Sitting in her home in the Whatcom County woods, Lynnea Flarry was distracted by a flash of motion just on the other side of the sliding glass door of her sewing room: A small, dark-colored bear was sniffing at potted flowers on her patio.
Trailing behind the cub was the much larger, far portlier mother bear and another cub in search of a snack.
Reports of three bears — the sow and her two younger family members — have popped up across social media in the last week, with pictures of the overweight animals eating trash and birdseed from feeders.
It’s not unusual for bears to roam east of Interstate-5, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said Friday, Sept. 1.
The problem, staff said, is that the bears appear to be “habituated to human food.”
“At the end of the day, the calorie content [of human food and trash] is so alluring that once they figure that out, they attribute people to equalling food,” WDFW's Becky Elder said. “The group of three has been traveling long distances, following the trash.”
Elder said the three bears have been spotted across an area spanning 20 miles, and are “highly active, moving from trash can to trash can.”
Plans to trap the bears for evaluation are underway, Elder said, which will help WDFW biologists and experts decide if it’s possible to relocate the animals to the remote wilderness, or if they’ll have to be killed due to increased safety risks.
“With habituated animals, it’s difficult to relocate and readjust their mindset to human [food],” Elder said. “Often we can relocate the animal, but unfortunately, there are many instances where that’s not the case.”
A lot of factors play into the decision, Elder said, and no decisions can be made until the bears are caught.
One of the bear cubs scampered up a tree in Flarry's yard before leaving with its mom. (Courtesy of Lynnea Flarry)
Though bears are common in the region, Flarry had never seen one so close to her home before, though she has seen a host of other animals, like cougars and coyotes.
“I’ve lived here for 48 years, and I’ve never seen a bear on the property before,” she said Friday. “The only thing separating us was the sliding glass door.”
WDFW says residents should be bear-aware in the region, and should take several steps to reduce bear attraction to heavily populated areas. Those steps include using bear-proof garbage cans, taking down bird feeders and cleaning up trash like apples that fall off fruit trees.
Elder also stressed the importance of not leaving food in cars, as many bears have learned how to open car doors and destroy windows.