Black bears in the orchard

Black bears photographed by a game surveillance camera in Burnett Orchards near Leavenworth, Wash., on Aug. 24.

LEAVENWORTH, Wash. — Every year during harvest time, black bears invite themselves to dine in the Burnett family’s pear orchard near Leavenworth.

This year, however, there seems to be a bumper crop of bears.

Owner Tony Burnett says he doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s a lack of food in the nearby high country, he muses.

His game surveillance camera has caught more than 1,000 images of bears in his pear orchard over the past six to eight weeks. The orchard, off Titus Road, is just half a mile from the center of town.

“A lot of them undoubtedly are the same bears,” Burnett says. “But my son one day counted what he thought was 10 different bears.”

Neighboring orchardists have also experienced more bears this year, he says.

A family member posted one of the images on Facebook. Taken on Aug. 24, it shows two bears standing and facing each other, paws outstretched, as if engaged in conversation.

“They were a male and female courting, I believe,” Burnett says. “There was some dancing, rolling around together. Play, not fighting.”

Leavenworth is at the southern end of the North Cascades region being considered by the U.S. government for the restoration of grizzly bears.

Burnett says he does not favor transplanting grizzlies into the area but adds that if bears already in the area are prolific enough to populate it, that’s fine.

Burnett’s camera, activated by a motion sensor, has also caught images of turkeys, deer and coyotes but no wolves or cougars.

Several trails lead to his orchard from the woods where the bears live.

“The woods are good habitat for them, and it’s close to their food source,” he says.

The bears show up in the orchards in the middle of June and stay through harvest.

“Normally enough fruit falls on the ground that the bears are happy. They’d rather come in and sit down and eat than work for food,” Burnett said.

“When we finish picking Bartlett and move into d’Anjou, they come through and clean up the Bartlett. It’s nice and sweet and real ripe off the tree and on the ground. Once we’ve finished with d’Anjou they clean that up.”

Pickers are cautious about the bears but don’t mind, he said. Black bears are skittish and run when people are around, so he shoos them away, if need be.

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