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Don’t feed the bears

With temperatures warming, the area’s black bear population is once again on the move and in search of food.

In order to minimize unwanted bear foraging behavior, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is reminding those living in or visiting the area to store and dispose of garbage properly.

“Over the years, we have seen bear behavior change significantly in areas where more people live and recreate in bear habitat,” said Vicky Monroe, the department’s conflict programs coordinator, in a news release. “Beginning with spring and into late fall, we receive a steady stream of calls from the public reporting anything from bears breaking into cabins and tents to bears stealing food off picnic tables.”

Bears change their behavior upon finding anthropogenic foods like garbage or dog food, according to a 2018 publication by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, which may lead them to become a public safety concern. Most conflict occurs when food, garbage, or pet food is made available to bears, and as long as bears find easy access to these resources, conflicts are likely to continue.

“As the human population has expanded into wildlife we do see change for sure,” said Lesa Johnston, education and outreach staff member for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “More problems is what it amounts to. More calls, more sightings, more incidents, more cabin break-ins, more problems at campsites — over the years, this is the trend we’re seeing.”

In 2018, the Truckee Police Department received 96 calls regarding bears, according to Sgt. Danny Renfrow.

“I’d say probably 95% of them are food related. We’ll leave that other 5% for the people who just see a bear and call,” said Renfrow.

“They’re looking for food. They’re opening doors. The number one tip would be lock your cars, lock your doors to your house, because they’re going to look for areas of opportunity and if you leave some food in your car, they’re going to get in there. And if that door closes behind them, they’re going to absolutely destroy your car.”

The department received eight calls about bears during the first three months of 2019. Black bears do not officially hibernate, according to the United States Forest Service, but instead enter a modified form of hibernation called torpor. During this state black bears may wake up and leave their dens in search of food on mild winter days.

The black bear population in California has steadily risen during the past three decades, according to the most recent report, done in 2016, by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which placed the number of bears in the state between 30,000 and 40,000. The Sierra Nevada subpopulation, which encompasses an area from Plumas County south to Kern County, according to the report, makes up 40% of the state’s total black bear population.

In order to reduce human-bear conflicts, the fish and wildlife department recently issued a release, urging residents and visitors to properly dispose of leftover food and garbage.

Additional suggestions include:

Residents and vacationers should remove any food attractants from around their home or rental. Pet food, barbecue grills and bird feeders are also attractants. Store trash in bear-resistant storage sheds until trash pickup day.

Use sensory deterrents (such as ammonia), electric mats and bear-resistant fencing to exclude hungry and curious bears from gaining access to attractants.

Visitors to towns and tourist areas should not pile trash in a trash can or bin that is already overflowing – take trash to a proper receptacle or another location if necessary.

Keep campsites and other recreation areas clean. Use bear-resistant coolers and store all food in bear lockers.

Never feed wildlife.

Additional information can be found on CDFW’s website, including tips on how to keep California black bears wild, information about bear proof containers and information about black bear biology.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com.

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