With winter around the corner and temperatures dropping, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) urges the public to winterize homes and other buildings to prevent wildlife from taking up residence.
This time of year, wild animals are busy preparing for the colder months to come. Bears are looking for dens to hibernate and smaller animals, such as raccoons, are seeking warm and dry places to nest such as attics, under decks, porches, chimneys and even drainpipes.
In bear country, crawl spaces under homes make a great bear den, but bears can damage insulation, wiring and pipes, posing a hazard both to themselves and to the human residents. Female bears often give birth to cubs while denning, and a family group of three or four bears could end up living under a single house. It would be difficult to evict and move them to a suitable location in their natural habitat.
Wildlife require food, water and shelter, just as people do, but it is best to keep them in their natural habitat and not under your house or in your attic. Here are a few tips to help winterize your home:
Inspect entire foundation of homes and other buildings for the smallest of openings.
Secure all crawl spaces, doors and openings that provide open access for wildlife.
If the dwelling will be unoccupied for the winter, remove all food – even canned goods and spices.
Clean the floors, counters and cabinets of unoccupied dwelling with ammonia-based products before closing for the winter.
Secure pet doors at night. Close for the winter if unoccupied.
Remove trellises, vines, shrubs and tree limbs that may give wildlife access to the roof and attic.
Repair shingles on the roof and repair holes near eaves.
Cover your chimney with heavy mesh wire to prevent access into the house or nesting in the chimney.
California’s black bears are waking up hungry from their winter downtime. To help minimize unwanted bear foraging behavior, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is reminding those living in or visiting bear country to store food and dispose of garbage properly.
Black bears typically prefer remote mountainous areas. However, as more people frequent or live in natural bear habitat, the abundance of food and garbage associated with human activities is a temptation hungry bears find hard to resist.
“Over the years, we have seen bear behavior change significantly in areas where more people live and recreate in bear habitat,” said Vicky Monroe, CDFW’s Conflict Programs Coordinator. “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.”
Black bears, like other bear species, have a highly specialized sense of smell, which can sometimes lead them to towns and recreation areas where they may quickly find an overflowing garbage can or someone’s leftover hamburger and French fries.
The public can help bears stay out of human settlements and stick to their natural diet by properly disposing 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.
To help reduce collisions, Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife remind motorists to be on the lookout during Watch Out for Wildlife Week, which runs Sept. 16 – 22.
“With every project we build, we look for innovative ways to protect drivers and wildlife,” said Caltrans Director Laurie Berman. “That can be as simple as installing flashing warning signs or putting in specialized fencing and crossings to provide wildlife with safe passages. Drivers can make a difference too, just by staying alert.”
Watch Out for Wildlife Week coincides with the season when California’s deer and elk migrate and look for mates, and California’s roadways often cut through these animals’ migration routes. It’s vital that drivers be especially alert now through December to avoid collisions with wildlife. These crashes not only harm wildlife, but collisions with large animals can damage vehicles and cause injury and death to drivers and passengers.
“In the fall, wildlife exhibit natural behaviors that can lead them to more unpredictable movements, and nearer to humans and roadways,” said Vicky Monroe, CDFW Statewide Conflict Programs Coordinator. “Deer, bears and other wildlife are most likely to be killed or injured by vehicle collisions between September and December. Bucks fight for mates during breeding season, does travel more with their fawns, and many deer herds migrate to their winter ranges. Black bears travel farther for food as they enter a period of excessive eating and drinking to fatten up for hibernation.”
According to the California Highway Patrol, 12 people died and 383 people were injured in 2,134 collisions with wildlife on state, county, and local roadways throughout California in 2017.
Wildlife experts offer the following tips for motorists:
Be extra alert when driving near areas wildlife frequent, such as streams and rivers, and reduce your speed so you can react safely.
Pay extra attention driving during the morning and evening when wildlife are often most active.
If you see an animal on or near the road, know that another may be following.
Don’t litter. Trash odors can attract animals to roadways.
Pay attention to road shoulders. Look for movement or reflecting eyes. Slow down and honk your horn if you see an animal on or near the road.
The Watch Out for Wildlife campaign is supported by Caltrans, CDFW, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis.
Here are a few examples of what Caltrans, CDFW, and their partners are doing to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, improve awareness of key issues, and improve ecological sustainability:
Highway 395, Improving Wildlife Connectivity in Lassen County
Caltrans is modifying existing undercrossings that were installed on U.S. Highway 395 in Lassen County near the California-Nevada border more than 25 years ago. To improve the area for wildlife, Caltrans will remove deer gates, install escape ramps for mule deer, and extend fencing to guide animals to existing undercrossings. The project area will be monitored with wildlife cameras.
Highway 101, Liberty Canyon Undercrossing in Los Angeles County
The completed environmental document for the famous U.S. Highway 101 Liberty Canyon Project was signed in September 2017. Until a large overpass can be constructed, Caltrans has managed several short-term improvements in the Liberty Canyon area to entice mountain lions to cross safely underneath US-101. New fencing is designed to prevent animals from trying to cross the highway, and a former streambed south of Agoura Road has new vegetation to guide animals safely under the highway.
Highway 101, Wildlife Monitoring Cameras in Sonoma County
Caltrans is monitoring wildlife movement on U.S. Highway 101 north of Santa Rosa. Cameras have been installed on culverts that cross under the highway, and Caltrans regularly downloads images from the cameras to understand more about wildlife in the project area. Mountain lions are just one species that have been observed checking out the culverts along US-101. Camera data will be used to determine potential future improvements that will allow animals to safely cross US-101.
Highway 74, Bighorn Sheep Warning Signs in Riverside County
Efforts are underway to decrease vehicle collisions with Peninsular bighorn sheep, a federally endangered species, on a windy portion of State Route 74 above Palm Desert. In June 2018, Caltrans installed four bighorn sheep warning signs with two flashing beacons to alert drivers that sheep may be in the area. This was a coordinated effort with the Bighorn Institute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and CDFW.
California’s black bears are active and hungry after a period of hunkering down through the winter. As a reminder, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) encourages people to help reduce unwanted encounters with this large mammal by being “bear aware.” People who visit or live in bear country can take actions that promote responsible behavior and safe co-existence with bears.
Black bears are the only bear species in California. They generally prefer mountainous areas and natural habitat. However, as more people visit parks and wilderness areas and choose to live in or near bear habitat, some bears may become used to the presence of people and as a result display less shy and avoidant behavior.
“Over the years, reported human-bear conflicts have increased significantly,” said Vicky Monroe, CDFW’s Wildlife Conflict Programs Coordinator. “Each spring and summer we receive numerous calls from the public reporting anything from black bears eating food off campground picnic tables to bears taking dips in residential swimming pools.”
Black bears have a diverse diet and can eat nearly anything, from berries and insects to pet food, human trash and road kill. They also have a highly specialized sense of smell, which can sometimes lead them to enter homes, cabins and tents while following their nose (and stomach) to a food source. Local communities and areas of human activity in or around bear habitat can provide a tempting food supply for a hungry bear. However, unwanted and/or destructive bear activity may be significantly reduced or even eliminated, when people are mindful and remember to remove attractants and access to food.
Tips for Bear-proofing your Home, Rental or Timeshare
Bears may venture into areas of human activity close to bear habitat, in search of food. The best defense against bear break-ins and bears in your yard is to eliminate attractants to your property by following these tips:
Purchase and properly use a bear-proof garbage container.
Wait to put trash out until the morning of collection day.
Do not leave trash, groceries or pet food in your car.
Keep garbage cans clean and deodorize them with bleach or ammonia.
Keep barbecue grills clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use.
It is advised to not hang bird feeders in bear country. If you must, only do so during November through March and make them inaccessible to bears. Keep in mind bears are excellent climbers.
Do not leave any scented products outside, even non-food items such as suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap or candles.
Keep doors and windows closed and locked when unoccupied.
Consider installing motion-detector alarms and/or electric fencing.
Harvest fruit off trees as soon as it is ripe, and promptly collect fruit that falls.
Bring pets in at night. Provide safe and secure quarters for livestock at night.
Consider composting bins as opposed to open composting.
Securely block access to potential hibernation sites such as crawl spaces under decks and buildings.
Do not spray bear spray around property – when it dries, it can serve as an attractant.
Do not feed deer or other wildlife – this will attract bears to your property.
Tips for Bear Proofing your Campsite
Maintaining a clean campsite is the responsible and safe thing to do when visiting bear country. Here are a few tips for bear proofing your campsite:
Haul garbage out of camp regularly – check with camp host or other camp personnel about safe garbage storage. Use bear lockers if available.
Store food (including pet food) and toiletries in bear-proof containers or in an airtight container in the trunk of your vehicle if bear lockers are not available. In some areas, food storage in the trunk is not advisable. Check with camp or park personnel.
Clean dishes and store food and garbage immediately after meals.
Clean your grill after each use.
Never keep food or toiletries in your tent.
Change out of clothes you cooked in before going to bed.
Do not clean fish in camp.
Do not leave pets unattended in camp or sleeping outside.
If in the backcountry, store food in a bear-resistant food canister.
Use bear resistant ice chests (some jurisdictions will only allow ice chests that are approved as bear resistant)
Tips for Hiking in Bear Country
Bears may react defensively if your presence is not known – make noise while hiking. Talk loudly or whistle.
If possible, travel with a group of people.
Avoid thick brush and walk with the wind at your back so your scent is ahead of you.
Watch for bear sign along trails – scat, tracks and stripped bark off trees.
Avoid sites where dead animal carcasses are observed.
If you see a bear, avoid it and give it the opportunity to avoid you.
Leash dogs while hiking in bear country – dogs can surprise and aggravate bears – bringing the bear back to you when the dog flees from the bear.
Black Bear Safety Reminders
Black bear behavior is not always predictable. Human-bear attacks are rare in California; however, they do occur. There is no single safety strategy applicable to every bear encounter.
Individual bears can display varying levels of tolerance and temperament.
Prevention is better than confrontation.
Keep as much distance as possible between you and the bear.
Share this information with your children. Make sure they know to tell you if they see a bear in the area. Be Bear Aware.
Black Bear Encounters
These are general guidelines based on research by wildlife managers and scientists, intended to help keep you safe in the event of a black bear encounter. Keep in mind that safety tips for grizzly bears are not the same as for black bear. California does not have grizzly bears.
If a bear breaks into your home, do not confront the bear. Most bears will quickly look for an escape route. Move away to a safe place. Do not block exit points. If the bear does not leave, call 911.
If you encounter a bear in your yard, chances are it will move on if there is nothing for the bear to forage. If there is enough distance between you and the bear, you can encourage the bear to leave by using noisemakers or blowing a whistle.
If you encounter a bear while hiking and it does not see you. Back away and increase your distance. Clap hands or make noise so the bear knows you are there and will move on.
If you encounter a bear on the trail and it sees you. Do not make eye contact. Back away, do not run. Let the bear know you are not a threat. Give it a chance to leave.
If a bear approaches you, make yourself look bigger by lifting and waving arms. Use noisemakers, or yell at the bear. If small children are present, keep them close to you.Carry and know how to use bear spray as a deterrent. In the event of a black bear attack, it is usually recommended to fight back. However, each situation is different. Prevention is the key.
Black Bear Facts
Black bears are the only bear species found in California. They range in color from blonde to black, with cinnamon brown being the most common.
There are an estimated 35,000 bears in California.
Males are much larger than females and can weigh up to 500 pounds, although average weight is about 300 pounds.
Black bears can sprint up to 35 mph and they are strong swimmers and great tree climbers.
Bears are omnivorous eating foods ranging from berries, plants, nuts, roots, and honey, honeycomb, insects, larvae, carrion and small mammals.
Bears typically mate in June and July.
Bear cubs are born in winter dens in January and February and are hairless, deaf and blind.
Black bear attacks are rare in California and typically are defensive in nature because the bear is surprised or defending cubs; however, bears accustomed to people may become too bold and act aggressively.
Female black bears will often send cubs up a tree and leave the area in response to a perceived threat. Do not remain in the area – when you leave, she will come back for her cubs.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the U.S. Forest Service remind citizens visiting or living in the high country and foothills that fall is the time of year for increased bear foraging activity and more human and bear encounters are possible.
California black bears are typically active and foraging between April and mid-fall, but in autumn, black bears experience changes in metabolism that drives the need to consume as many rich calories as possible. This metabolic spike is an important signal to the bear to bulk up and gain the fat that will sustain the animal through hibernation and periods of lean food sources. Scientists estimate that black bears may forage as many as 20 hours a day at this time.
During this transition, residents in bear country are asked to diligently manage food, garbage and other attractants around the home and yard in order to avoid attracting bears. Residents leaving cabins for the season should remove all attractants from the cabins, and seal and lock all doors and windows. Crawl spaces under houses or porches should be sealed in order to prevent them from becoming denning sites.
Here are things to know:
Bears have a sense of smell seven times stronger than a bloodhound and eyesight as good as a human’s
Any scent, especially one of odorous foods like fish or other meats, may attract a bear to your home and yard
Remove bird feeders completely until later in the year
Remove fallen fruit off the ground promptly
Use bear-resistant garbage cans and wait to set trash out until the day of pick up
Store pet food inside
Do not leave food or other scented items in your car
Bears fed intentionally or unintentionally by people may become bold and aggressive—they may be killed if they become a threat to public safety or cause property damage
In the rare event a bear breaks into your home, move to a safe location and contact local authorities. Wildlife experts caution against directly confronting the bear or blocking the bear’s escape route.
Visitors to bear country should act responsibly and be mindful of their safety while in bear habitat. Camping season is ending in many areas, but with the cooler temperatures, fall hiking is very popular in the mountains and foothills and visitors often flock to salmon spawning sites in hopes of getting a glimpse of a bear. Wildlife experts offer these important tips:
Be alert on trails (avoid wearing headphones)
Keep a respectful and safe distance from bears at all times
Do not attempt to take “selfies” with bears or other wildlife
Never feed a bear – it is unlawful and dangerous to people and may result in the needless death of a bear.