Explosion of home security, game cameras lead to spike in wildlife sightings, experts say

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A spate of wildlife sightings — a treed bear, a bathing bear and more — has two things in common.

The animals' behavior was, one way or another, influenced by the extreme heat and their antics were spotted on home video cameras.

The explosion of cheap and small home security cameras has led to a parallel increase in wildlife sightings, according to regional wildlife professionals.

"Cougars coming around homes is not a new thing, but there is certainly more awareness now that we have 24-hour surveillance," said Bart George, a biologist with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

That increased awareness can be a double-edged sword.

"Everyone has a camera now days," Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Tony Leonetti said. "There are positives and there are negatives."

For the professionals, game cameras set up in the woods can help more accurately survey animal populations and behavior. They are also a boon for hunters.

But cameras on people's front doors also lead to hysteria and increased reports of "problem animals," Leonetti said. Prior to cheap and accessible cameras, a homeowner living near or on the urban-rural divide had no idea what wandered through their yard at night. Now they do. And that can lead to worry and a call to WDFW, even when the animal is simply passing through.

That was the case for the bear spotted on the South Hill last week, Leonetti said.

"In the video of him on Wednesday morning, he's just walking by," he said. "He's not interested in anything they got and he's just tooling by."

The increased awareness isn't just a pain for overworked enforcement officers. It can also lead to increased stress on the animal as curious, or fearful, neighbors flock to gawk. That also happened to the bear last week, Leonetti said.

"We had a couple neighbors that just wouldn't leave it alone," he said. "They thought it was the coolest and cutest thing."

In that particular case, the neighbors would have noticed the bear even without cameras. But video and photos of the bear were circulated on the app Nextdoor, further fueling interest.

These video-sightings have become so common that WDFW enforcement now includes whether the animal sighting was made on a camera or in person, agency spokeswoman Staci Lehman said.

Patty Sipes can attest to the uneasy nature of knowing what's walking through her backyard. Sipes has a home on Newman Lake. On March 30, Sipes' Ring doorbell camera captured a photo of a cougar walking through her driveway.

"We like to be aware," she said. "(But) it does get us a little scared when we see the cougar that was literally where my car was parked."

Sipes said the cougar never returned. In the three years she's had a Ring camera, she has captured video and photos of moose and deer. After talking to wildlife experts, she pays attention to the animals' behavior and doesn't freak out. If they're simply passing through, she doesn't worry

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