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Images of black bear killing are wake-up call to human encroachment

Can we be better stewards to protect wildlife?

Enforcement officers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hunted and fatally shot a female black bear in the Y Road Trail area on Aug. 3
Enforcement officers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hunted and fatally shot a female black bear in the Y Road Trail area on Aug. 3
By Elliott Almond CDN Contributor

An emerald fern adds a touch of color to an otherwise grisly scene where a dead black bear lies stone-like on the forest floor. A splotch of crimson blood oozes out of the sow’s side to pinpoint the fatal shot. 

The graphic photo provides a window into the aftermath of a human-wildlife encounter that led to state or federal intervention.

It’s heartbreaking to see the carnage.

I received 41 sickening images after filing a public records request to obtain information about an Aug. 3, 2022, incident involving the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The black bear reportedly had attacked Bellingham resident Mike Lanham as he ran near his home in the Y Road Trail area. 

The episode in which Lanham suffered minor injuries came 14 months after his involvement in an altercation with a hiker as he rode his mountain bike up the Y Road Trail. 

Cascadia Daily News published a lengthy account of the incident and the aftermath last month.

Lanham, 69, said he heard the bear but kept running because he had seen it before. The bear charged when he turned back to check on it, Lanham said.

He punched the animal with his right fist when the bear grabbed his left hand, said Lanham, who added the sow grabbed him by the ankle when he fell.

“I kicked her with the other leg,” he told me. “She got her teeth around my heel, so I was able to pull away from her.”

But the bear punctured his left arm and clawed him in the groin. “She darn near ripped me open,” Lanham said.

Officials fatally shot the bear later that day, a Washington Fish and Wildlife news release reported at the time.

Better stewards?

The images of the carcass left me wondering if we can’t be better stewards to protect wildlife. After all, we are the problem — not the bears. We’ve encroached on their land, shrunk their natural food sources and left garbage out for the taking.

They deserve better fates than deadly bullets and photos of wildlife officials doing the morbid work mandated by state policy.

Lanham said neighbors told him the bear and her cubs had been hanging around the area near Lake Whatcom. 

Officials said they received reports of sub-adult yearlings traveling with the female bear but could not find any animals matching the description. The fate of the cubs is unknown.

“If these were small cubs born this spring and dependent on their mother, it’s likely our Karelian bear dogs would have located them by now,” said a document obtained through the public records request. 

State staff try to rehabilitate cubs who lose their mothers as long as they haven’t learned to associate humans with food.

Officials say they usually coordinate with agency biologists, wildlife conflict specialists, law enforcement officers and other experts before killing a bear causing trouble.

“Unfortunately, once bears know about a food source or are fed by humans, they keep coming back to that place and can become a danger to public safety,” the document said. 

It added state policy dictates Fish and Wildlife lethally remove bears involved in attacks involving humans.

Relocating bears

WDFW officials say relocating bears is difficult once they become habituated to non-natural food sources. The document says officials might use Karelian bear dogs and other methods of “hazing” to discourage human interactions. But they don’t have much success with such methods.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has guidelines for “hazing,” which encompasses a variety of deterrents such as making noise with car or air horns, flashing lights and using a slingshot with stones or marbles. 

Biologists estimate about 20,000 black bears live in Washington. WDFW receives an average of 500 black bear complaints annually, according to the documents the state released.

Some citizens worry bear encounters will get exponentially worse if federal officials move forward to repopulate the North Cascades with grizzlies, an animal protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are collecting public comments until Monday, Nov. 13 on the best way to reintroduce grizzlies to their former habitat. 

Federal officials have proposed creating a population of 200 bears by releasing three to seven grizzlies annually within a decade. The goal is to replenish a former population all but eradicated through hunting. 

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), the most vocal opponent of the plan, introduced a bill last month to kill the proposal. 

The Yakima-area rancher implored the agencies’ leadership to consider “the people who would be most impacted … so members of the region can rest safely knowing that an 800-pound apex predator is not going to enter into their backyard.”

Such fears seem to be at the heart of any discussion of co-existing with black, grizzly or other bears, except, perhaps, the lovable Paddington.  

“We want to build houses in the woods and then complain when wildlife becomes a ‘nuisance,’” said Susan Kane-Ronning of Bellingham, the co-chair of the Sierra Club’s state wildlife committee. 

Gordon Congdon, a Wenatchee conservationist and former cherry grower, said reintroducing grizzlies to the far reaches of Washington is important for ecological, cultural, legal and ethical reasons.

But Congdon asked federal officials at a recent public meeting in Newhalem to do everything possible to create a safe environment for all concerned.

“The good news is, we know how to do this,” he said, referring to so-called bear-smart communities that reduce risk to humans and private property by eliminating garbage and other tasty sources such as bird feeders and pet food that attract bears.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials advise livestock owners and homeowners to practice good husbandry and use proactive deterrents such as electric fences, guard animals and human presence to minimize the risk of bears entering their backyard, as Newhouse put it.

Following standard preventive measures such as using wildlife spray, securing food and toiletries and making noise in the backcountry can help.

But no matter what precautions people take, attacks will continue, particularly in grizzly bear country. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department reported a hunter fatally shot a grizzly bear in self-defense on Oct. 21 northwest of Yellowstone National Park. 

Officials said the adult female bear with no known conflict history appeared to have been digging a den near where the incident occurred.

I don’t need to see photos of the dead grizzly. I already have a good sense of the scene wildlife officials found.

It’s ugly, disheartening and demoralizing.

Elliott Almond’s outdoor column appears monthly. Email:

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