Residents, visitors urged to reduce bear-human interactions
The transition from winter to summer brings more than just warmer temperatures and snowmelt in the Sierra — it also means increased bear activity.
And with a spate of recent bear-related incidents around Lake Tahoe, wildlife managers and activists are urging residents and visitors to take steps mitigating bear and human interactions.
“Yes, activity is ramping up,” Toogee Sielsch, co-director of the Sierra Wildlife Coalition, told the Tribune.
Sielsch, who also volunteers with Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, regularly responds to bear incidents. And calls in recent weeks have been on the rise.
Just the other day, Sielsch responded to a call concerning a young bear who was staying put in one spot near a tree. Turned out the bear got its paws on an entire spiral ham.
Similarly, the Nevada Department of Wildlife has received numerous reports of bear activity throughout the Tahoe Basin, which is normal in the spring, Ashley Sanchez, public information officer for the department, said in an email.
Much like the incident with the ham that Sielsch responded to, all of NDOW’s reported incidents have been caused by human food sources, such as trash, pet food and bird feeders.
“With the amount of snow the Tahoe Basin received this year, bears will be relying more on human food sources, since there are limited natural food sources. That is why it is extremely important that residents and visitors secure their trash and other attractants,” Sanchez noted.
While activity has been increasing with some bears becoming active after a deep winter-time sleep, known as torpor, other bears have been active all winter — a fact due to the availability of food sources from humans.
“They’re changing behaviors in a sense,” Sielsch said.
Bear activity tends to come in surges depending on the availability of natural food sources. Sielsch explained that grasses coming alive after the heavy winter will act as a primary food source for bears in the Tahoe Basin for the coming weeks.
As those sources become consumed and mother bears with recently-born cubs start expanding the travel area, bear activity will start picking back up.
“That will happen in the next three weeks,” Sielsch said.
The summer influx of tourists and associated problems will almost assuredly lead to more bear-human interactions.
‘Don’t be lazy’
Although so-called “bear awareness” is important year round, it is increasingly important now with more bears becoming active.
The most important step is securing possible attractants. Trash should not be taken out to the curb until the morning of garbage day. Don’t leave garage doors open, and make sure you don’t leave attractants in vehicles.
Bird feeders also can be problematic. At the very least, feeders should be brought inside at the end of the day, although others advise against feeders altogether.
“Birds don’t need assistance from humans to find food, so bird feeders are not a necessity,” Sanchez said.
Sielsch also said it’s important to close ground-level doors and windows when leaving your residence.
“We’ve got quite a few of these bears who are quite adept at checking windows,” he said.
Crawl spaces can quickly turn into a bear bed and breakfast if not secured, Sielsch added. That can be especially problematic for property owners who have wiring or ventilation running under their home.
In general, Sielsch said, just don’t be lazy.
During this time of year and in the heat of summer, it’s common for bears to be a little lazier and lounge about in the same spot for an entire day.
While that may not be a cause for concern, Sielsch said residents and visitors should contact professionals if they’re concerned.
The nonprofit Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (ltwc.org) is a good resource, Sielsch said.
“Don’t approach a bear. Leave that to people who know what they’re doing.”
If you encounter a bear, try to stay as far away as possible.
“Generally it just comes down to common sense,” Sielsch said.
One incident in which the level of human involvement remains uncertain involves an undersized bear cub captured in mid April near Northstar California.
The cub, which is approximately 1 year old, was seen in a video approaching a snowboarder as if it was looking for food. Seemingly unafraid, the bear literally walked across the snowboard like it was expecting the person to feed it.
The video has, as of Thursday afternoon, received over 41,000 views.
Despite assertions on social media, California Department of Fish and Wildlife does not have concrete information confirming whether the bear was fed by humans, Kyle Orr, a public information officer with the department, told the Tribune.
“But generally speaking that bear was acting in a way that suggests it’s had access to human food either indirectly or directly,” Orr said, noting the footage of the bear seeming to nose at the snowboarder’s hands.
The fact that the cub was unafraid is both unusual and of a concern.
“That is behavior that could continue when the bear weighs hundreds of pounds,” Orr said.
Veterinarians have observed a slight tilt of the head, which could be due to a possible neurological issue. They continue to monitor the bear’s condition and have not determined its future.
In general, Orr said, there are three options.
The first and the most ideal is that the bear is relocated and returned to the wild.
Another option is to find it a home in an animal sanctuary or similar facility.
The third and least preferred option is euthanasia. Typically, that is used when either the bear is determined to be a public safety threat or when the bear cannot live a comfortable life due to disease or some other issue.
Fish and wildlife officials do not have a timeline for when a determination could be made on the bear’s future.
“They’ll do the work they need to do,” Orr said.