Black bear sightings are rare but not uncommon in Columbia County

Three years ago, in November, Rod Nastrom had just let the cat out on the back deck of his house in Warren.

“Suddenly I heard a horrendous bang. It sounded like somebody had jumped off the roof.”

He turned back to the door and found himself staring at the rump of a big black bear.

“I figured, well, that’s all nine lives of the cat.”

But the bear ran off, and the cat reappeared some time later. They’d scared each other, Nastrom reasoned.

Nastrom has seen nearly everything from deer to bobcats at his Christmas tree farm, Nastrom’s Needles. It was the first time he’d seen a bear.

Oregon has an estimated black bear population of 25,000-30,000, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Black bear sightings, though rare, are not uncommon in Columbia County.

People reported several sightings of one along Smith Road in Columbia City earlier this month.

St. Helens Port Commissioner Chris Iverson believes it is the same bear that has come back for the last four years around this time to eat the apples off of his trees.

“He’s huge, he’s absolutely huge,” Iverson said.

Four years ago, he’d heard a bear might be in the area and didn’t believe it. The next day, as he was going down his driveway in Columbia City, he saw unmistakable signs that a bear had been there recently.

Since then, members of his family have seen cubs on Smith Road and one persistent visitor has knocked over trash cans and burn barrels near Iverson’s house, on the prowl for food.

If he has to walk outside the house after dark, Iverson will make as much noise as he can to alert the bear to his presence.

“I’m just afraid he’s going to get involved with kids,” Iverson said. “He’s just not afraid anymore and someone’s going to walk around the corner and surprise him.”

Black bears, despite their name, are not always black. Sometimes they are almost blonde or brown, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The males are bigger than the females, weighing an average of 275 pounds. Male or female, they will eat almost anything.

When they find a source of easy food, they are likely to return to it.

After Nastrom discovered the bear on his property, he talked to ODFW about relocating the animal. He was told the agency could only trap and shoot it.

“I didn’t want that,” Nastrom said. “It wasn’t doing any harm, but you can’t really have it out here when kids are walking around looking for Christmas trees.”

Fortunately, the bear solved the problem by going into hibernation.

Still, it had plenty of time to make a nuisance of itself before bedding down for its winter nap. It would appear at dusk, raiding Nastrom’s apple trees and knocking over bins.

“He wasn’t afraid of anybody,” Nastrom said. “They just get into everything.”

The Nastroms thought they were rid of him once winter settled in, but “in Spring, here’s this black bear again.”

They were ready, though. They put away and secured all possible food sources and the bear, losing interest in the place, eventually left.

Bears are a part of the landscape in Columbia County, said Don Vandeberg, district wildlife biologist with ODFW. So the question becomes, “how do we co-exist?” he said.

The easiest answer: Don’t give them a food source. Pack away garbage, pet food and other possible foods. Pick the apples and pears off fruit trees.

“If there’s nothing to eat, the bear will understand that pretty quick and away it will go,” Vandeberg said.

Actual encounters are rare, Vandeberg said.

But if a person does encounter a black bear, the first rule is to stay calm then slowly leave the area and speak softly. It’s important to give the animal room to escape.

Black bears do not often attack humans unless an animal feels threatened or is provoked, according to ODFW.

“Don’t run or make any sudden movements,” Vandeberg said.

“Running is likely to prompt the bear to give chase,” reads an informational brochure from ODFW, “and you can’t outrun a bear.”

If you see a bear in Columbia County, contact the following agencies immediately:

n Oregon State Police, 503-397-3131

n C-COM (Dispatch), 503-397-1521

n Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 503-621-3488

For more information about black bears and what to do if you encounter one, visit

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