One bear caught, two others fatally shot

FEDERAL WAY – A black bear nicknamed Columbus because of his exploring ways was trapped with muffins and molasses at the Weyerhaeuser Co. headquarters, but two others in Thurston County had to be shot to death, state wildlife agents said.

With hungry bears awakening from hibernation and straying into recently developed areas that once were bear habitat, the latest in a string of bear sightings and encounters in the populous Puget Sound area have been a mixed bag.

State Fish and Wildlife agents shot the 205-pound, 2-year-old Columbus with a tranquilizer dart Thursday morning at the timber company’s headquarters between Seattle and Tacoma. They checked his vital signs before relocating the animal to the foothills of the Cascade Range.

Also Thursday morning, less than an hour’s drive to the south in Lacey, a 1-year-old bear was shot and killed after being spotted near Evergreen Forest Elementary School. Not far away, in Yelm, police fatally shot a 5- or 6-year-old bear weighing about 250 pounds Tuesday night after the animal climbed down from a tree and headed for some homes.

Columbus got his nickname because authorities believe he swam from the Kitsap Peninsula eastward across the sound to Vashon Island and then, on May 25, to Des Moines on the mainland in the suburbs south of Seattle, said Rocky Spencer, a state wildlife biologist.

The bear is believed to have traveled about two miles a day, stopping in Des Moines and Kent before turning up at Weyerhaeuser’s woodsy 600-acre campus Wednesday. Some walking trails on the campus were blocked as wildlife agents set up barrel traps baited with goodies.

In Lacey, near the state capital of Olympia, wildlife agents learned a bear had been hit by a car and shot it because it had been running down a residential street and was seen in at least one yard close to the grade school, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Craig Bartlett said.

Wildlife officers try to avoid destroying animals but have no choice when public safety is at stake, Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Duane Makoviney said.

The bear in Yelm could not be shot with a tranquilizer dart in the tree because the animal was too high in the branches and would have been hurt in the fall, and in any event, no wildlife agents were available to respond to a police call for assistance, Makoviney said.

An agent spoke by telephone to police, who opened fire with an M-16 loaded with .223-caliber rounds when the bear started making for some houses in the darkness.

Yelm Police Chief Todd Stancil said the officer would not have shot had the bear run toward a river or forest.

“He had to make a judgment call,” Stancil said. “Obviously, it’s a sad thing the bear had to be put down.”

Last weekend a 325-pound black bear trying to cross I-90 was fatally injured by a westbound car near Snoqualmie, the State Patrol said. The driver was unhurt but the car was a total loss.

In the previous three weeks, authorities had received a half-dozen calls from motorists reporting a bear cutting across I-90, but efforts by wildlife agents to trap were unsuccessful.

About 25,000 black bears are believed to live in Washington state. Fish and Game Sgt. Kim Chandler said no Western Washington residents have been killed by black bears in the past 50 years.

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