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Bears in the Washington's North Cascades: What you should know if you spot one

Isabella Breda, The Seattle Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

ROSS LAKE, North Cascades, Wash. — Meandering through the evergreens, spring's arrival was marked by unfurling fern and flowering berry plants.

My partner and I emerged from the forest trail and glimpsed the shimmering lake. But we weren't the only beings enjoying this spectacular Northwest scene. Some 100 yards away, a bear grazed on grasses below the snow-capped peaks.

Trying not to startle it before hiking any further, I called out, "Hey, bear" — announcing your presence is an important first step to avoid startling a bear in the Cascades.

Encounters like these are not rare in this stretch of mountains. But they are top of mind for many people exploring the backcountry, especially those who are contemplating mountains with more bears.

Experts say the federal government's plan to reintroduce grizzlies will change the outdoor recreation experience very little in the North Cascades. But some have responded to this plan with concerns about an increase in encounters with bears. As federal officials prepare to act on this plan, there's no timeline just yet, people will need to be more bear aware.

So how do you differentiate between bears, and how do you act in a way that keeps you, and the bear, safe?

 

The one I spotted at Ross Lake looked up at us after I called out and stared inquisitively with its long nose and big ears before jogging back into the forest.

This bear, though almost strawberry-blonde in the sunlight, was not a wandering grizzly. There have been no verified sightings of grizzly bears in the U.S. portion of the North Cascades since 1996. It was just one of the ecosystem's many black bears.

The bear's appearance illustrates why it can often be difficult to decipher many possible grizzly bear sightings, said Jason Ransom, wildlife program supervisor for the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, in response to a photo shared by The Times.

The color of bears is usually what trips people up.

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