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State wildlife experts: Bear getting large, dying early in communities along I-90 corridor

State wildlife experts are alarmed by the number of large bears that are dying early in the Cascade foothills. (Photo: WSFW)

KING COUNTY, Wash. -- State wildlife experts are alarmed by the number of large bears that are dying early in the Cascade foothills.

The bears, which can smell trash from up to two miles away, are attracted to food inside bird feeders and trash left in garbage cans.

Rich Beausoleil, a bear and cougar specialist for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, is working on a comprehensive study about bears along the I-90 corridor. New research shows bears in communities like Issaquah, North Bend, and Snoqualmie are big - twice their average weight in some cases - and dying early, he said.

The trash and bird food residents leave out in front of their homes attracts the bears. Humans frightened by the bears sometimes shoot them, Beausoleil said. The bears can also gain a lot of weight because of the food that's available to them.

"When they stay in the woods and they don’t come around people, survival is about 85%. But when they come in close contact with people and they visit these neighborhoods to get these food rewards, survival is about 59%," said Rich Beausoleil, state bear and cougar specialist for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"While some people may like seeing them because they think they’re neat, the next neighbor may not and so that’s how they’re dying. They’re getting shot from homeowners. Or they’re getting killed by vehicles, but more often they’re shot by homeowners because out of fear," he added.

Beausoleil wants more cities to transition to bear-proof garbage cans. He gave a presentation to the Snoqualmie City Council on Monday night. The city's garbage contract isn't up until June 2019, a city spokeswoman told KOMO News.

Bear-resistant cans currently being used by several communities just don't work, Beausoleil said.

"If we could get city council to institute (bear-proof cans) and make them available to the public and we can get home owner associations to pass ordinances to ban (bird feeders), we would eliminate bear-human conflicts and we would help bears and people at the same time," he said.

Bear-proof cans are currently voluntary in Issaquah and Sammamish, Beausoleil said. They are not mandatory.

There are some things you can do right now to keep bears away from potential food sources, state wildlife experts said. They suggest putting your garbage can out early in the morning instead of the night before pick-up day. Take down bird feeders in the spring. Also, check around your yard and pick up any fruit that may have fallen off trees onto the ground.

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