California and Nevada wildlife officials are reminding people to be “bear aware” and act responsibly in bear country.
Throughout spring and summer, California Department of Fish and Wildlife receives numerous calls about black bears breaking into homes, rummaging through garbage bins and raiding campsites.
Such bears are often labeled “nuisance” bears, but they are mostly just doing what comes naturally to them, foraging for food and getting into whatever happens to be left out for them by people, according to wildlife officials.
“Human-bear conflicts are largely the fault of humans. People need to adjust their behavior when they live and recreate in bear country,” Jesse Garcia, bear program manager for CDFW, said in a press statement.
“It is absolutely necessary to secure food and trash receptacles to avoid attracting bears. Campers and residents can prevent expensive property damage, safeguard people from injury and save the lives of bears by exercising a little common sense,” Garcia said. “Bears that become habituated to humans or conditioned to eating our food and trash often have to be killed.”
May is “Be Bear Aware Month” in California.
Across the state line, Nevada Department of Wildlife is planning a bear awareness campaign for the month of July, but spokesman Chris Healy said people living or vacationing in bear country need to be bear-aware all of the time.
Lake Tahoe Basin is a challenging bear area, Healy said. It’s prime bear habitat mixed with lots of people and large tourist populations turn over almost every week during the summer vacation season.
The solution to most bear-human conflicts is as simple as people not leaving food or garbage out to attract bears, according to Healy.
“If you don’t want bears, don’t leave food out. That includes garbage, bird feeders, pet food, things like that. If you don’t want bears, don’t do anything to attract them,” Healy said. “Our biologist Carl Lackey has had some success reaching out to homeowners associations, condos and those kinds of things, trying to emphasize the need for bear awareness. But with all of the vacation rentals, it does get to be a little more difficult.”
NDOW is also having problems with a group of people who are interfering with its bear management activities and claiming the agency kills every bear it traps, Healy said.
A Truckee woman and Reno woman this week were found guilty of tampering with a culvert-style trap that NDOW set up at Lake Tahoe to capture a nuisance black bear. Another trap in Incline Village was tampered with this week as NDOW tried to capture a black bear that broke into a house on Sunday.
“We were hindered in our ability to trap that bear because word got out the trap was up there,” Healy said, adding that such interference delays intervention and adverse conditioning and ultimately hurts the chances of a bear’s survival.
“There is a small but active and organized group that doesn’t understand that when they hinder us in getting to a bad bear early, it allows the bear to continue to display more and more bad behavior, breaking into houses, and then it becomes a problem bear and sometimes it has to be killed,” Healy said. “We hate to point the finger like that, but unfortunately we’re meeting up with some ill-advised and willfully ignorant opposition to what we do.”
Healy said NDOW has handled more than 1,100 bears since 1987 and only had to kill about 100 of them.
“We don’t want to kill bears. We want to do all we can to keep them wild,” Healy said. “But we also have to keep the public safe. We have to manage wildlife and keep the public safe and no one else in this debate has that responsibility.”