Camping 101

Creatures of the Forest: What Should and Shouldn’t Make You Wary

Wildlife is the best part of camping. What is there to be scared of?

By Allison Williams April 27, 2016 Published in the May 2016 issue of Seattle Met

Seattle met bear lake revised v5 tryr5i

Does it scare you to know that 63 people have been killed by black bears? How about if you knew that it was 63 people in the U.S. and Canada since 1900—the study was done in 2009 by the Journal of Wildlife Management—and more people die about every week from texting and driving? 

Yet fear of bears, of cougars, of snakes, and of other creepy creatures that go bump in the night keeps peo-ple from exploring the great outdoors. Here’s what should and shouldn’t make you wary.


  • Generally Found Happily in alpine meadows, sadly around unsecured trash cans. Washington Fish and Wildlife estimates there are at least 25,000 black bears in the state, and very few, if any, grizzlies.
  • Be Very Scared If You accidentally kick a cub in front of its mother or drag a young male away from his food. From a respectful distance, sightings are rare and exciting. 


  • Generally Found Hardly at all. Fish and Wildlife estimates that there are 2,500 cougars in the state, and they don’t like to show themselves.
  • Be Very Scared If You’re a house cat alone in the woods. Only one person has died from a cougar attack in Washington in the last century.


  • Generally Found Anywhere there are people who are casual with crumbs.
  • Be Very Scared If You leave a car door open, letting a chipmunk sneak in to ravage your snack bag.


  • Generally found In the air around dusk or later, flitting around and avoiding humans. More than a dozen species live in Washington.
  • Be Very Scared If You don’t see bats. They can eat their own weight in mosquitoes per day, so they’re better than a citronella candle.


14811479693 411ffaebce k k1x4z3

Marmots enjoy Washington's scenery as well.

Image: Bob Jensen


  • Generally Found In high alpine settings, sunning themselves on rocks and making distinctive whistles.
  • Be Very Scared If They’ve stolen your sunny lunch spot. These rodents of unusual size don’t spook easily by humans, especially on well-traveled trails.


  • Generally Found On the ground, in desert rock dens, in tall grasses, or close to water. But they do eat slugs.
  • Be Very Scared If It’s a Western rattlesnake. The serpents, mostly found east of the mountains, can bite, though wounds are generally mild and only occur if the snake is startled.
Filed under
Show Comments