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JBLM is bear country, too, officials warn

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The message is clear: caution and vigilance can maintain harmony when living with bears.

No sightings have been reported this spring, but last year a mother black bear and her cubs in the Miller Hill area gave the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Safety Office reason to issue precautions for families living nearby.

JBLM Safety Director Peter Strohm said it is not uncommon to have bears descend from the foothills and take up residence in our area.

"Western Washington in general is prime country for black bears," Strohm said. "In any given year, a number of them will be making their homes on Joint Base Lewis-McChord."

Awareness, not panic, is the key to preventing a dangerous encounter, an important trait to develop, the safety director said, with the high possibility of seeing more bears wander through JBLM property.

"Make sure to travel in groups and stay on trails, if you can," Strohm said.

For the good of the animals and human residents, the JBLM Environmental Office plans to capture and relocate nuisance bears.

"Tell children not to play in the area for the time being while search and removal is going on," Strohm said. "You have to respect bears."

Prominent bear ecologist Chis Morgan, host of PBS "Nature's Bears of the Last Frontier" and co-director of the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project, said education is the key to living peaceably with large carnivores like bears.

"A black bear is like a 200-pound raccoon - nimble, smart, and with a surprisingly good memory - especially when it comes to finding food," Morgan said.

Based in Bellingham, Morgan has spent more than a decade devoted to studying and educating others about bears in North America.

We have around 25,000 black bears in Washington, but only around 20 grizzly bears, he said.

"Many of us live in bear country and it is up to us to do the right thing: make sure bird feeders, garbage and other attractants are not accessible to bears," Morgan said. "A bear is like a dog begging at the dinner table; one reward and it will be back for more."

Bears conditioned to eat human food usually end up dead or relocated, which is often unsuccessful, he said.

"Learning about bears and what their needs are is the best thing we can do when it comes to coexisting with these species," Morgan said. "It's easy to keep people and bears safe with a little knowledge."

If people see black bears they should call the JBLM Military Police desk at 967-3107/3108/3109.

For more bear safety tips go to www.bearinfo.org.

Bear safety tips

  • Make sure you know where your children are at all times.
  • Respect all bears - they can be dangerous. Never approach a bear for any reason. Black bears are not normally aggressive, but can be very defensive of their young.
  • Never feed bears or other wildlife.
  • Leave only enough pet food outdoors for your pets to eat at one sitting.
  • Store trash in a secure location or bear-safe container.
  • Put your trash out for pick-up in the morning, not the previous night.
  • Clean your trash container regularly.
  • Avoid surprising bears at close range. If possible, make your presence known, particularly where the terrain or vegetation makes it hard to see. Make noise or talk loudly.
  • Avoid thick brush and try to walk with the wind at your back so your scent will warn bears of your presence. Bears can see almost as well as people, but they trust their noses much more than their eyes or ears.
  • If possible, travel in groups. Groups are noisier and easier for bears to detect.
  • Bears may be active at any time of the day or night, but they tend to be more active at dawn and dusk. Plan accordingly and stay on established trails where possible.

There are several indicators that may alert you that a bear is in the area: rub trees, diggings, scat, and tracks. Identifying these clues may help to prevent an encounter.

  • If it hasn't detected you yet, keep it that way.
  • Detour quickly and quietly away, staying upwind when possible.
  • Keep a close eye on birdfeeders. If a bear sighting is reported promptly remove them.

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