Bear in the Backyard
I love bears. As a hiker, they're the most exciting kind of wildlife to see from a trail. I'll never forget the first time I saw a bear in the wild. As chance would have it, it was not in the Sierras, where I spent 20+ years hiking before defecting to the Northwest. It was in Olympic National Park—Enchanted Valley, to be exact—the year after my wife and I moved up here.
The bears in the Sierras are nationally notorious—oftentimes used to help set the standards for bear-proofing solutions. As regular hikers in the area, we'd read and heard stories about bears tearing into cars—and tents!—in search of things like sticks of gum or half-empty tubes of toothpaste. While hiking the JMT two summers ago, I happened across a couple that claimed a bear walked right into their camp and took their food right out of their hands!
These were the bears that were often "rehabilitated." Usually they were captured and relocated far away, sometimes even to another state. The more "problematic" bruins were usually exterminated. This was always heartbreaking to hear, as they were just being themselves, hungry critters looking for their next meal, in their own wilderness where masses of people invaded in cars and campers, blazing roads and trails through their homes, all with coolers and backpacks full of food.
But even here in Washington, as populations continue to increase, developments continue to expand and encroach on wilderness, and longer, colder winters reduce food sources (as evidenced in the last couple of years), we find that bear-human encounters are on the rise—and not just on the trails, but in rural neighborhoods. That's where a team of dedicated wildlife rangers and their unique canine companions come in, helping keep bears bear-y and providing safety for residents and hikers—and the subject of Washington Trails' recent nature feature, "Bear in Mind," by Tami Asars.
Tami's story is a heartwarming and amusing tale of how these wildlife naturalists work to preserve and protect both curious, hungry bears and the people that share their environments, as well as provide education and training for the public in sharing Washington's natural areas with her furry, native residents.