Tuesday, June 15, 2021
June 15, 2021

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Bears and fawns, oh my: Washington expert says leave baby deer alone, discourage bruins

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A bear helps itself to a birdfeeder in a backyard. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Officer Tom Moats contends that if you are feeding birds in bear country during the spring, you are bound to draw bears. Birds have plenty of wild food available in the spring.
A bear helps itself to a birdfeeder in a backyard. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Officer Tom Moats contends that if you are feeding birds in bear country during the spring, you are bound to draw bears. Birds have plenty of wild food available in the spring. (Contributed by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) Photo Gallery

This the time of year when humans encounter wildlife. Deer and other animals are having babies, and bears are emerging from their winter dens hungry. The bears are desperately seeking sources of food, and are drawn to bird feeders, trash cans and pet food near homes. Also, deer are having fawns, sometimes in close proximity to people who think they need to swoop in to help when they shouldn’t.

According to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Officer Tom Moats, people discover fawns that they believe are orphaned. When they try to rescue the fawns, it causes more harm than good.

“It happens every year,” said Moats. “I’ve dealt with two fawns this week already.”

Moats explained that does give birth wherever they are when they go into labor, even if it’s near homes. The does will stay away from the fawns except when they suckle. Unlike the does, newborn fawns leave no scent that attracts predators.

When people find these fawns, they often remove them, assuming they are orphaned. They end up taking them to anyone they think can help the young survive. That starts an exhaustive process for wildlife rehabilitators, and can end up badly for the fawns.

In the best scenario, Moats said, officers can take the fawn back to where it was found, so the doe can find it again.

“We usually can’t take it back,” Moats said.

It takes serious resources to care for the fawns. The nearest wildlife rehab center is in the town of Graham, many hours’ drive north of here.

Leave the fawn where you found it, Moats said. The doe is probably a short distance away, and if left alone, the baby will be fine.

Another annual problem is hungry spring bears showing up in residential areas searching for food.

“They are drawn to anything that smells good,” Moats said.

Be sure to secure garbage cans, and don’t leave pet and bird food outside.

“We would like to remind people that in the spring there is zero need to feed birds. There’s lots of food for them out there,” Moats said. “If you are putting out bird seed, you are feeding bears if you live anywhere where the bears roam.”

When people call to report a problem bruin, they often expect wildlife officers to trap and remove the bear. That is not what officers want to do.

“We usually just give advice on how to bear-proof your property,” Moats said. “We don’t want to punish a bear for being a bear.”

Trapping and removing the animal leaves it vulnerable. The bear ends up in unfamiliar territory, which may already be claimed by an older, larger bear. Established bears often kill smaller trespassers.

“It often becomes a death sentence for the bear we dropped off,” he adds.

Also, the bears almost always find a way to return.

Moats would like people to check out the “Living with Wildlife” webpage on the WDFW website. The information there lists what people should do and not do to avoid conflict with wildlife.

Included here are a few tips for living in bear territory, according to the WDFW Living with Wildlife website:

  • Don’t feed bears. Over 90 percent of bear-human conflicts result from bears being conditioned to associate food with humans. A wild bear can become permanently food-conditioned after only one handout experience. It is also illegal to knowingly feed bears.
  • Manage your garbage. Bears will expend a great amount of time and energy digging under, breaking down, or crawling over barriers to get to garbage.
  • Remove other attractants. Remove bird feeders from early March through November. Take hummingbird feeders in at night.
  • Protect livestock and bees. Place livestock pens and beehives at least 150 feet away from wooded areas. Confine livestock in buildings and pens, especially during lambing or calving seasons.
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