Bear at the fair
August 24, 2023
There was a bit more excitement than usual for some people attending the Wahkiakum County Fair this weekend when a black bear was seen wandering around the campground area on Saturday evening a little after 7 p.m.
“It was not afraid of people,” Wahkiakum County Undersheriff Gary Howell said. “It walked into dog kennels after dog food, right next to campers while they were playing corn hole.”
Howell said that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was working with the sheriff’s department to live trap the bear.
“Be aware until we get this captured,” Howell said for campers and people living nearby. “It doesn’t seem to be nervous about people.”
Sgt. Todd Dielman was the responding officer from WDFW.
“I got a call from the undersheriff saying that a bear was seen running through the Wahkiakum County Fair down there in Skamokawa,” Dielman said.
After the bear investigated the dog food, he was told, it went into a brushy area along a nearby slough. Witnesses thought it ran off but someone saw it again a few minutes later.
“They were concerned because of the large number of people and livestock and such in the area,” Dielman said. "I never saw the bear, but I talked to several people who did. I explained that he was probably there because of the wonderful smells that fairs bring.”
“One of the things that bothered me a little bit was that the bear came to those smells despite all the human activity around,” Dielman said. “So that was one of the reasons I decided to respond. In speaking with the undersheriff as well, they were concerned about it because they have more upcoming events, and they were concerned about having all these people and activities in close proximity to the bear.”
Dielman stayed until 10:30 p.m. Saturday night but the bear didn’t appear again. Feeling that the animal’s behavior warranted it, he returned the following day with a bear trap equipped with a camera.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the camera hadn’t shown any bear activity in or around the trap.
Dielman said he would probably leave the trap out for another day or two.
“Hopefully the bear has moved on,” he said. “Maybe it did get frightened when it encountered the people.”
“The reason that bears and humans interact is because humans have a lot of high calorie foods,” Dielman said. “Bears, especially this time of year are trying to put on as much weight as possible, eat as much calories as possible, to prepare for the coming winter.”
“We don’t want to habituate bears to human sources of food,” he added. “Secure your garbage the best you can, take down your bird feeders for a couple weeks. People leaving food out for animals on decks is an invitation to wild animals, not just bears, to show up and get habituated to humans, and that is what we want to avoid.”
“In the 10 years I’ve been doing this, bear and people encounters are extremely rare, as far as anybody ever getting hurt by a bear,” Dielman said. “Ninety-nine percent of bears see a person and run the other way.”
Jennifer Becar, a communications specialist from WDFW echoed some of Dielman’s thoughts about the incident, and shared some other advice.
“Many human-black bear conflicts, and the majority of calls WDFW receives are the result of bears being attracted to unnatural food sources left by people,” Becar wrote, “which is to say, much of that conflict can be avoided if we take efforts to remove those attractants. A major way people can help is by cleaning up their garbage. Remember to ‘pack it in, pack it out’ when camping or otherwise spending time outdoors. In residential areas, individuals should leave garbage cans in a secure, inaccessible area until the morning of trash pick-up to prevent attracting bears and other wildlife.”
More tips from Becar and WDFW on black bear encounters:
• Stop, remain calm, and assess the situation. If the bear seems unaware of you, move away quietly when it’s not looking in your direction. Continue to observe the animal as you retreat, watching for changes in its behavior.
• If a bear walks toward you, identify yourself as a human by standing up, waving your hands above your head, and talking to the bear in a low voice. If you have bear spray get it out of the holster and remove the safety.
• If you cannot safely move away from the bear or the bear continues toward you, scare it away by clapping your hands, stomping your feet, and yelling. If you are in a group, stand shoulder-to shoulder and raise and wave your arms to appear intimidating. The more it persists the more aggressive your response should be. If you have bear spray, use it.
• Do not run from the bear. Bears can run up to 35 mph and running may trigger an attack. Climbing a tree is generally not recommended as an escape from an aggressive black bear, as black bears are adept climbers and may follow you up a tree.