by Janice Williams
Special to the Sounder
All my life, I have had a deep love for non-human animals.
I spent a decade working in wildlife education. I volunteer for Wolf Hollow. I gently catch house-bound flies in a box and release them outdoors. Animals inspire me.
I love people too, but my heart moves most easily toward the ones who live in harmony with the earth.
So when I heard about the young black bear that had traversed the Salish Sea to seek out territory on Orcas Island over Memorial Day weekend, I knew his presence was nothing short of a miracle.
Thank goodness I had learned of him earlier that day, otherwise I would have questioned my sanity as I turned into my driveway and saw a rust and black colored bear standing 10 feet in front of me. The excitement of having a chance to witness a bear on Orcas with my own eyes had me spellbound. I tried to make what I believed would be a fleeting moment last as long as possible.
As it turned out, this bear saturated my life for the next week.
Our property is situated between the south bridge of Moran State Park and downtown Olga, and it soon became a favorite spot for this golden-eyed sweetheart.
He left fingerpaint-like snot smears on our glass front door. He took manly, upright, “full frontal” poses. With one rear foot on the ground and the other propped on the wood pile, he reached, heaven-bound, for a mid-day snack of hummingbird nectar. All of it was adorable.
But, of course, we were not without our domestic disputes.
As he went after my second hummingbird feeder replacement, I yelled at him through the glass to “knock it off!” When all I got was a stare, I decided to be assertive and open the door. He remained still, and was clearly not intimidated.
This fellow had called my bluff, and all I could do was quickly close the door in defeat and watch my feeder come down.
Although I was not thrilled with the fact that his quest for snacks was destructive and our sleep was disrupted by our frightened and barking dog, the chance to watch him in the full moonlight, slowly moving around the yard and enjoying a midnight snack in the cool of the night was truly magical.
On another day I encountered him again, this time three miles away from home while I was hiking Obstruction Pass Park with the dogs.
I was beginning to feel like I was being followed. Maybe, I thought, I was a favorite because during my college years I actually played (bear suit and all) the “Cinnamon Bear” Christmas character for Lipmans, a Portland, Oregon department store. Maybe we were kindred spirits.
What is all too often the case between man and the natural world, the threat of his well-being was beginning to show its ugly head.
Reports of Moran Park dumpster diving and a torn-open storage shed started to alarm the community.
On local Facebook groups, comments began stirring the pot: a picture was posted of a hunter, proudly posing with his foot on a fresh bear kill, along with flippant threats about killing our Orcas visitor if he so much as came within shooting range.
When appalled readers appealed for love and understanding of a creature just trying to get along, they were met with defensive justifications that it was “just a bear” – so lighten up.
Although I did not want this fairytale to end, I knew I had to do something to protect my beloved bear.
His kind was here before we were, and it would be wonderful if these peaceful islands were given back to the ones who lived on them lightly, but the reality is that Orcas is now covered shore to shore with people and cars.
With a heavy heart, I called the authorities and invited them to set the trap on what had become a truly magical spot. Fish and Wildlife arrived the next day with the large culvert trap on a trailer, and set it up in our front yard.
With a birdseed bell suspended off the large opening, and a bacon grease bag of goodies hanging in the back of the trap attached to a lever that snapped the door closed, the trap was set.
The next day, we watched as the bear made his rounds.
At 25 feet away from the trap, the bear lifted his nose to the sky, picking up the scent of the banquet in the trap, gazed at the contraption for a few seconds and then turned and disappeared into the forest.
We surmised that he was wise to the snare (maybe having been trapped before), and did not want to have anything to do with the imprisonment awaiting him.
The next day, I took his favorite black oil sunflower seeds and created a “Hansel and Gretel” trail of small heaps from the feeder to the trap, with the reward of a larger pile at the mouth of the trap, with more sprinkles on the trap floor. We went to bed and waited.
Around 10:30 p.m., we heard the large crash of the trap door slamming shut. My husband Greg investigated with a flashlight (hoping and praying that the door was actually latched), and found our sweet bear behind bars.
I was heartbroken for this scared and gentle boy, and had to remind myself through a fitful night’s sleep that I was doing the right thing.
In the early morning, we visited our guest. He was not happy, of course, but was holding it together quite well considering his situation.
Having spent the night in an enclosed space, his scent was strong, and I kid you not: he smelled like donuts. More magic, I suppose.
He needed water. Greg tried to retrieve the overturned water bucket that was now at the far end of the trap with a long stick to bring it to the front and refill it with a hose.
While concentrating on balancing the bucket on the stick, the bear lunged at him at full speed from the back, the entire length of the trap (about 10 feet) to the grate that separated the bear and the man. I have never seen Greg jump so high and so far backward!
The bucket was eventually retrieved and filled from a garden hose. The bear drank from the hose and the bucket – he was thirsty.
We had a problem.
Fish and Wildlife did not want anyone to know that the bear was trapped, but we had concrete being delivered and poured that morning. It was suggested that we cover the trap with a large tarp, but the bear was not having it. He hooked the 20-foot by 30-foot tarp with a claw and in one mighty tug, five feet of tarp from all directions shredded as it disappeared into the trap. We began a tug of war with him, and with Greg and I both pulling, we were able to free the now ribboned tarp away from our buddy.
Using boards, straps and a table, we suspended the tarp far enough away from the bear to keep him from it. Our new contraption resembled a covered boat on a trailer. The concrete folks came and went, and although they were only feet from the bear, they were unaware of his presence.
As I was helping Fish and Wildlife help secure the privacy screen for the bear’s ferry ride adventure, my furry friend lunged at us as well. I know in my head that it was a typical reaction of a trapped animal. But I couldn’t help feel in my heart that he was feeling betrayed.
It is a tough reality that in a world too full of people, we have to ‘manage’ wildlife. It is heartbreaking that we have to limit their freedom to protect them from people, vehicles and discarded trash.
They deserve to live the way nature intended. I hope that by relocating him in the Cascade Mountains, he might have a chance at living that life. I am rooting for the bear who smelled like donuts, and I think about him every day.