BEARS | SierraSun.com

BEARS

Joanna HartmanSierra Sun

Alongside her trusty four-footed companion Marvin, an 8-year-old porcupine Ann Bryant instructs wide-eyed Glenshire preschoolers how to live in harmony with Tahoe-Truckee wildlife.Marvin wanted me to tell you all thank you, and remember not to feed the bears and appreciate them. Theyre one of our neighbors, too, Bryant reminds the 4- and 5-year-olds as she picks Marvin up like a baby to place him back in his red wheelbarrow.With bear season quickly approaching, Bryant, founder and executive director of the BEAR League, gears up for another summer of frantic phone calls, bear chases and public education.It seems like whats happening every year: It starts out slow with sightings and grazing. As it gets into being summer season and visitors coming … thats when we start inviting the problem, Bryant says.But the BEAR League has also received bear calls throughout the winter, a sign that fewer of the animals are opting to sleep through the colder months. Why? Because now food is readily available throughout the entire year, Bryant says.

Actually some bears never went in, says Cheryl Millham, director of the South Shore-based animal rehabilitation organization, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. They follow garbage.And because this winter was a temperate one, the bears that did hibernate are already waking up. South Lake Tahoe and Alpine Meadows have already seen a lot of bear activity, says California Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jason Holley, but the brief cold spell will put the bears back down for just a bit.Bear season is here again and everybody needs to take personal responsibility for their actions in bear country, Holley says.

Bryant is available almost 24 hours a day to educate homeowners, visitors and campers on how to prevent wild animals from damaging homes and property. She is known throughout the Tahoe Basin as a dynamic and eccentric individual who has dedicated herself to protecting wildlife through education, pursuing a goal of people living in harmony with bears.We all live in the forest, yes, but we have our homes, she says. They [the bears] have to respect our presence just like we have to respect their presence in the woods. Bryant is assisted by a variety of creatures in her mission to save the bears, including Marvin the porcupine, her bear-chasing duo of Karelian bear dogs Dmytro and Anya and a team of local volunteers.But it was her own anger that motivated her to start the BEAR League in 1998. Bryant was devastated after a neighborly bear was killed by a trapper.I was absolutely infuriated that this would happen to a resident of Tahoe, Bryant says emphatically as she watches her dogs wrestle on a Tahoe beach near her Homewood home.Two frightened bears survived the death of the mother bear, but one for only a minute. One cub was captured and killed while the other hid frightened in the trees. Bryant took in the orphaned cub, named him Oliver, and thus the BEAR League was born.The main thing is not just to save the bears. Our mission is to educate people on how to coexist, she says.

As bear populations increase statewide, from about 12,000 in the 1980s to over 30,000 now, conflicts between humans and bears are also on the rise, says Fish and Games Holley.And even though the majority of Tahoe visitors and residents are armed with wildlife-friendly practices, there are a handful of others who make bear problems for everyone. They leave garbage out, do not secure their homes, or intentionally feed the bears.The communities are getting better, getting wiser, about bear management. But like I say, its a one-bad-apple approach, Holley says.Bryant has been monitoring bears in the basin for more than eight years and notes that the intelligent omnivore has become increasingly comfortable around people and she says that its not a good thing.They no longer are afraid of us. Thats the biggest part of the problem because weve allowed that, Bryant says.Bears belong in the forest feeding on insects, not lounging in the garden of a Tahoe Vista home snacking on last nights leftovers, she adds.Dont just sit back and take pictures. Weve got to get with the program … most of whats happening is completely human related people not taking responsibility for being in a bears habitat.Millham agrees that the rise in human-bear problems is the result of encroaching development and the associated garbage. Bears now recognize lunch coolers and refrigerators as quick and easy food sources.Bears are getting smarter in how to get food, Millham says. You just have to learn to take care of your own stuff, and we can co-exist with all wildlife.Another, more alarming, trend is the declining number of bears entering hibernation.We are seeing more bears that never fully go down, but actually not a lot of that activity this winter, Holley says. If you have a bear thats never hibernating that means hes actively eating all the time … they become even more reliant on people food. As bears become habituated their likelihood of living as wildlife is greatly diminished … were after keeping our bears wild.

Improper garbage storage is illegal in both Placer and El Dorado counties, and homes where bears have broken into trash cans are required to purchase bear-proof containers. But people continue to leave homes and trash barrels unsecured. Most humans are too lazy, they dont want to spend the money. Theyd rather see the bear killed, Millham says.When bears cause damage to either livestock or property, California Fish and Game may issue a depredation permit that allows the homeowner to trap and kill the bear.But depredation permits should be a last resort, say agency officials.Its the last-case scenario we dont like to see a bear killed, Holley explains. At the same time we realize certain bears become incorrigible at times.The bottom line, according to officials with all three organizations, is that people must learn how to live in accordance with Tahoes wildlife take care of garbage, remove attractants from unoccupied homes, and never, ever feed a bear.Its all about awareness and people taking personal responsibility in bear country, Holley says.