Lake Tahoe black bear activity has ‘certainly started to pick up’
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Spring is in the air across the Tahoe Basin, with warmer temperatures, blooming flowers, greener meadows — and trash occasionally strewn around a neighborhood due to mismanaged garbage.
As bears begin to emerge from hibernation, wildlife officials are once again urging residents and visitors to be “bear aware” leading up to Memorial Day weekend and the summer season.
“All of a sudden in March, it starts to escalate,” Clean Tahoe executive director Catherine Cecchi said of garbage incidents.
Her nonprofit agency assists with trash pickup across the South Shore and is often called to respond when wildlife gets into trash.
“It’s certainly started to pick up,” she said, describing 49 animals-in-trash incidents they responded to on the South Shore during the month of March.
Cecchi said she believes three-quarters of the incidents are likely bear-related.
“The big problem this time of year is people let their guard down,” Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy said.
While there have been some incidents, Healy said the rate of activity has been down — at least on the Nevada side of the lake.
“It hasn’t been as busy as it has been some years,” he explained, citing drought recovery and increased natural food sources for the lack of activity.
“We’re hoping that it’s going to be a year where the wildland bears stay in the wild,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of factors that have yet to play out.”
In 2014, for example, a substantial apple crop in Carson Valley and around Reno was credited for increased incidents, Healy said.
He added that a late freeze could also reduce the amount of food in the wild, like wild nuts, also potentially bringing the bear population closer to populated areas.
Along the South Shore, wildlife response volunteer and Tahoe Bear League board member Toogee Sielsch said he’s responded to a few incidents already, but they’ve tapered off with spring.
He also credited increased vegetation following the return of average snowfall after four drought years.
“Right out of the gate, in two weeks I’ve done four different bear aversions,” he said. “They’re making themselves shown, but they’ve backed off a little.”
While largely anecdotal, Sielsch observed that bears appear to be coming out of hibernation looking healthier than in past years.
Healy suggested, however, that it may be too early to tell the full impact of drought recovery on the wildlife population.