Wildlife up close can be part of urban life

Officials offer ways to be safe, enjoy richness of local environment

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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For more ways to deal with urban wildlife, visit http://wdfw.wa.gov

photo A cougar was found this year in Vancouver's Fircrest neighborhood. Washington Fish & Wildlife officers tranquilized and captured the cat, releasing it 60 to 70 miles away later in the day.

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photoA black-tailed deer feeds at the edge of a field of dandelions this June in Vancouver. An absence of hunting or predation in the suburbs means deer that can learn to avoid cars can live a long time.

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photoMurray Schlenker, left, with Washington State Fish and Wildlife and Gordon Gruendell, a Washington State Patrol trooper, pick up the remains of a black bear killed on an Interstate 205 off-ramp on June 19.

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Recent encounters with black bears are a reminder that wildlife large and small roams in urban areas.

Black bears' breeding season runs through July. They have been spotted recently in Camas and Vancouver. One adult male bear was struck by a car and killed on Interstate 205 in June.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife maintains an online database to track sightings of animals it deems to be the greatest threat. Black bears aren't on the list, but grizzlies, wolves and cougars are. Five cougars have been spotted so far this year in Clark County, one of them near Burnt Bridge Creek Elementary in April.

Coyotes, though not listed in the state's dangerous wildlife database, also catch people's attention, said Eric Holman, a state wildlife biologist.

"They are carnivorous. They scare people, but that's largely without justification," Holman said. They do kill pets sometimes, however.

Clark County Animal Control fields calls about coyotes, and will hire a U.S. Department of Agriculture trapper when deemed necessary. First, though, the county department counsels people to remove anything that might attract a coyote, said Paul Scarpelli, animal control manager. He urges them to keep small dogs and cats inside, and remove food sources.

So far this year, he has taken three phone calls about coyotes. Last year, the county contracted for removal of eight coyotes in five locations. Most years, it's about a handful, but in 2011, the county removed 18. Calls are most likely to come from those who live near greenbelts or a power-line right-of-way, which are freeways of sorts for wildlife.

Homeowners also sometimes complain about deer, which are occasionally spotted crossing busy roads such as Northwest 78th Street.

Holman conducted a study that found deer thrive in the suburbs.

"With no legal hunting and no predation, deer live a long time if they learn how to avoid cars," Holman said.

Most of the calls DFW receives are about smaller varieties of wildlife.

"It's much more common for our folks to get calls about raccoons, possums, Eastern gray squirrels, the occasional skunk, or water fowl that might be in road," Holman said.

Most of the time, the caller can handle the problem by shooing away the animal. If, say, squirrels are nesting in the attic, it's the homeowner's responsibility to hire a pest-control company.

"We give advice and coach them through it. Every one of these stories is just a little bit different. If someone is legitimately in danger, we're going to help, of course.

"If you have a cougar on your back porch, call 911, close the door and don't bother it," Holman said. "It's always fine to pick up the phone and call 911 to get help, but we don't want someone to do that if they have a robin or raccoon in the driveway."

Most often, people can scare away a raccoon or even a coyote by standing, waving their arms and shouting. Children should be taught to yell, "Go away, raccoon," or, "Go away, coyote," using the creature's name instead of just screaming, so adults will know what's going on.

Homeowners can prevent conflict with wildlife by removing things that attract it. They should never leave pet kibble out, and should eliminate other food sources, such as compost piles and grease on outdoor grills, Holman said.

"We should try to get along with all the wildlife we're sharing space with," he added. "It's nice to have them around. It adds a richness and quality of life in this place we live in."


Erin Middlewood: 360-735-4516; http://twitter.com/emiddlewood; http://facebook.com/reportermiddlewood; erin.middlewood@columbian.com.