By Michelle Esteban
ISSAQUAH, Wash. — An Issaquah family worried a prowler was on their property was shocked when they discovered the bad guy was not a person, but a black bear.
The Grumm family had no idea the bear had come and gone until they spotted him hours later on their security camera. What made the experience even more disconcerting, the bear was outside the house while they were home and in the yard.
The family’s security video captured the bear looking for an easy meal at about 4 p.m. on Saturday. He soon found it inside their garbage tote, which was sitting up against the side of their house.
The family lives in a heavily-wooded area near Cougar Mountain. One side of the house is bordered by a steep greenbelt ravine and loaded with trees in every direction.
The video show a black bear who seems right at home and in no particular hurry. His moves were slow, but deliberate as he headed straight for the Grumm’s garbage tote. He immediately turned it on its side, lifted the lid and pulled out a plastic white bag loaded with garbage.
Once he secured the bag by the handle in his mouth, he cut through the driveway and down a nearby ravine, where the remnants of his lunch-to-go were later discovered.
“The biggest worry is it looked like he’d done it many times before and he is comfortable with it,” said Tyson Grumm.
Washington State Fish & Wildlife Agent Sergeant Kim Chandler said the bears are fattening up for hibernation, and that it’s likely this same black bear will return to the Grumm’s garbage tote for more free food.
“They are eating anything and everything they can get their hands on,” said Chandler. “They are chowing down. It’s easier to lift a lid than climb a tree for fruit.”
The Grumms said the bear’s visit unfolded right under their noses, even though they had no idea it was happening.
“You can see me walking out there with the lawn mower, mowing the lawn, my son following me behind,” Grumm said.
Thirty minutes later, while mowing the lawn with his 6-year old nearby, the bear was helping himself to the Grumm’s garbage.
“He looked so comfortable,” Grumm said. “It looked like he’d done it everyday, like he came for his lunch.”
The only reason Grumm’s wife Tara checked the security camera and made the surprise discovery is because she and Tyson noticed their garbage can on its side. They worried a prowler had been on their property.
“I really thought it was the work of a person,” said Grumm. “I feel a little less comfortable having my kid having out on a sunny day.”
From the footage, Chandler guesses the bear weighs roughly 250 pounds. Chandler concluded that the bear appeared to be “non-aggressive” and “slow-moving,” which is not what Fish & Wildlife would consider a threat to public safety.
After zooming in on the video, Chandler noticed a yellow tag on the bear’s left ear and a collar around his neck.
“That is an ear tag and a collar,” said Sgt. Chandler, “He’s a frequent flier. I know this guy.”
Chandler said the tag and collar meant at some point the state had trapped and then re-released this bear. It’s a method the state uses to try to train problem bears to keep away.
“That may not be working,” said Chandler.
He believes the bear that showed up on Grumm’s property may be a black bear known as “Napster.” Fish & Wildlife agents track his whereabouts roughly four times a day to try to keep tabs and make sure the bears like this one don’t become aggressive.
State mapping shows Napster was in the area on September 1. Agents can see roughly where the bear has been, but not what it’s doing. The Grumm video gives them an idea on the bear’s temperament.
Chandler said unless the Issaquah bear gets aggressive, the state will not trap him again.
“For us to come and trap a bear, there has to be some sort of public safety issue, a really overly aggressive bear,” Chandler said.
Chandler said it’s easier to train people than train a bear, and he insisted if people remove the food, and the bears will not come back.
In King County this year alone, Chandler says there have been 546 bear complaints. He is convinced a big part of the problem is people feeding the bears, something Grumm says he knows at least one of his neighbors does regularly. Chandler said feeding bears is against the law and he would be happy to cite anyone caught doing it.
He also said using bungee cords to secure garbage cans don’t work. He said it’s better to keep garbage totes inside until pick-up day.
Bear sightings have become so problematic in the nearby city of Snoqualmie, city leaders are considering mandating bear locking garbage totes, which Chandler says can be upwards of hundreds of dollars.