The nearly 4-month-old Karelian bear dog is being trained to flirt with the beasts. He'll bark and pirouette in an effort to teach the bear a lesson.
Colter, who looks like a small black-and-white husky, comes from a long line of dogs that once were used to hunt large bears in Russia and Finland.
The Karelian is to bear what the border collie is to sheep, experts said. Now, state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials plan to put Colter to work.
The fluffy, friendly pup was introduced to reporters in Mill Creek on Thursday.
He's just in time for spring, when black bears come out of hibernation hungry. They are known to wander from the woods into back yards in Mill Creek, Everett, Edmonds and throughout Snohomish County hoping to make easy meals of garbage, pet food and birdseed.
The number of black bear reports in Snohomish County has increased nearly fivefold, from 13 incidents in 2005 to 67 last year, state Fish and Wildlife Capt. Bill Hebner said.
Until now, officials either trapped the bears and released them deep in the wilderness, or they shot and killed them.
By introducing the use of the Karelian bear dog, officials hope to simply scare the bears away from people and residential areas.
"(A bear) will never want to go back if it meets a Karelian bear dog," said Chris Morgan, a bear expert with the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project. "These dogs are amazing when it comes to bears."
Trapped bears are released with a Karelian dog barking at their heels. A wildlife officer shouts. Loud explosions are detonated and officers may fire rubber bullets at the bear, said officer Nicholas Jorg, Colter's handler.
"We'll push them aggressively, so they have a bad experience," he said.
The idea is to condition the bears to believe that humans are no fun.
Washington is the first state in the lower 48 to draft Karelian bear dogs into service with a fish and wildlife agency.
Rocky Spencer, a Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who was killed in a helicopter mishap in 2007, first introduced state officials to their use. After Spencer's death, Mishka, his Karelian, was adopted and put to use in a pilot program to help with bear problems.
So far, about four out of every five bears Mishka has confronted hasn't returned, Hebner said.
That success led officials to expand the program and purchase Colter from a Montana breeder.
The cost of the dog and its upkeep is paid for by a nonprofit group, Hebner said.
Colter also will be trained to detect bear scat. He'll be trained to distinguish between black bear and grizzly droppings.
That's important information for researchers, Morgan said.
There only are about 10 grizzly bears wandering the 10,000 square miles of the North Cascades, he said. About 6,000 black bears can be found in the same space and about 25,000 statewide.
"We are dealing with two very different issues here: With black bears, keeping them from people's back yards, but with grizzly bears, making sure they don't blip into extinction," Morgan said.
The goal is for Colter to help with both.
People can help Colter do his job. The best way to discourage bears from coming into urban areas and back yards is to remove what attracts them, Hebner said.
Put away bird feeders during summer months. Secure garbage. Pick up dropped fruit under trees and never leave pet food out in the open.
"It prevents the problem from occurring in the first place," he said.
Until the bears goes away, Colter has room on his dance card.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, Bear safety tips
Hungry bears can roam for miles looking for food. Humans pose a threat to bears by unintentionally making food available that can make the animals sick or expose them to other risks. Here's how to stay safe and protect the bears:
People should lock up trash, place bird food out of a bear's reach and not place food in unsecured compost piles. Pick up downed fruit and clean backyard barbecues.
Pets and livestock should be locked up and beehives and fruit trees fenced off.
If you encounter a bear, call state Fish and Wildlife agents between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 425-775-1311, or call 911.
More information is available from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/blkbear/dosdonts.htm or at the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project at www.bearinfo.org.
To learn more about Karelian bear dogs in Washington state or make a donation, go to www.washingtonbeardogs.org.">email@example.com
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