Seven Things to Know About California Bear Activity Right Now

Reports of wayward black bears are keeping the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) biologists, wildlife officers and other public safety personnel busy across the state this month. Numerous bears have recently been spotted in urban areas, occasionally requiring human intervention to return them back to wild habitat.

Below are some of the most common questions CDFW has received from the public and members of the media regarding these incidents.

(1) Has there been an increase in the number of bears entering residential areas?

There is a definite uptick in bear activity, which occurs every year around this time, all across the state. In most instances, we’re witnessing the dispersal of young male black bears. Young bears typically spend about two years with their mother, after which the mother chases off her young male offspring in the spring to fend for themselves. The behavior itself is not unusual for the time of year.

Nature provides these youngsters with the best chance of survival as they are turned out on their own at a time of year when food and water resources on the landscape are the most available and plentiful.

Black bears typically prefer remote, mountainous areas far away from people. Still, these young, dispersing male bears are learning to survive on their own for the first time and are out seeking new territory to call their own. They sometimes take a wrong turn or end up somewhere they are not supposed to be – in a residential neighborhood or in the middle of town, for instance – at which point CDFW and emergency responders will help return these animals to wild habitat if they can’t make it out on their own.

(2) The bear removed from a tree in downtown Napa last week was an adult weighing more than 200 pounds. What was that bear doing?

California’s black bears of all ages are waking up hungry from their winter downtime and are out actively searching for food. Adult bears may also be out searching for mates. There is more bear activity across the state this time of year and sometimes the adults end up in the wrong place, too.

The Napa bear stuck up a tree in the middle of the city was there because it was where it felt safest after being scared by its surroundings. The bear might have waited out the day and left undetected at night on its own except that it had been spotted and a large crowd had gathered under the tree. Fortunately, CDFW with help from the local fire department was able to tranquilize the bear, safely remove it from the tree, provide a quick health check, and release it to wild habitat once the tranquilizer drugs had worn off.

Even when bears are spotted in populated and residential communities, the bears will typically and happily find their way back to wild habitat on their own without any kind of assistance. Only when a bear becomes stuck in a situation where it can’t escape or is in danger of harming itself or others will CDFW typically intervene to remove the bear and safely return it to wild habitat.

(3) I saw on the news reports about bears in Vacaville and Rohnert Park. Are there really bears in the San Francisco Bay Area?

There are hundreds of thousands of acres of wild habitat in nearby Lake, Solano, Colusa, Sonoma and Napa counties where bears are present. The Knoxville Wildlife Area in Napa County, the lands around Lake Berryessa and the Cache Creek area provide wild habitat for bears and other wildlife. These rugged areas, however, are not that far from population centers in the greater Bay Area where dispersing and foraging bears could accidentally end up.

In some unfortunate cases throughout the state, black bears are being struck and hit by vehicles on the roadways. Drivers need to be particularly alert this time of year as wildlife of all kinds – bears, bobcats, deer, coyotes, foxes, among them – are on the move, out and about, and more active and visible than usual.

(4) Are these bears a public safety threat or a threat to my pets?

Black bears very rarely pose any kind of public safety threat and are not often a threat to domestic dogs and cats. For the most part, they do their very best to stay as far away from people as possible.

 (5) What kind of bears are these?

California is home only to one species of bear – the black bear. Black bears, however, come in a variety of colors, including black, brown, blond and cinnamon.

(6) How can I help the bears?

Bears have a highly specialized sense of smell. The public can help bears stay out of human settlements and stick to their natural diet by properly disposing of leftover food and garbage and securing other attractants such as pet food so these dispersing bears don’t become acclimated to urban environments. CDFW’s Keep Me Wild: Black Bear webpage offers a number of other useful tips to keep the bears wild and safe.

(7) Who should I call to report a bear?

A black bear spotted while out hiking, camping or recreating in wild habitat is not necessarily a cause for alarm. Bears spotted in residential, suburban or urban areas should be reported to the nearest CDFW regional office during normal business hours. After-hours or weekend sightings should be reported first to local police or sheriff officers, who often can respond and secure a scene quickly and then contact CDFW as needed. In any kind of emergency situation, please call 911.