Bear 101: Living in their land |

Bear 101: Living in their land

For those of you who know you live around bears and understand how to coexist with them responsibly, you have permission to read no further. From what I’ve seen, however, that’s not very many people. Just this past week the BEAR League received seven phone calls and two letters from people reporting various neighbors who are feeding bears. One man was captured on a hidden camera while holding food out to a bear. The animal came right up to take the food directly from the guy’s hand. Besides being illegal ($1000 fine/year in jail) this action is as unethical as it gets.That bear is being taught to like people, to have no fear of us and to come up and expect food from our hands. How is the bear supposed to know that there are some people out there who will mistake his friendly behavior for aggression and will have him killed? His death warrant has already been signed. Bears are extremely intelligent – more intelligent, I’m convinced – than many of us humans. But we can’t expect them to figure out and avoid something as sinister as people first making friends with them and then killing them. For those folks who worry that bears can’t find enough food by foraging naturally, please know this isn’t so. Right now nutritious herbs, grasses and plants are exactly what a bear should be eating. There are rose hips on the wild rose bushes and the berry bushes are abundant. Every dead tree lying on the forest floor is full of bugs and larva and we all know bears are designed to tear into these banquets. They have big claws and that’s not so they can get into your car.There might be one or two bears left in the area who haven’t figured out how to get into unlocked cars. The rest are on a roll, lifting up the handles and climbing right on in. You say you don’t leave anything in the car? What about the gum wrapper or the French-fry that fell under the seat? If it smells like food to a bear and he can get in, he will do so. Every day we receive several calls from people all around Truckee/Tahoe reporting a bear in their car. Here’s a trick to solve that problem: roll the windows all the way up, lock the doors and put a bowl of Pinesol (regular scent) on the front seat with the lid off (don’t forget to replace the lid before you drive off!). Get into this habit every time you park your car and it will help overpower any food crumbs or candy wrappers that might be hiding under the seat.This summer more bears than ever have decided it’s OK to go into houses. I have my suspicions where they got this idea. For instance, there are cases we’ve looked into where people were seen baiting bear cubs into the house with donuts in order to get them on the couch for a group photo with the kids (I don’t make this stuff up; some people are actually that stupid). Those bear cubs grew up and still figure they are welcome inside anyone’s house. How should they know any differently? Most people do not like it when a bear comes into their house. The big critters often make quite a mess and occasionally even break things. The danger exists for someone to accidentally get in front of the bear’s exit and block his way out. That’s when we are going to have an injured person and a resultant all-out war on our bears.Bears will go in when only a screen separates them from the food in the kitchen. Remember, screens are made to keep the bugs out, not hungry bears. After they get in the first time and are rewarded with food, it’s very difficult to ‘unteach’ them. So, before this ever happens, it’s best to keep all doors and windows on the ground floor closed and locked. Also, leave a radio playing when you’re away.Our bears think we are their friends. They have become comfortable around us and they know we always have food close by. Many people talk sweetly to them, feed them, make them feel welcome. However, in order to keep them out of trouble and alive, we have to make them want to avoid us. If you are one of those people who doesn’t like them and wishes they weren’t here, this will benefit you too. We must encourage them to fear us so they will not come into our houses, or lounge under our decks or go into our cars.There are three points I can’t seem to make often enough, so here goes again.• The only bears we have left in California and Nevada are black bears, no matter what color they are. They are not grizzlies.• No black bear has ever killed a person in California or Nevada.• ‘Problem’ bears are not relocated in California, they are trapped and killed.Ann Bryant is the executive director of the BEAR League. For more information, call the BEAR League at 530-525-PAWS (7297) E-mail us at or visit our website at

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