Bear sighting confirmed on Vashon

A black bear that was spotted on Vashon early this week will likely only stay on the Island if it finds an adequate supply of food, said Mike Krenz, an officer with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Though it is unknown whether the bear is still on the Island, Krenz recommended that those who live near where it was spotted take extra measures to remove any outdoor food sources.

The black bear was first spotted Sunday by Kathleen Gilligan and her son. As they were driving on Wax Orchard Road that evening when they saw a bear loping across the road just south of 240th Street.

“We couldn't believe it,” Gilligan said. “At first we thought it was a horse.”

Gilligan said the bear seemed large for a black bear and guessed that it weighed about 400 pounds.

The next evening Gilligan's daughter Garnet Burk also spotted the bear, this time right outside the family's home on 240th Street.

Burk, 14, said that when she went to retrieve something from a car parked in their driveway she suddenly saw a bear on the other side of the vehicle, about 15 feet from the home.

“I thought it was a person at first. … It peeked out from the shadows, and I saw it was a bear,” Burke said. “It kind of froze, it pondered me for about 20 seconds, then it ran away.”

Burk said she was shaken by the experience and was surprised that the bear didn't run away as soon as she came out of the house. “It was a pretty bold bear,” she said.

The bear’s presence on the Island was confirmed a few days later when Wolftown director T Yamamoto found bear prints and scat on her property near the Wax Orchard neighborhood.

Gilligan reported the sightings to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and alerted her neighbors to the bear's presence. “They were all surprised,” she said. “A lot of them were pretty worried.”

Gilligan's report of the bear was the only one the department has received recently from Vashon. “Bears on Vashon aren’t rare but unusual,” Kenz said, explaining that they sometimes swim to Vashon from the Kitsap Peninsula.

The last time Kenz remembers a bear on Vashon was in 2008 when a black bear became a concern by spending time near schools. It eventually swam to Des Moines, where it was trapped.

“Although a bear can make a living on Vashon, it's not a typical habitat as far as food and shelter,” Krenz said.

Krenz was not surprised, however, to hear about the bear's apparent boldness. He said many bears that grow up near urban areas become accustomed to people and cars. “These bears are so used to all those stimuli that they don't react like normal bears in the wilderness,” he said.

While Krenz appreciated being notified of the bear, he said the department doesn’t consider trapping animals unless they become dangerous. “The bear has to become a problem before we come out there and try to move him,” he said.

Krenz said any time someone comes across a bear, they should make as much noise as possible in order to scare it away. In addition, those who live near where the bear was spotted should remove all outdoor food sources, including garbage cans, pet food, birdseed and food in vehicles. He even recommended picking fallen fruit off the ground and not letting chickens roam free.

“From the moment he wakes up until he goes to sleep at night (a bear) has one thing on his mind and that's food. And if he finds it he's going to stay,” Krenz said.

Until it seems as though the bear has moved on, Gilligan said she is taking extra precautions and will not ride her horses on local trails. She added that she worries about the bear's safety on Vashon.

“I hope he disappears and goes back into the Olympics or something,” she said. “I’m afraid someone is going to shoot him or he’ll get too close to someone's house.”

Yamamoto said a bear should pose no danger on the Island as long as Islanders take common sense measures such as securing their garbage cans and keeping dogs on leashes when walking in the woods.

Even on Vashon, she said, bears are a natural part of the ecosystem, preying on raccoons and sick deer. “This is all beneficial,” she said.

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