Be bear-y aware of wildlife

A bear climbs a tree in Minden on June 12, 2020.

A bear climbs a tree in Minden on June 12, 2020.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.


The Sierra Nevada’s rich diversity is one of the draws for visitors and new residents. 

As more people live and recreate in the area, wildlife encounters are likely to occur and as tempting as it might be to touch, take pictures or feed the animals, such encounters should be avoided.

“Wild animals don’t need our handouts, they need our respect,” said California Department of Wildlife biologist Shelly Blair. “Our CDFW campaign is titled ‘Keep Me Wild’ for that reason.”

Blair stressed the importance of practicing wildlife safety, particularly referring to bears in her February Zoom presentation, “Living with Bears.”

According to the California Department of Wildlife, the Sierra is home to 40 percent of an estimated 30,000-40,000 statewide black bear population in California including El Dorado, Alpine and Lake Tahoe. 

While they can thrill visitors and residents, bears and other animals face many threats to their survival and well-being as is and don’t need human interaction. Those threats include traffic, disease, garbage-filled diets and wildfires. 

Sometimes those threats, such as a wildfire that destroys an animal’s home, push them to seek food and shelter, often in residential areas.

“Bears are very smart,” said Blair. “They learn to modify their natural behaviors and can remember where possible food sources are.”

Blair said that is why it is crucial not to feed the animals, because bears that are intentionally or unintentionally fed by people become accustomed to being around them and are more likely to cause property damage or inadvertently injure a person.

This often leads to a despairing cycle of wildlife and human interaction, usually resulting in the animal suffering the consequences.

Two bears suffered consequences of human and wildlife interaction in 2021, starting with one of the “South Shore Four” bears in August. The bear kept returning to a residential area, showing little fear of cars and people, but ultimately was found unresponsive on its side possibly due to being struck by a vehicle. In October, the “Kings Beach Bear” was shot and killed in a campground confrontation.

“It is not cute for these animals to come on to your deck or campsite and eat your food,” she said. “It is very dangerous to humans and the animals.”

Blair said it is best to make the animals feel uncomfortable and afraid of humans as much as possible.

“Give the bear a negative experience,” she said. “It may seem sad, but it’s not, we want the bears to be scared of us, so they can continue to live as they should; wild.”

When wild animals interact with humans and are fed by hand, it unnaturally congregates them, makes them more habituated and potentially a risk to people and pets, can spread more disease and encourages other animals and predators, such as deer, mountain lions and coyotes to come in close proximity of houses.

“Prevention is key,” said Blair. “My desire is to get the education and outreach about living with bears and other wildlife to as many individuals as we can.”

It is up to people to prevent unnecessary conflict between humans and wildlife. The Keep Me Wild campaign of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife provides tips for keeping animals such as bears, deer, coyotes, mountain lions and various other species of wildlife away from residential areas and advice on what to do should an encounter occur. For information visit 

Store garbage in bear-proof containers or store garbage in garage until pick up.

Keep food indoors or in airtight and odor-free containers.

Put away picnic left overs and trash and clean barbecue grills.

Keep pet food inside and bird feeders away.

Pick up fallen fruit as soon as possible or protect fruit trees with electric fencing. 

Remove cosmetic fragrances and other attractants, including bird feeders and compost piles.

Keep close eye on children and teach them what to do if they encounter a wild animal.

While hiking make noise to avoid a surprise encounter with a wild animal.

Never keep food in your tent.

Never approach or pick up a cub.

If you encounter a bear or wild animal, do not run, instead face the animal, make noise and try to appear as large as possible. 

If attacked, fight back.

If a bear or other animal attacks a person, immediately call 911.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment