PATERSON — A farmworker had a startling surprise as he checked sprinklers in a wheat field near Paterson — a bear.
“He was traveling down the pivot road when he saw it,” said Hunter Berg, whose family runs the farm. “He got within 50 yards of it. He was pretty surprised. He immediately called a couple of the guys here at the shop.”
Berg, 22, was one of about six people who went out into the 125-acre field shortly after 12:15 p.m. Thursday to check out the rare sighting. He took out his phone and snapped a photo of the animal sticking its head above the wheat.
It’s an almost unheard of sight for the farm fields near the rural southern Benton County town off Highway 14, across the Columbia River from Oregon.
While black bears are common to most areas of the state, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website says they are not usually found in the non-forested, agricultural areas of the Columbia Basin.
Though, they do show up in the area, including one that was spotted several times in the Prosser area in 2016.
While wheat fields aren’t a bear’s normal haunt, they are known to show up in unusual places, according to Regional Wildfire Program Director Scott McCorquodale.
“He has even seen them in a shrubsteppe environment,” said Fish and Wildlife Communications Manager Staci Lehman told the Herald. “There are places near Paterson that seeing a bear wouldn’t shock him.”
Berg said his grandfather had a story of spotting a bear in the fields.
Thursday’s bear showed little interest in the crew that watched it wander through the field for about an hour.
Every so often the bear would stand on its hind legs and look at them.
He estimated the bear was about 4 to 5 feet tall.
“It beats me how he got there,” Berg said. “You expect to see a snake or maybe a badger if you’re lucky.”
Bears tend to avoid humans, unless they start to associate humans with finding food. Those can be aggressive if they’re looking for a meal, say officials.
The state wildlife officers get hundreds of black bear complaints each year with bears damaging property, attacking livestock or other confrontations with people.
Bears may look to trash, bird feeders or pet food left out when other sources of food are scarce, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said. Normally it happens in the early spring or late in the fall.
The agency advises people who see a bear to:
- Stop and stay calm. If the bear doesn’t notice you, back away quietly when it’s not looking at you.
- If it walks toward you, stand up, wave your hands above your head and talk to the bear in a low voice.
- If you can’t safely move away, and the bear continues to advance, scare it away by clapping your hands, stomping your feet, yelling and looking the bear in the eyes.
- Don’t throw anything at it or try to run away. Bears can run up to 35 mph, and running may trigger an attack.