Bad berry year for basin bears | SierraSun.com

Bad berry year for basin bears

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

This summer’s drought-like conditions have been bad news for bears.

The lack of moisture has led to a shortage of natural food, forcing the animals into civilization to find food, often ending with bears shot by alarmed residents or struck by vehicles. The BEAR League aims to do something about it, devising a drastic plan to draw bears back into the wilderness.

“The little snow we had melted early, so the tributaries and streams dried up really early, and that caused most of the berries to whither on the vine,” said Executive Director Ann Bryant of the BEAR League. “Right now the berries should be ripening.”

Pine cones, which bears eat after they are peeled by squirrels and other rodents, are also in short supply, Bryant said.

“They even need to come down to the river and lake to drink,” Bryant said, “They are being forced to come down to where we are.”

She said that the numbers of bears being reported in populated areas has skyrocketed this year, with the BEAR League receiving more than 200 calls per day, as opposed to 50 to 75 calls in past years.

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This has also resulted in more bears killed by cars, she said, with 53 reported deaths so far this year, compared to 19 total in 2005.

“These aren’t even garbage bears, Bryant said. “Garbage bears are normally 300 to 400 pounds, and the one just killed in Tahoe City was only 200 pounds.”

Jason Holley, wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, agreed that less food is driving bears to wander farther ” sometimes into populated areas.

“I think this year it is one of the main causes, but there is the constant numbers issue of more bears and more people,” Holley said.

Pending permission from the California Department of Fish and Game, the BEAR League has a plan to combat the problem, Bryant said.

“We are going to do backcountry food drops, putting natural food back into the backcountry,” Bryant said. “We have hundreds and hundreds of pounds of food we plan to put in several locations that won’t bring the bears near neighborhoods.”

But Fish and Game’s Holley said the department’s general policy would oppose feeding the bears.

“It’s an unnatural situation that forces bears to congregate; who knows what long-term problems that could create?” Holley said. “If the smell of people is on the food, they could be more likely to associate people with food in the future, and they could become more susceptible to hunters.”

He said no real solution may exist, asking instead that residents maintain vigilance.

“It’s just a bad situation, but people should keep doing the usual things, like proper food and garbage storage, securing their homes, having pets with you, and dog alarms work well,” Holley said.

While waiting for permission, the BEAR League is looking for donations of either natural foods or money to purchase food, she said.

“The bears are so hungry they are coming into people’s homes, so we hope to get permission to do this ” if not just for the bears, for homeowners too,” Bryant said.

For more information on the BEAR League go to http://www.savebears.org, or call 525-7297.

For more information on the BEAR League go to http://www.savebears.org, or call 525-7297.