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JBLM to reopen Engineer Bluff after series of bear sightings

Northwest Guardian

Published: 03:29PM June 19th, 2013

After looking into a number of bear sightings the past two weeks, Joint Base Lewis-McChord leaders will reopen Engineer Bluff to the public Saturday.

Multiple sightings have been reported of a mother bear and her two cubs moving through the trees on the bluff near popular recreation and training areas. Engineer Bluff was closed to the public for about a week while officials determined whether the bears posed a threat.

Because the bear has kept to the woods and made no aggressive moves, JBLM safety and EMS officials do not consider her a “nuisance,” meaning she and her cubs have not wandered into suburban areas for food or demonstrated a lack of fear in humans.

“We have signed the area that warns people that there are bears in the area,” said Paul Steucke, Jr., chief of the environmental division in the JBLM Directorate of Public Works. “The area is open, but people entering the area should know there are bears.”

The mother is not considered dangerous, but if people sight the bear, they should avoid placing themselves between her and her cubs. In previous sightings, the mother has acted protective of her cubs but never charged anyone.

“It’s not aggressive, but like any mother bear, she’s going to protect her cubs,” said Maj. Sharon Lyght, JBLM provost marshal.

Directorates of Public Works and Emergency Services caution the public to read and comply with instructions on posted signs, flyers, emails and social media to remain safe when recreating near Engineer Bluff and Miller Hill.

If you see a bear, DPW and DES guidance says keep an eye on the it while you change direction. If the bear sees you, continue to move away from it.

Avoid approaching the bear, especially if there are cubs nearby. If the bear walks toward you, make yourself appear as big as possible while making noise and clapping your hands.

“If the bear hears a lot of noise, it’s going to want to flee the area,” Steucke said.

If the bear stares at you, continue to look big while you take steps away without turning your back from it.

If the bear charges, continue to make yourself look big to scare it off. The last resort is to fight back against the bear, aggressively focusing on the eyes and nose.

“Let’s all hope it never comes to that,” Steucke said.

If going to the Engineer Bluff area, take a friend with you or bring your dog on a leash to maximize noise to scare away bears.

The only documented bear attack on JBLM was in 2011 when a man’s dog, not on a leash, went into the woods after it spotted a black bear. The bear chased the dog and took a swipe at the owner as it ran past him.

“Most likely bears are not going to come after you unless provoked,” Steucke said.

DES plans to send out regular safety patrols to protect the public in the areas where bears have been frequently seen.

“It’s not something that we want to keep closed permanently, but we want to make sure all the individuals who use the area are safe,” Lyght said.

To report a bear sighting, call JBLM Police Dispatch at 253-912-4303/2049/4446.