Bears are looking for winter real estate
By Ann BryantAbout this time each year I find myself in denial. Refusing to put away my Teva’s, purposely not ordering the firewood, leaving the lawn chairs out even though there’s no more sun in the yard and it’s too cold to sit out there. I know what I’m doing … I’m pretending winter isn’t really coming.I’m not sure how the bears feel about winter, but obviously they are smarter about preparing for it than I am. They know it’s coming and they are not about to be caught unaware. While I dig for my garden hoses that are buried under an overnight dump of three feet, all the bears will be laughing at me from within a snug, cozy den they each have nestled into.Right now, as I continue to ignore the squirrel-chewed heat tape on my roof, the bears are scouting out neighborhoods for appropriate winter residences. It is the hope of many bears that most of us homeowners will welcome them under our houses and cabins by leaving a crawl space door open or unsecured. Each and every fall there are far too many of us who unwittingly oblige them. Last winter, after I shoveled my bicycle out from under the residue of October’s first storm and begrudgingly admitted summer was over, the BEAR League hot line began to receive what amounted to at least two calls a week, all winter long, about bears sleeping under houses. So, busily we went about our task of waking up bears and evicting them from under numerous unsecured houses.Quite often we find damage of differing degrees because once under the house the bear will remodel to his or her liking. This includes tearing apart insulation for the nest and taking down phone wires, plumbing pipes and heat ducts. They do all this without a TRPA permit, by the way, and it can become very costly to repair.Last winter one landlord had the misfortune of having a bear “hibernating” under a home next door to the winter retreat she rented out to skiers. The woodsy cabin came with all the necessary amenities including a hot tub. The bear assumed the hot tub was there just for him and would wake up every few days to enjoy a relaxing evening soak. This did not meet with the approval of several Bay Area guests who fervently refused to have a bear joining them in the warm, relaxing water. Most of them checked out early, displeased and unaccustomed to the local wild residents’ gregarious behavior.On a much sadder note, we lost a whole family of bears who were killed by a second homeowner after he fed them all summer and then inadvertently left his crawl space door open in the fall. We offered to remove the bears, like we do on a weekly basis, but the owner insisted he liked bears and could not stand to think of them as being homeless in the middle of January.Instead, when the insurance agents informed him that no reimbursements for damages could be made until the bears were gone, he decided to kill them (the bears, not the insurance agents). The house was then badly vandalized by neighbors and our district attorney is looking into filing criminal charges against the homeowners and the killers. All this because the crawl space was left open.With this in mind I’m asking for some help, not in getting my house and yard ready for winter, I might still get around to that on my own, but once done it would be wonderful to actually sit back and appreciate the fire and read a good book rather than spend my time crawling under dark, spider and mouse infested cabins and giving bears their walking papers.Please take a quick look around your foundation (and your absentee neighbor’s) and remove the “Vacancy – Bears Only” sign by closing up the openings. If nothing else works just remember this: Bears don’t pay rent.Ann Bryant is the executive director of the Bear League. For help or advice contact the BEAR League at (530)525-PAWS (7297) or http://www.savebears.org.