Did you know that American black bears are common in this area and in most of Washington?
Some confusion comes from folks not realizing there is a lot of variability in the color of black bears—they can be a lighter “cinnamon” brown, dark brown, black, and even a combination of these.
Carrie Lowe, Assistant District Wildlife Biologist with the WA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, states “We do have a couple of small populations of grizzly bear in Washington; the closest population to us is in the Selkirk Mountains in northeastern Pend Oreille County. A few grizzlies have been observed in Stevens & Ferry counties as well.”
There are no known black bear population estimates for the area because the population naturally fluctuates with factors such as weather conditions and the resulting food availability. The WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife tend to get more reports of bear activity in the vicinity of people during periods of scarce natural food: early spring and late summer-fall, especially in years with drought conditions. This is sometimes perceived as an increase in the bear population.
Lowe states, “Bear can be active any time day or night. During hot days they tend to be more active at dawn, dusk and at night when it is cool and rest during the day. However, during the late summer and fall when they are packing on weight for the winter, they will be up feeding almost around the clock. Bear that get in to trash and other human food sources tend to do so at night, but can quickly get comfortable enough around people to do it during the day. Also during late spring and early summer, juvenile male bears may roam considerable distances looking for a territory and mature males will be roaming looking for mates, so people may be more likely to encounter a bear then.”
Bear usually avoid people as much as possible. If you see one while out hiking and it is unaware of you, it is recommended you just move away quietly. Lowe advises, “If it is aware of you or starts to approach, talk in a calm voice (don’t scream) and clap your hands. Keep your group together and back out of the area slowly—do not run. Usually the bear will run off. If the bear continues to approach, stand your ground and get your bear spray ready, use it when the bear is about 30 feet away. Do not climb a tree—black bear are excellent climbers. In the unlikely event of an attack, do not lay down and play dead but fight back and spray bear spray in the bear’s face. The exception to this is a defensive attack: a sow defending cubs, which is rare for a black bear. In that case, do not fight back but lay face down with your hands behind your neck and stay quiet until the bear leaves.”
Hikers should carry bear spray and have it easily accessible, such as on their waist belt or a chest harness. Do not leave it in your backpack, as you will not likely have time to dig it out when you need it. Also, carrying bear spray doesn’t help if you don’t know how to use it.
Lastly, Lowe states, “If you are recreating in bear habitat, which includes much of the natural areas surrounding Liberty Lake, it is inevitable that from time to time people will see a bear, and just seeing one is usually not a reason to report it. If you have any encounter with a bear where it behaved aggressively or you felt threatened, whether at home or on the trail, you should report it to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Always report a bear that gets into your vehicle, home, building, pets or livestock to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife immediately. In the case of an emergency or on weekends or outside normal business hours, call 911 and the appropriate personnel will be dispatched.”
Always keep this in mind: Ways for hikers to avoid an encounter with a bear include keeping their dog leashed at all times, hiking in groups, and making noise to avoid startling a bear.