Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. – Autumn has arrived in the Sierra Nevada — leaves are turning and there is a noticeable chill in the air. The fall season also means bears are actively searching for food before winter arrives and it’s more important than ever to practice proper food and garbage storage to Keep Tahoe Bears Wild.
In the fall, bears experience hyperphagia (pronounced hai·pr·fei·jee·uh) which is an increase in feeding activity driven by their need to fatten up before winter. This increase in feeding activity involves searching far and wide for food and eating and drinking nonstop in order to obtain the 25,000 daily calories per day bears need in order to survive hibernation. Due to last winter’s low snowpack combined with a very dry summer, there are fewer natural food sources available to bears in higher elevations and thus more chances for human-bear interactions as bears seek out human food sources.
“2020 has been a challenging year for bears in the Tahoe Basin and surrounding states due to a lack of natural food sources bears usually rely on during hyperphagia,” said Mike Scott, Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) Game Division Administrator, the division that oversees bear management in Nevada. “NDOW has been inundated with bear calls including sightings, bear encounters, and vehicle and home break-ins. Agencies in the Tahoe Basin are continually working together to educate residents and visitors on how to reduce bear attractants and prevent bear encounters.”
Intentional or unintentional feeding of bears results in unwanted bear behaviors, increased human-bear conflicts, and public safety issues as well as fines and possible jail time for violators. Each year, local law enforcement and state wildlife officers respond to hundreds of calls in which bears may pose a public safety threat or are damaging property, and in some cases, bears must be euthanized.
Once bears gain access to human food or garbage, they continue to seek it out. They become less cautious of people and may display unusually bold behavior when trying to get to human or pet food. Bears that have become indifferent or habituated to the presence of people may cause property damage and threaten public safety. Residents and visitors can help keep bears wild and reduce potential conflicts between bears and humans by acting responsibly in bear country, properly storing food and garbage in bear resistant containers, and following the safety measures below.
Tips for safe-guarding homes, long-term rentals, vacation home rentals or timeshares (if permitted by the property owner):
- Never feed wildlife. This encourages unnatural and harmful foraging behavior.
- Store all garbage in and properly close bear-resistant garbage containers, preferably bear boxes. Inquire with local refuse companies about new bear box incentives and payment programs. Visit www.southtahoerefuse.com/ and/or www.ndow.org/Nevada_Wildlife/Bear_Logic/ for more information.
- Never leave groceries, animal feed, or anything scented in vehicles. Bears can open vehicle doors and they may cause damage trying to gain entrance if there are scented items inside.
- Keep barbecue grills clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use.
- Keep doors and windows closed and locked when the home is unoccupied.
- Vegetable gardens, compost piles, orchards and chickens may attract bears. Use electric fences to keep bears out where allowed. Refrain from hanging bird feeders.
- If neighborhoods experience bear activity, consider using electric doormats and/or electric fencing on windows and/or doors where allowed. Electrified windows and doors should have signs posted for safety and to alert the public and emergency personnel. Contact local vendors and installers for appropriate products and instructions and/or visit www.ndow.org/Nevada_Wildlife/Bear_Logic/ for more information.
- If a bear enters your home when you are present, keep out of its way and do not block escape routes.
Tips for safe-guarding campsites against bear encounters:
- Never feed wildlife.
- Always store food (including pet food), drinks, toiletries, coolers, cleaned grills, cleaned dishes, cleaning products, and all other scented items in the bear-resistant containers (storage lockers/bear boxes) provided at campsites. New bear resistant coolers that come equipped with padlock devices should always be locked to meet bear resistant requirements.
- Clean the barbecue grill after each use and store properly.
- Always place garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters in campgrounds or in bear-resistant containers at campsites (storage lockers/bear boxes), and close and lock after each use.
- Never leave food or scented items unattended in campsites, tents, or vehicles. Bears can open vehicle doors and they may cause damage trying to gain entrance if there are scented items inside.
- Never leave garbage at campsites.
Tips for hikers and backpackers:
- Hike in groups and keep an eye on small children.
- Keep dogs on leash. Off-leash dogs can provoke bears to respond defensively.
- Watch for signs of bears, such as bear scat along trails or claw marks on trees. Stay alert. Make noise while on trails so that bears know you are there and can avoid you.
- Never approach bears or cubs. Always, keep a safe social distance and never get between a sow and her cubs.
- Store food in bear-resistant food storage canisters while recreating in the backcountry.
To report human-bear conflicts in California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Northern California dispatch at 916-445-0380. Non-emergency wildlife interactions in California State Parks can be reported to their public dispatch at (916) 358-1300. Wildlife incidents in California may also be reported online using the CDFW Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir. To report human-bear conflicts in Nevada, contact Nevada Department of Wildlife at 775-688-BEAR (2327). If the issue is an immediate threat, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.
For more information on peacefully coexisting with bears, visit TahoeBears.org. By working together, we can help Keep Tahoe Bears Wild! TahoeBears.org is made possible through funding from California State Parks.
This collaborative agency effort includes California State Parks, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Placer County Sheriff’s Office, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, Nevada State Parks, Nevada Department of Wildlife, The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 215-3858
Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Wildlife