People urged to follow simple advice: ‘Don’t feed the bears’
What is a problem bear? The official position is “when a bear becomes a threat to property or to people” he is considered to be a problem bear.
Problem bears aren’t born, they are created. This happens when they have the misfortune to develop a feeding habit that brings them in conflict with people.
It is of no matter to us if a bear has a conflict with another bear or coyotes, or any other wild animal. It is only when our property or our safety becomes an issue that we want something done.
A comment I hear much too often is, “what are they going to do about the bear situation?” It’s as though people expect someone else to come in and handle it, rather than saying, “what can I do to help? What do I need to know that may help alleviate this problem?”
One thing you do need to know is that it is now against the law to feed a bear. “Why?”, you ask. You might say, “this mother bear and her cute little cubs are so much fun to watch eating the peanut butter I put on the tree for them.”
The answer to this is that these bears have learned to associate close contact with humans and their structures as a likely place to obtain food. These bears will become problem bears and their fate is probably already sealed.
The next step is when these bears go to a nearby house where the residents don’t share the “cute, aren’t they” attitude. These people may become frightened. They may report that a bear tried to break into their home. The matter is then turned over to the local fish and game enforcement officer. After evaluating the severity of the problem, he may issue a depredation permit.
Probably soon after, the bear will be destroyed. So much for peanut butter.
I often hear “why don’t they trap and remove these problem bears?” The answer is that this has been tried, with little success. The results have been that the relocated bear either continues his bad habits in his new home, or finds his way back to where he had been removed from, or he doesn’t adapt and dies.
The next little scenario is all too often played out. Picture, if you will, a family of four on a week’s vacation, at a beautiful rental cabin in the mountains.
On their first night they discover a bear eating the cookies little Tina left on the back deck. When the cookies are gone, the bear meanders off looking for more new and exciting tasty treats. He doesn’t even seem to notice the four sets of eyes staring through the sliding glass door as he departs.
The whole family is in awe of this incredible scene. A giant black bear no more than six feet away, and unafraid.
They collectively decide to leave out some more cookies the next night. Sure enough, he doesn’t disappoint them, he eats the cookies, not even noticing the flash bulbs going off or the red light from the video camera.
This little evening ritual continues every night of the vacation. At the end of the week they depart with a great collection of pictures and an exciting story to tell the folks back home.
As the new rental week begins, in comes a young, honeymoon couple.
After having a quiet barbecue they decide to put on some music, get out the sleeping bags and lay on the back deck looking at the stars.
Well guess who shows up? Guess who didn’t know to put out the cookies? Guess what honeymoon couple spent the night on the roof? Guess what bear spent the night in the rental home looking for cookies?
Don’t think for a minute that an animal that can learn to recognize a VW van will forget where he can get cookies.
I tell this story to illustrate the need to educate, not only ourselves but those who are visitors here. I can’t imagine how many times a year a situation like this may take place.
The end result, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
If, just think about this, if people stopped feeding bears; if there was no trash for bears to forage through, would there be any more problem bears?
As humans move and recreate more and more into a bear’s natural habitat, the potential for injury and damage increases significantly. When we deliberately feed and leave out our garbage, we escalate the problem and create the problem bear.
Due to their size, black bears can pose a real threat to public safety. Twenty-five people were killed by black bears between 1969 and 1994 (Herrero and Higgins 1995).
While most of these fatal attacks were associate with non-habituated black bears, the vast majority of the 500 minor injuries, inflicted by black bears were associated with bears attempting to get human food.
When visiting most state campgrounds and national parks, notice how they have installed steel, bear proof, trash containers and food lockers. The result of these installations have proven extremely beneficial in reducing incidents of bear/human injuries.
There is no way to predict exactly how a bear will react or behave when confronted with humans. Although there are guidelines that are suggested when encountering a bear; they, like us, are individuals and extreme caution is advised.
There is a pamphlet produced by the Califomia Department of Fish and Game, entitled “Living With Califomia Black Bears.” This pamphlet is filled with exceptional information on how to avoid conflict with bears and avoid injury.
I, personally, would like to see this pamphlet placed in every rental home in the Lake Tahoe Basin. It should also be available to all visitors and residents alike at such places as real estate offices, chambers of commerce, visitor and convention bureaus, etc.
Along with this pamphlet a notice to all renters on how to deal with trash and garbage in bear country, should also be present in the rentals.
If we really want to find a way to successfully coexist with wildlife, we need to assume responsibility for our role in this delicate relationship.
The California Department of Fish and Game understands the need to provide the public with the tools of understanding required for successful coexistence with the black bear.
In discussing this article with them, it was suggested that, a first of its kind, “Bear Fest ’97” be held on Tahoe’s North Shore this month. The Sierra Sun and Tahoe World are cosponsoringt his event.
This event will be a lot of fun, as well as highly educational, providing an opportunity for adults and children to meet with the experts on black bear management. Pictures, slides, videos, literature, camping equipment, food and trash containment, all would be available.
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