Bear alert sounded

Chris Morgan/Grizzly Bear Outreach Project A grizzly bear. There are believed to be about 20 in the North Cascades of Washington with no reported interaction with ranchers or livestock.

Washington state has 25,000 black bears, few dozen grizzlies

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

As bears emerge from hibernation, ranchers and others in remote areas should remove bird feeders and outdoor food that attracts them, according to the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project.

"Bears come out hungry and are attracted to beehives, bird feeders and any food people leave out. They have a nose that can smell a mile away. Their sense of smell is seven times greater than a bloodhound," said Sharon Negri, project adviser for the Bellingham, Wash., organization.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are fewer than 20 grizzlies in the North Cascades of Washington and 40 to 60 in the Selkirks in the northeast corner of the state and into Idaho, Negri said. Grizzly interaction with livestock and ranchers is "pretty nonexistent," she said.

But there are about 25,000 black bears in the state. The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project is a science-based organization promoting a greater understanding of grizzlies, black bears, cougars and gray wolves.

The gray wolf has received the most attention in recent years with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's adoption of a wolf recovery and management plan and ranchers feeling the effects of more wolves coming from Idaho and Canada.

Cougars are probably the most problematic, followed by wolves and bears, said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association in Ellensburg.

All three are increasing in number and becoming more troublesome with management of cougars and bears made difficult since hound hunting is limited, Field said.

Ranchers in Glenwood Valley northwest of Goldendale have had problems with cougars, he said.

But Negri said cougars, decimated by unlimited hunting prior to the 1960s, made a comeback under regulations and are stable to decreasing. "Interaction with the public has plummeted in the last few years because of fewer animals. They need large connected landscape, uninterrupted by urban areas," she said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared May 20-26 "Bear Awareness Week" to celebrate the state's grizzly and black bears and encourage education on how humans and bears can coexist.

Washington has one of the healthiest black bear populations and is one of just five states in the Lower 48 still wild enough for a small number of grizzlies that are federally listed as threatened, the governor's statement said.

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