats for interpreting the data, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) maintains records of all reported bear sightings and encounters. These likely represent an underestimate of actual sightings, but it is considered reasonable to use the data for relative comparisons. This database suggests that fewer bear encounters are being reported in neighborhoods of east-side King County: In 2014 and 2015, there were approximately 320 bear incidents each year, while 2016 incidents dropped by 45% to 175. For 2017 to date, incidents are at 2016 levels or below. This is in spite of substantial human population growth and WDFW estimations of stable black bear numbers in the region. These metrics suggest that WWO is pursuing an effective strategy, and with continued human population growth in the region there will be an increased need to continue this type of work. ($20,000)