Be aware of bear crossings | SierraSun.com

Be aware of bear crossings

Erin de LaFontaine

On July 31, at about 8 p.m., our family was heading home to Prosser on Interstate 80 from Donner Lake when I noticed we were approaching a very large object in between the fast lane and the divider. Now, I’m one of those people (some of you may relate) who see something on the road and say to myself, “Please don’t be a dead animal.” Sometimes, to my relief, it is a piece of tire or other debris. Other times, it is to my great disappointment and sadness another deer, raccoon, dog, etc.This time it never crossed my mind that it was an animal – it was too big. I thought, “What is that?” Did a piece of furniture fall off the back of a truck? Within seconds I had my answer. He was looking our way. It was a bear.A car had just hit him. Terrified, in pain, he was struggling to get up. His front paws were on the ground and head was lifted, but the back half of his body was just flat on the pavement. I was horrified. A couple of cars had pulled over, including the one who had struck the bear; we called 911. The California Highway Patrol was already on its way.We checked on the situation a half hour later. Apparently, due to the severity of the bear’s injuries, he had been shot. I cried. No, I sobbed. I didn’t sleep a lot that night. I couldn’t get that face out of my head – still can’t.I had to do something. So I started with doing some research. I learned about an organization called the BEAR League and spoke with its founder and executive director, Ann Bryant. Bryant founded the BEAR league seven years ago when she realized bears were being killed on our roads and by Department of Fish and Game depredation permits at an alarming rate, and no one seemed to be taking notice. With growth and highway expansions, the numbers were increasing. Bryant quickly began a campaign to have roadside bear signs strategically installed throughout the area. Caltrans first required sufficient data be collected to substantiate the need. Bryant started tracking the number of bears hit by cars. Since 2000, Bryant has recorded a staggering 65 bears that were hit and killed or fatally injured in the Truckee/Tahoe Basin (California side only). Four of these, including the bear I saw, were hit by vehicles in the same stretch of I-80 near 89 North in Truckee.The carcass of one of the bears hit on I-80 in Truckee was found near the highway. Bryant believes he had been hit by a vehicle and managed to crawl off the road but didn’t make it very far. The driver of that vehicle didn’t bother to contact the authorities.Two years ago, Bryant’s hard work began to payoff. Caltrans installed 14 bear signs along roads and highways in the Truckee/Tahoe Basin. Sadly, within a few months, all but two had been stolen. Apparently, some people thought the signs would be much more useful as lawn ornaments or dorm room wall décor. Proof that these signs are effective, one of the surviving signs (due to it’s proximity to a Sheriff’s Office) has a remarkable track record. It is in the Burton Creek area near Carnelian Bay. Prior to its existence one to two bears per year had been killed in this short stretch of road. Since installation of the sign no bears have been hit.Bryant is currently working with Caltrans to have the stolen signs replaced with new, vandal resistant signs. In the meantime we can all do our part by: • Being on the lookout for bears and other wildlife attempting to cross road and highways. This is not only for the animal’s well-being but also for your own as well.• Immediately contacting the police or highway patrol if you (or you witness someone) hit an animal. If a bear has been hit, call the BEAR League at 530-525-PAWS.If the animal is dead, they will ensure prompt removal to prevent further accidents. If the animal is still alive, they will contact Animal Control (and, in the case of a bear, the BEAR League) who will determine if the animal can be saved or must be euthanized.To contact Ann Bryant at the BEAR League call 530-525-PAWS (7297) or e-mail her at bearsnsquirrels@sbcglobal.net.Erin de Lafontaine is a Truckee resident.