Residents reported seeing a bear near South Molalla Avenue last week, ODFW believes there are three bears

COURTESY PHOTO: ODFW - This photo of a black bear was taken by an ODFW trail cam on the Mt. Hood National Forest as part of a population study.

Last week, a Molalla resident called police to report seeing a bear in his driveway on South Molalla Forest Road, across from the old mill on South Molalla Avenue and fittingly just south of Bear Creek.

Molalla Police Sergeant Chris Long was on duty that night when the call came in.

"I happened to be working," Long said, "and I started driving out towards there and as I came up to the mill, I saw the bear in the mill, running through the mill, and it crossed Molalla Avenue right in front of my patrol car and bounded off into the woods."

Long and another officer got out of their patrol cars and monitored the wood line to make sure the black bear did not return to town.

"We never saw it again, and we never saw it cross," Long said. "It was an open field—it would have had to cross right in front of us. So we never saw it come back towards civilization. It stayed out in the woods while we were there."

A transient who was staying in the mill also reported that bears took all of his food.

Molalla Police called on state police and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to assist in evaluating the situation. ODFW concluded that there appeared to be three bears in the area—one female yearling and two older males.

So, on Thursday, May 17 they placed a trap. However, at the time of press, they had not trapped any bears and had not received reports of any further sightings. ODFW planned to keep the trap out for a few more days before closing the investigation.

If they were to trap one, the bears' fates would depend upon an assessment of each animal.

"The current thinking is the yearling that has been coming through there is kind of just young and dumb and…probably, if trapped, would be relocated," said Rick Swart, ODFW public information officer. "The older ones appear to be habituated, and they're a little bit tougher problem, because once an animal has been habituated to an area, it associates that as where it's food is at, and it's hard to get them to leave. They like that food."

Swart said that if the older bears were determined to be habituated, they would be put down.

All bears living in Oregon are black bears, which are usually black, but can also be brown, cinnamon or blond, according to ODFW. Swart warns about the potential dangers of having bears in the area.

"Bears are an apex predator," Swart said. "They're a top-of-the-food-chain predator, so they command a lot of respect…They can be quite dangerous. With that said, they, like a lot of wild animals, generally are afraid of people. And so, usually how they react is to run away."

However, bears that are habituated (that appear in the same location day after day), or that do not show fear, may pose more of a threat.

Swart recommends covering up/removing food, bringing pets in at night and installing motion-activated lights.

He also recommends reading up on the animals that share our home state.

"I think it's important for all of us in Oregon to understand where we live and our surroundings…It's an awesome place that we live in with some great habitats," Swart said. "That's why we have bears, and deer, and elk and foxes and all these wonderful critters is because we have such a tremendous landscape.

"Just as an intellectual curiosity, I think it behooves us to know what species are out there, what their behaviors are, and it helps us not only to appreciate them more but to keep in the proper perspective how to interact with them if and when that time comes."

For information about living with bears, a list of bear-proof products and a homeowner checklist, visit ODFW's website.

Anyone who sees a bear and feels unsafe in any way should call 911. Non-emergency bear sightings can be reported to ODFW at 971-673-6000.

Kristen Wohlers
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