BURLINGTON — As traffic rumbled along Interstate 5 on Thursday morning, a young black bear clung to the trunk of a tree 500 feet away behind Home Depot in Burlington.
A Home Depot employee reported the bear about 6 a.m., and state Department of Fish & Wildlife officers arrived on scene shortly after.
Fish & Wildlife officer Clint Lucci said bears climb trees to avoid threats, and the bear showed no signs Thursday morning of wanting to come down amid the bustle of shoppers and drivers.
Around 10:30 a.m., Lucci and some of his colleagues set a trap. They spread greenery along the floor of the metal cage and placed a bag of birdseed mixed with bacon grease and honey inside in an attempt to lure the bear from its perch about 30 feet up the tree.
Lucci said they hope to use the trap and haul the bear east, possibly to the Ross Lake area.
If the bear doesn’t come down on its own, however, the officers may have to try using tranquilizer darts to force the bear’s fall from the tree and into a net.
Officers have asked the public to avoid the area. Home Depot staff members have placed orange fencing along the sides of the building to block public access.
“We’re going to wait him out,” Lucci said. “I’ll be babysitting him all day to make sure people don’t get too close.”
Fish & Wildlife has not yet determined whether the bear is the same one that was recently sighted exploring island areas, including in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands on Fidalgo Island.
That bear, a young male, is distinguishable by a light patch on its chest. The bear in the tree, as of Thursday morning, was only showing its face and paws through openings between branches.
“We don’t know yet if he’s the bear that has been island hopping, but he could be,” Lucci said.
Fish & Wildlife officer Ralph Downes, who spends most of his time patrolling by boat around the islands, said the bear seen May 6 in Anacortes swam to San Juan County islands including Orcas and Lopez before making its way back to Skagit County.
“He made a full loop and basically decided the islands don’t have what he’s looking for,” Downes said, adding that sightings were reported Wednesday along Josh Wilson and Farm to Market roads.
Lucci and Downes said although the bear — or possibly bears — have shown no signs of aggression toward humans, it’s problematic that the animal has wound up in the city center.
“He’s where he probably shouldn’t be, so we’ll do our best to get him out of there,” Downes said.