Why can’t more black bears be relocated following conflicts?

Unfortunately, once bears know about a non-natural food source they keep coming back and can lose their fear of humans. The most important action we can take is to remove food and other bear attractants. Whether relocation or lethal removal, removing the bear is not a long-term solution — if there’s food available other black bears will show up.

A black bear carrying a bag of garbage on Squak Mountain near Issaquah. Despite multiple warnings to area residents to secure their garbage and remove bird feeders, this bear became habituated to humans and continued getting into non-natural food sources, and had to be trapped and lethally removed in May 2022.

This week we have received numerous questions from Washingtonians about recent black bear conflicts, including a jogger injured in a forested area of Whatcom County. We take your concerns seriously. Decisions to lethally remove wildlife are never easy and are typically made through close coordination between WDFW biologists, wildlife conflict specialists, law enforcement officers, and other experts.

Unfortunately, once bears know about a non-natural food source or are fed by humans, they keep coming back to that place. These bears can lose their fear of people, creating a threat of injury to humans. This often leads to wildlife managers needing to lethally remove black bears that are habituated to non-natural food sources or involved in conflicts with people. State policy dictates that we lethally remove bears that are involved in attacks.

In certain instances, WDFW may capture and relocate younger bears taking advantage of human-provided food sources. The Department may use Karelian bear dogs and other methods of hazing to discourage further human interactions. However, if an adult bear is habituated to non-natural food sources, relocation is less successful and therefore may not be appropriate. Even long-distance relocation attempts are typically unsuccessful due to strong association with non-natural food sources once bears have become habituated.

Bears may be attracted to high-calorie human-provided food sources including garbage, bird feeders, and feed for pets, chickens, and small livestock. Sows (mother bears) may also teach their young about such food sources, habituating them to humans and setting the stage for future conflicts. Sometimes people choose to feed bears intentionally, which is illegal whether intentional or unintentional in Washington, and can lead to intervention and having to lethally remove the bear.

Bear rehabilitation is only used for cubs that have become orphaned due to mortality of the adult female. With careful rehabilitation methods, cubs can be released into the wild without having learned to associate humans with food. Rehabilitators can’t effectively un-teach bears any human-food associations that they’ve learned.

Black bears are common — including in suburban areas — throughout Washington except the interior of the arid Columbia Basin. Biologists estimate approximately 20,000 black bears currently reside in our state. WDFW receives an average of 500 black bear complaints annually, ranging from glimpses of bears to encounters.

Recent conflicts and black bear lethal removals are important reminders of the need to remove or properly secure bear attractants. Prevention is the best way to avoid a negative interaction and to keep bears from unnecessarily being killed.

A black bear attempts to open a compost bin. Using bear resistant containers and/or keeping garbage and compost bins inside a garage or shed until the morning of waste collection service are among the ways Washingtonians can reduce conflicts with black bears and other wildlife. Get more tips in this blog post.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.